Exploring the 17 best Washington Fire Lookouts

Adventuring to the Washington Fire Lookouts is a rite of passage for many when they move to Washington state or grow up. While there’s nothing inherently special about them, they make for a great experience and something unique that you don’t get to see every day.

Below we’ll dive into some of the best Washington fire lookout hikes in the state and show off some of my favorite photos!

So, let’s get cracking!

A Guide to the Washington Fire Lookouts

A few things to note about Washington Fire Lookouts

Please treat these structures with respect

These are old structures that have survived countless Washington winters and summers. Treat them with respect, and please pack out all of your trash. These Washington fire lookouts are not your dumpster.

Rough Roads

Some, if not all, of these roads, leading to the fire lookouts in Washington are via forest service roads. And many are not nicely grated. Please check to ensure your vehicle can make it.

No Structure

While many of the Washington fire lookouts are still around, some have been removed and/or temporarily removed for renovations. The best example of this is High Rock Lookout, which was taken off to be updated as of writing this.

Views looking north into Canada. The Washington fire lookouts offer amazing views.
fire lookout hikes washington

Off Limits

A few fire lookouts in Washington are either boarded up or completely inaccessible (locked doors to the stairs). This is due to infrequent maintenance that renders the complex dangerous or reduces the chances a person falls off them.

Sleeping Policies

Most of the Washington fire lookouts don’t have any specific policies outside of being respectful towards them. However, please read up on the specific one you want to see, as it may have unique sleeping rules regarding how close you can be to the lookout.

Can you stay in fire lookouts Washington?

Yes, some Washington fire lookouts still allow you to sleep in them. Unless stipulated beforehand, they are first-come, first-serve. So, your best bet is to either show up early and/or go on a weekday when there is less traffic.

Related: Easy hikes near Seattle

No Longer in Use

Most (all?) of these Washington fire lookouts are no longer actively used. Due to better technology, you don’t need someone staying up in a tower with binoculars. Now, they are simply an objective of hikers to visit and reminisce about the past.

A hiker enjoys the sunset views from Fremont Lookout.
fire lookout hikes washington

The 16 best Washington Fire Lookout hikes

1. Parke Butte Lookout

A phenomenal hike. Let me say that again—a phenomenal hike. Park Butte Lookout looks up at Mt Baker, out to Puget Sound, and on a clear day, you may even see Mt Rainier and Glacier Peak. It’s one of the best Washington fire lookouts to hike to, but with that comes the crowds.

On the weekend, you have to contend with people doing this day hike and those summiting Baker. In totality, it means a crowded parking lot and road. So come early, or better yet, visit on a weekday for sunset.

A hiker raises her arms in front of Mt. Baker.
fire lookout hikes washington
  • Hike Length: 8 miles
  • Fire Lookout Elevation Gain: 2,200
  • Hike Difficulty: Moderately difficulty

2. Winchester Mountain Lookout

One of the best bang for your buck Washington fire lookout hikes you can find. First, travel up one of the gnarliest roads in Washington (4×4 and high clearance needed) before arriving at Twin Lakes. Here, you have just a short hike until you’re in the middle of the North Cascades with views of Baker, Canada, and so many surreal views.

The trail up to Winchester Lookout.
  • Hike Length: 3.5 miles
  • Fire Lookout Elevation Gain: 1,300
  • Hike Difficulty: Not hard

Related: Best waterfalls near Seattle

3. Slate Lookout

Slate Lookout sits just above one of the highest driveable roads in Washington. It’s hardly a Washington fire lookout hike (like half a mile, max), but it’s a great place to shoot fall colors with low effort.

However, just because the hike is easy, the road is not. The road to Slate Lookout is one of the rockiest/narrowest in Washington. A 4×4 with clearance should make it fine, but for those who don’t like heights, you might have a bit of anxiety driving it.

A sunset view of Slate Lookout. This is one of the least visited Washington fire lookouts.
  • Hike Length: less than a mile
  • Fire Lookout Elevation Gain: 250 feet
  • Hike Difficulty: Easy

4. Red Top Lookout

Red Top Lookout in central Washington.

A heckuva drive from Seattle (take the I-90 past Cle Elum like you’re going to Wenatchee), Red Top is another very short Washington fire lookout hike. It’s only about half a mile (the first section is steep), as you can drive to nearly the top.

You’ll have great views of Stuart Peak, the Snoqualmie Pass peaks, and Rainier (if it’s clear). This one’s great for the early season, as we hiked it in mid-June, and there was no snow in sight.

