mt rainier summer pnw

A stunning evening hike to Thorp Mountain Lookout in Washington

In summer, with the wildflowers glowing in the evening light, I found myself thinking this might be the most beautiful view in Washington. The Thorp Mountain Lookout hike has multiple approaches, is moderately difficult, and packs an incredible punch view-wise.

We took Thorp Creek Rd via Cle Elem, though there are at least two other routes. Thorp Creek Rd was quite gentle, and my Prius did great!

Regarding fire lookout hikes in Washington, this is one of the best.

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Hiking to Thorp Mountain Lookout

thorp mountain lookout hike washington pnw

Quick details on the Thorp Mountain Lookout Hike:

  • 7.5 miles round trip
  • 2,400 feet of elevation gain
  • Moderate difficulty with a lot of steepness toward the end
  • The dirt road is in good condition for any car
  • The trailhead is on a dirt road, so parking can be limited.
  • Starting location

Related: Exceptional Washington bucket list hikes

Trail Report: An exceptional fire lookout hike in Washington

This is a hike that warms you up, and you can’t say that about many Washington hikes.

The first mile and a half is a pretty gentle ascent. Then, it throws you into high gear quickly. You gain nearly 2,000 feet of elevation in two miles from here on. If you’re feeling it or want to jump in, take a quick detour to Thorp Lake. It’s nothing special but will allow you to take a break if you’d like.

Then, hop back on the trail and continue your switchbacks on the Thorp Mountain Lookout hike. Once you leave the trees, a stunning view awaits; hopefully, Mt. Rainier will be out in all her glory.

Furthermore, once you break out of the trees, you’ll begin to see wildflowers. Due to its somewhat lower elevation (sub 5,500 feet) and south facing, these grow earlier than other parts of the state.

So, if you’re looking for a great late June/early July hiking/backpacking destination, this is it!

Your Guide to the Thorp Mountain Hike

Where is Thorp Mountain Lookout Located?

Thorp Mountain is located in the Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest, in between Kachess Lake and Cle Elum Lake. While not close-close to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, it is on the south side of it.

Finding the Trailhead

This is where the fun begins. There are multiple routes to Thorp Mountain Lookout. We took the standard approach, via Thorp Creek Road (AKA Forest Service Road 4312). You access this by going north along Cle Elum Lake on Salmon La sac Rod, turning right on Forest Service Road 4308 and winding your way along a dirt road until you reach the trailhead.

From Seattle, it’s about a two hour drive depending on traffic.

How long is the hike?

The trail up to Thorp Mountain Lookout is 7.5 miles. If you drive past the official trailhead, you can cut-off a couple of miles by bushwacking up a steep hill. However, if you don’t know the trail or haven’t’ done it before, I would not recommend this route.

How hard is the hike up?

From the trailhead, it’s a nice and gradual hike up, even though you do gain 2,400 feet overall. I would put this at moderate to hard, depending on your fitness level. However, the trail is in great condition and it never felt like I was overly fatigued.

There is definitely more elevation gain in the back half of the hike, versus the front half. So keep that in mind.

How long should it take me?

I would allot half a day for the Thorp Mountain hike. There’s no need to rush with such stunning views!

Are there any bathrooms in the area?

There are no bathrooms at the trailhead or on the hike. So just use nature but minimize your impact.

When is the best time of year to hike Thorp Mountain Lookout?

Summer is the most amazing time here. This is a south facing slope, which means the snow melts out sooner. Additionally, this gets wildflowers in June (when I went) and they were absolutely amazing. I would suggest hiking up in late June or early July to capitalize on the flowers.

What is the other route up?

If you want a different hike that is shorter but has a much worse road, you can take the Knox Creek route. This is accessed via French Cabin Road. Instead of turning right onto Thorp Creek Road, keep going straight.

Then, you’ll come to a split. Take Forest Service Road 4308 to the right for two miles. This will bring to you to the Knox Creek Trailhead. You’ll come from the left side of Thorp Lake towards Thorp Mountain Lookout.

Commenters have said a Subaru Forester would have a hard time making it but not a 4Runner or Tacoma. So, heed those warnings. Or you could park before the trailhead and hike up.

Hiking stats for Knox Creek Route:

  • 5 miles
  • 1,800 feet of gain

Backpacking on Thorp Mountain

If you’re looking to backpack Thorp Mountain Lookout, you can! But you can’t access the fire lookout. You must bring your tent and gear (or cowboy camp). There are a few places to set up your tent on the ridge line, and you’ll have gorgeous views of Mt Rainier, the cascades, and the lake below.

Photos from the Thorp Mountain Lookout hike

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thorp lookout hike fire lookout hike in Washington
summer wildflowers PNW fire lookout hike in Washington
views from the top of thorp mountain lookout in washington

What to bring on the Thorp Mountain Lookout hike

FAQ: Thorp Mountain Hike

Will I have cell service?

Being on top of the mountain, you should have some cell service. I remember being able to text my partner and tell her that I’m alive and safe. It won’t be top quality or anything, but you’ll be able to do the basics.

Can I done here?

Yes, you’re allowed to drone from Thorp Mountain Lookout. Just remember to respect others in the area and to do it safely and wisely.

What are the water sources?

The main water source is Thorp Lake and whatever is running through Thorp Creek. Considering the length of this hike, you should be fine with what you bring.

Do I need a permit to hike or camp?

No permit is needed to hike or backpack to Thorp Mountain. Enjoy the trail!

Wrapping up – Thorp Mountain Lookout Hike

At the Thorp Mountain Lookout summit, you’ll have 360-degree views of the Alpine Lake Wilderness, Cascades, and Rainier. It’s truly a beautiful view from this fire lookout hike in Washington.

You’ll love the hike up and if you go in early summer, the wildflowers here will be superb! Happy trails!

Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.

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Author: Alec Sills-Trausch

Title: Founder of Explore with Alec

Expertise: Hiking, Backpacking, Photography, and Road Trips

Alec Sills-Trausch is a hiker, backpacker, landscape photographer, and syndicated travel writer. He enjoys showing off the beauty of the world through his photos, videos, and written work on Alec is also a 2x cancer survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient, showing the world that there is a future from this terrible disease.

He lives in Washington, where he gets to enjoy the stunning PNW mountains in addition to all the other places he attempts to visit each year! You can see more work on IG at @AlecOutside