Around 8,000 fire lookout towers once stood on mountaintops across the United States, mostly in the West, and served as both homes and watchtowers for firefighters before advances in technology made fire detection more efficient.
Many of the fire towers were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. Today only 2,000 towers remain, of which nearly 100 stand in Washington. Many can be visited during a day hike or backpacking trip, and some even allow overnight stays (if you can snag a spot on recreation.gov).
Landing a night in a fire tower isn’t easy. But if the tower is open when you visit, hikers are generally welcome to drop by, view the excavations and imagine watching for fires in the distance. Here are eight hikes to the fire lookout towers of western Washington to add to your summer hiking list.
Make sure to gear up on WTA.org and check track conditions before heading out.
Park Butte Overlook
Pacific Northwest Origin, FS-13, Sedro-Woolley
Park Butte is as close to the summit of Mount Baker as you can get without actually standing on its summit. This fire warden sits on a cliff right in the shadow of Koma Kulshan. The well-maintained 7.5-mile round-trip hike gains 2,220 feet in elevation and offers unobstructed views of Baker, alpine meadows, and rushing rivers. If you look closely from the top, you might even see climbers making their way to the top.
Winchester Mountain viewpoint
Twin Lakes Trailhead, NF-3065, Deming
Virtually a stone’s throw from the Canadian border (check your phone if you’re connected to Canadian service!), Winchester Mountain is well worth the bumpy ride to the Twin Lakes Trailhead. At 3.4 miles and 1,300 feet of elevation gain, the short hike will have you pinching your jaw with every step, surrounded by lush meadows and Cascade peaks on all sides. First come first serve the fire tower to sleep in, but when it’s occupied there are plenty of other cute campsites at the top. The road to the trailhead is steep and gnarly, with only room for one car at some points. All-wheel drive and high ground clearance are required as a minimum.
Mount Pilchuck Trailhead, NF-4200, Granite Falls
With its proximity to Seattle and short (but still challenging) hike, Mount Pilchuck is a popular fire station for good reason. The 5.4 mile loop hike passes through old growth forest before reaching a boulder field that eventually leads to a fun climb to the fire tower. Easy access means you’ll likely have plenty of company, and just over an hour’s drive from Seattle, it’s a doable summer after-work hike. The Fire Tower is first come, first served, but given its popularity, it’s not easy to stay the night!
Heybrook Lookout Trailhead, Stevens Pass Highway, gold bars
This beginner-friendly hike is only 1.3 miles long and is just off Highway 2, meaning there are no logging roads to navigate. The trail to Heybrook Lookout has some decent elevation changes at 850 feet but is a peaceful walk through the woods before arriving at the fire tower. Those afraid of heights may want to enjoy the view from the picnic table, but the views from the summit are worth the climb: full views of Mount Baring and Mount Persis.
Granite Mountain Trailhead, NF-9034, North Bend
For a good challenge, just 47 miles from Seattle, Granite Mountain is another great option for a before or after work hike. The 8.6-mile round-trip route gains 3,800 feet in elevation, so it’s no walk in the park, but the hefty price tag offers views of Mount Rainier and nearby Kaleetan Peak. Bring plenty of food and water and take your time to tackle this summit. This popular route is best hiked in the summer months as the trail traverses a major avalanche. Mountaineering skills are required when hiking during the snow season. As with all these hikes, especially in mid-season, check conditions before heading out.
Red Top Viewpoint
Red Top Lookout Trailhead, FS-9702, Cle Elum
One of the newer lookouts on this list, Red Top Lookout was built in 1952, restored in 1972 and is still in use today. At just 1.5 miles, this short, steep hike leads to incredible views of the Teanaway Ridge, Stuart Range, Mount Rainier, and Chelan and Entiat mountains. This is a great hike to do with kids. When the lookout is open, look inside where you can see the Osborne Fire Finder, a compass-like tool that helps lookout staff and volunteers pinpoint the location of a fire.
knob of the eater
Golden Lakes Trailhead, Westside Road, Eatonville
For people who want to get away from the crowds (and don’t mind a longer hike), Gobbler’s Knob is a great option. The hike climbs 2,500 feet over 11 miles and offers beautiful wildflower meadows and backpacking options on Lake George, a crystal clear alpine lake. The views from the top include most of the major Cascade peaks, including Rainier, as well as Mount Hood, Mount St. Helens and the Olympics. Westside Road leading to the Golden Lakes Trailhead is closed during the winter.
Sourdough Ridge Trail, Sunrise Park Road, Ashford
This iconic Mount Rainier hike to Fremont Lookout is a 5.6-mile, round-trip adventure with 1,200 feet of elevation gain and sweeping views of the state’s highest peak for most of the hike. Enjoy views of nearby peaks and the Olympic Mountains from the Fire Tower. The fire tower hike also attracts many visitors with its easy accessibility and large parking lot. If you prefer a little quieter hiking, aim for a weekday excursion or plan an off-season hike.