  • Hike Length: 1.5 miles
  • Fire Lookout Elevation Gain: 350 feet
  • Hike Difficulty: Easy-Moderate

5. Heybrook Lookout

One of the closest of the Washington fire lookouts to Seattle, Heybrook Lookout is in Index, making it perfect for a short day hike or an afternoon sunset stroll. It’s a popular hike and a great trail. While you’re not above the peaks, you’re still above the trees, giving you a bird’s eye perspective of the nearby peaks.

Many people do this in winter, as the trail likely only has a dusting if that.

  • Hike Length: 2.6 miles
  • Fire Lookout Elevation Gain: 850 feet
  • Hike Difficulty: Moderate

6. Green Mountain Lookout

We’re heading west for this one. The lone Washington fire lookout on this list west of Seattle, Green Mountain Lookout offers views of the Olympics and Puget Sound. Furthermore, you’ll likely be in an area you haven’t visited before, as you’re not technically on the Olympic Peninsula.

You can take the ferry across from Seattle To Bremerton, and then it’s only a short drive from there.

  • Hike Length: 4.5 miles
  • Fire Lookout Elevation Gain: 1,000 feet
  • Hike Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

The following six are all Mt. Rainier area Washington fire lookouts.

7. High Rock Lookout

High Rock Lookout peaking through the clouds.

The first Washington fire lookout I visited, and it left my mouth agape. I couldn’t believe the views of Rainier and Adams and how it all lined up so perfectly. The physical lookout is currently being renovated, so now (August 2023), it’s just a slab of wood. But the views are still incredibly worth it.

As for the hike, it’s a steep yet short trek. You’ll be sweating in no time, but it’ll also be over before you know it.

  • Hike Length: 3.2 miles
  • Fire Lookout Elevation Gain: 1,330
  • Hike Difficulty: Hard but short

8. Fremont Lookout

An inversion at Mt Rainier.

A Washington fire lookout classic. This is the most popular hike from the Sunrise Visitor Center side of the park, and you will have 30+ people there for sunset on the weekends, so don’t be shocked. The trail is pretty mild, but you’ll gain elevation the entire way.

On a clear day, you’ll have insane views out to Baker and the Canadian border. Or, you could hope for an inversion that is magical in its own right.

A hiker sitting on the edge of Fremont Lookout. Washington fire lookouts are incredible places for sunsets.
  • Hike Length: 6 miles
  • Fire Lookout Elevation Gain: 1,100 feet
  • Hike Difficulty: Moderate

9. Tolmie Peak Lookout

The inside of Tolmie Peak Lookout.

A fan favorite on the northwest side of Mt. Rainier. This Washington fire lookout is one of the most visited on the park’s northern side, as it’s only 2 hours from Seattle. The trailhead sits right before the Mowich Lake parking lot and is a moderate rollercoaster-like hike.

You start by going down, then up, then flat, then down, then up, then flat, and then finally up to the lookout. While it’s only 400 feet of elevation gain more than Fremont Lookout, it feels much harder. (Maybe it was the hot day when we hiked that felt worse?)

But the views at the top are so worth it. You’re close to Rainier, and Eunice Lake below is magical. This is a perfect day or sunset hike.

The views from Tolmie Peak Lookout near Mt Rainier.
fire lookouts washington
  • Hike Length: 6 miles
  • Fire Lookout Elevation Gain: 1,600 feet
  • Hike Difficulty: Moderate

Related: Camping at Sahale Glacier Camp

10. Shriner Peak Lookout

On the east side of Rainier, this is a less popular hike, though, on the weekends, it’ll see its fair share of hikers. You get a great look at Rainier’s east side, which few people get a look at as there are less accessible hikes on this side.

  • Hike Length: 8 miles
  • Fire Lookout Elevation Gain: 3,400
  • Hike Difficulty: Hard

11. Gobblers Knob Lookout

one of the least visited of the Washington fire lookouts. The road washed out some years ago, and they never rebuilt it. (But recent reports say the road is driveable.) Due to this, it’s a 3.8-mile hike on the road, then a steady 1.5 miles to the lookout.

This is a similar view to Tolmie Peak, though you’re almost directly west of Mt Rainier, which is a unique view as few other trails allow you that angle.

  • Hike Length: 11 miles
  • Fire Lookout Elevation Gain: 2,500
  • Hike Difficulty: Moderate

12. Sun Top Lookout

If you’re looking for beautiful views without the hike, this is it! Suntop Lookout offers incredible views of Rainier (and others) with only a couple mile walk or, if you have a high clearance vehicle, the option to drive to the summit.

  • Hike Length: 2 miles
  • Fire Lookout Elevation Gain: 475
  • Hike Difficulty: Steep but short

13. Hidden Lake Lookout

A classic in North Cascades National Park. After inspecting the map (the lookout is right on the boundary), you don’t need a permit to sleep at the lookout, but you do need permits for the surrounding areas, which can be challenging to obtain. The hike is strenuous above Hidden Lake, but you’ll have unbelievable views of the nearby peaks and valleys.

