A hiker sits on the railing at Park Butte Lookout with Mt Baker behind him.

Hiking the Park Butte Lookout Trail at Mt. Baker

Everyone is looking for 360-degree views, and the Park Butte Lookout trail gives you precisely that. The scenery is superb, with Mt. Baker to the north, Puget Sound to the east, cascades to the west, and Rainier to the south! With stunning mountain views, the wildflowers should add an extra bright spot to your Park Butte Lookout hike if you’re in the right season.

Overall, this isn’t too tough of a hike and one you can finish in the dark if you want to score some sunset views. The Park Butte Lookout trail is easy to follow and winds you through some simply gorgeous terrain before the final push to the top.

Keep an eye out for it when you’re down below, as it’s wild to see it just hanging there on edge.

Related: See the top 22 hikes in Washington

Everything you need to know about the Park Butte Lookout Trail

Best hiking trail Park Butte Lookout Hike Washington
Park Butte Lookout Hike Washington

Hiking Details for Park Butte Lookout Trail

  • Length: 7.2 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 2,000 feet
  • Difficulty: Mild
  • Total Trail Time: 2-4 hours
  • Distance from Seattle: 2 hours (the last bit is a dirt road but manageable for most cars, but go slow)

On the Trail: Hiking the Park Butte Lookout Trail

Park Butte Lookout is a standard hike and trail with a gradual uphill trajectory. But the views are absolutely mesmerizing, and it’s one of the top hikes in the Mt. Baker area.

The first mile of the hike is an easy stroll (400 feet of gain), but once you pass the river, the incline begins, and you’ll start to feel it in your legs. This portion is in the trees, and your views get better, but you’ll only have a few areas to look to the southwest, thanks to trees and branches.

From the bridge to where you pass the Railroad Grade trail (another 1.5 miles), you gain almost 1,000 feet. But now, if your skies are clear, you’ll have views of Mt. Baker. Let me tell ya. It’s so freaking cool!

The trail will begin to turn away from Mt. Baker, and soon, Park Butte Lookout will emerge like a little tiny Monopoly house. Make sure to point it out because not everyone in your party will see it.

You still have about 600 feet of gain to going a mile as you keep climbing up towards the ridge line. The final bit can be steep, but now you have EPIC views of Mt. Baker, the cascades, and Puget Sound to occupy your mind.

Once you reach the lookout, climb up the ladder and start taking in the massive view.

Going into Park Butte Lookout

Once you arrive at Park Butte Lookout, you’re allowed to enter into it. However, be respectful of those who have set up shop for the night, and do not disturb their personal gear.

Inside, you’ll see some cool relics from the past as well as other historical artifacts.

Park Butte Lookout Hike Washington Park Butte Lookout Hike Washington Mt Baker Washington PNW hiking

Planning your trip to Park Butte Lookout

Where is Park Butte Lookout?

Park Butte Lookout is on the south side of Mt. Baker near Baker Lake. It sits in the Mt. Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest on the edge of the Mt. Baker Wilderness. Actually, the lookout straddles the wilderness and national forest boundary line.

Getting to the trailhead

The drive from Seattle to the trailhead is just over two hours. You’ll head north on I-5 and then exit towards Cedro-Wooley on SR 20. You’ll head east for a while before turning left onto Baker Lake Rd.

When you arrive at NF-13 (just download the route), you’ll go left on a dirt road, and this will be the route to the trailhead. The first half of the road is in good shape, but then it’ll get really bumping and full of potholes.

While standard sedans can make it, you’ll have a better time if you bring a high-clearance SUV.

How difficult is the Park Butte Lookout hike?

I would rate this hike as medium to hard. For some people, the uphill sections will really drain them in addition to it being nearly eight miles round trip. However, if you’re in good shape and hike a lot, you shouldn’t have any major issues.

Yeah, you’ll be a little tired, but that’s not out of the ordinary.

Are there bathrooms at the trailhead?

Yes, there are a few bathrooms at the trailhead. After that, though, there are no more bathroom facilities for you to use. It’s just you and Mother Nature after that, so come prepared.

Park Butte Lookout Hike Washington

What pass do I need to hike to Park Butte Lookout?

You can either use the Northwest Forest Pass or the America the Beautiful Pass. This hike is on public lands, so you need a pass that supports federal lands.

Do I need bear spray for the hike?

No, you do not need bear spray to hike to Park Butte Lookout or any of the Mt. Baker hikes. The only bears you’ll encounter are black bears, and they are plenty skittish and want nothing to do with you.

How busy is the trail on the weekends?

During the summer months, this is one of the most popular hiking trails in Washington. Expect the parking lot to be full by mid-morning and there to be a line of cars parked along the side of the road.

What to bring on the Park Butte Lookout trail

Hiking Gear

This is only a seven-mile hike with only 2k feet of elevation. So pack up those trail runners or boots, a light jacket, water, snacks, and a lookout beer for a great time.

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Camera Gear

The Park Butte Lookout trail is a great spot to score photos if you’re into photography.

As you’re so close to Mt. Baker, a wide-angle lens is ideal, along with a telephoto, to get the peaks and layers in the distance. Just know the lookout is right on the edge of the National Wilderness area, so keep that in mind if you own a drone.

Park Butte Lookout Hike Washington

What you need to know about sleeping at Park Butte Lookout

It’s a first-come, first-serve situation. If you’d like to sleep in the Park Butte Lookout, get there early, claim your spot, and then go adventure around the area. I couldn’t imagine a more incredible place to spend an evening than at a fire lookout.

It’s rugged yet protected, and all you’d have to do is pack a light backpacking load. If you plan on sleeping here, I’d bring your standard backpacking equipment minus the sleeping pad but make sure to either load up on water or get a filter/something to melt snow with.

Is there any way to reserve the lookout?

There is no way to reserve the Park Butte Lookout for overnight use. If you arrive later and someone has already claimed it, you can always ask nicely to see if they will let you sleep inside. Or you can ask to sleep outside. It might just be a little colder.

However, summer in Washington is pretty grand, and if you have a sleeping bag, you should be fine to cowboy camp.

Park Butte Lookout Hike Washington

Where can I get water?

There should be a few places to filter water on the way up. However, with this being only a single overnight trip, you could tough it out and bring 4L of water to satisfy you for the next 24 hours.

But if you need water, there is Shy Lake, which is just to the left of the trail (hiking up) around the 3.5-mile mark.

What to bring backpacking Park Butte Lookout

If you plan to camp at Park Butte Lookout, this is what I recommend bringing. (Basically, everything but a tent if you’re going to sleep inside.) However, you can’t guarantee you’ll sleep inside.

FAQ: Park Butte Lookout Hike

Is there cell service?

There will be very limited cell service while you hike. On the lookout, you’ll have better chances of having a signal, but do not expect to have anything great. Definitely don’t expect to watch Netflix while up there.

Can dogs do the Park Butte Lookout Hike?

Dogs are allowed on the Park Butte Lookout hike, but they must stay leashed throughout the hike. Please bring baggies to pick up after them as well as enough water and snacks for them to stay hydrated.

Are drones allowed at the lookout?

Drones are technically allowed at Park Butte Lookout. If you launch the drone from the trail, you’re going to be outside of the wilderness zone. If you launch the drone from the lookout, you’re breaking federal law.

Wrapping up – Park Butte Lookout Trail

You’re going to love the park butte lookout hike. It’s good for families, not too strenuous, and the views are gobsmacking beautiful. So this summer, make sure you find your way out to the PNW and do not miss the Park Butte Lookout trail!

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 ExploreWithAlec.com. 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