It’s one you won’t soon forget.

  • Hike Length: 8 miles
  • Fire Lookout Elevation Gain: 3,300
  • Hike Difficulty: Strenuous

Related: Backpacking Cutthroat Pass

14. Granite Mountain Lookout

A challenging hike near Snoqualmie Pass will have you sucking wind but also marveling at the sights. This hike offers incredible views of the peaks near the pass, Crystal Lake below, and Rainier to your south. But as I mentioned above, it’s almost a 1,000-foot-per-mile ascent, which means you’ll be feeling it by the end.

Make sure to pack enough goodies and water to be safe on the trail.

  • Hike Length: 8.5
  • Fire Lookout Elevation Gain: 3,800
  • Hike Difficulty: Tough

15. Thorp Mountain Lookout

Washington fire lookout hikes offer incredible views like this one near Thorp Mountain.
fire lookouts washington

One of my favorite early-season (early July) hikes. Thorp Mountain Lookout has gorgeous wildflowers, views of Rainier and the Enchantments, and the ability to backpack up top. It’s not super complicated, though it does steepen towards the top; families can do it with enough time.

I recommend coming up here for sunset, as the glow of the mountains and flowers is so worth it.

  • Hike Length (a couple of different routes to get here): Thorp Creek Trail, 7 miles
  • Fire Lookout Elevation Gain: 2,400 feet
  • Hike Difficulty: Hard

16. Goat Peak Lookout

Up north in the North Cascades, Goat Peak Lookout is a great fall colors hike that offers fantastic views of the eastern side of the famed mountain range.

It’s another short and steep hike, but it’s worth it to see the view here.

  • Hike Length: 3.3 miles
  • Fire Lookout Elevation Gain: 1,450
  • Hike Difficulty: Moderate to hard
Fall colors that you can expect near some of the Washington fire lookouts.

17. Mount Pilchuck Lookout

As of August 2023, the lookout is closed for repairs. The lookout is home to amazing views of Glacier Peak, Baker, and the north cascades. Historically, the road was horrible. But it sounds like they’ve smoothed it out, and a sedan can access it now.

Many say it’s one of the hardest fire lookouts to hike in Washington. I haven’t done it yet, but I will once it opens back up!

  • Hike Length: 5.2 miles
  • Fire Lookout Elevation Gain: 2,100
  • Hike Difficulty: Hard

Gear to bring on your Washington fire lookout hikes

Make sure you have enough food and water to get you up and down safely. Additionally, having the appropriate hiking gear, such as:

Find all your hiking gear at REI

Practice Leave No Trace

Please follow Leave No Trace Principles and ensure your recreation on public lands leaves them enjoyable for others behind you. Most of these Washington fire lookouts are run by volunteers, which means they aren’t being paid to clean up your mess.

So, please make it easy on them and pack out what you pack in.

Tolmie Lookout during blue hour. One of the most popular Washington fire lookouts.

FAQ: Fire Lookouts in Washington

Which is the most accessible of the Washington fire lookouts?

Fremont Lookout is incredibly accessible as it’s inside Mt. Rainier National Park, and you can drive most of the way up. Additionally, it’s only a two-hour drive from the Seattle metro area. Red Top Lookout requires only a half-mile walk, but it’s nearly three hours from Seattle and is on a semi-long dirt road.

Lastly, Heybrook Lookout is about two miles round trip and just outside Seattle.

One of my favorite Washington fire lookouts is Park Butte near Mt Baker.
fire lookouts washington

What should I bring to sleep in a fire lookout?

If you’re able to sleep inside one of the Washington fire lookouts, all you need is a sleeping bag and pillow. I’d maybe err on the side of caution and bring your sleeping pad, just in case the beds are cruddy, dirty, or there’s not enough room. (Some people will allow others to sleep inside with them, others will want more privacy).

What should I do if I see a fire while on a lookout?

If you have service, please call 911. If not, call when you do and let them know what you saw and approximately where it is.

How many Washington Fire Lookouts are there?

There are over 100 fire lookouts in Washington, and it would require a dedicated effort and many years to knock them all off your hiking list!

Thorp Mountain Lookout is a great hike for families!

Wrapping Up – Washington Fire Lookout hikes

These Washington fire lookouts are incredible and offer mesmerizing views, great exercises, and a chance to see places some never venture to. (At least the less visited ones here.) They provide a historical significance, while not needed as much now, but allow us an objective to adventure towards as we connect more with nature.

I hope you enjoy hiking to these fire lookouts in Washington.

Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.

Subscribe to my blog!

Follow my adventures on TikTokFacebook, and Instagram.

Read about an incredible PNW hike here.