Route: Snow-covered trail (snowshoe)

TR #: 78

Category: Washington (Mtn Loop HWY)       Summit Elev: 5,324 ft       Rock Type: Granite

Partner: Stefan Knorr

A fun wintertime day hike up to the snow-encrusted old fire lookout on the summit of Mt. Pilchuck. Snow accumulation was so low this year that we didn't hit the snow and cool ice formations until halfway up the trail! The peaks were obscured by clouds, but clouds can make for some nice photographs too.

Cloudy view from the deck of the Mount Pilchuck Lookout (panorama stitched together from 5 photographs).

General Overview

The Route

Topo map showing the road and trail.
(Click on image to enlarge)

Road and trailhead:
From the Verlot Public Service Center (11 miles east of Granite Falls), travel east on the Mountain Loop Highway 1.0 mile. Turn right (south) on the Pilchuck Road #42 and continue for 6.9 miles to the trailhead (elev. 3,100 ft).

It's about 3 miles and 2,200 ft from the trailhead to the Mount Pilchuck Lookout. This trail travels through an old-growth forest and follows along the edge of an area clear-cut (for an old ski area) by Washington State Department of Natural Resources in 1977. The trail continues on eventually ending on exposed rocky areas that are easily traveled except when icy conditions exist.

In the summer, getting to the lookout is a quick and easy trail hike, but in the winter getting to the lookout requires skiing or snowshoeing, often part of the way up the Pilchuck Road too. Depending on how much snow there is, you can head up through trees where the summer trail is, or ascend the old ski area slopes just east of this (more avalanche prone).

The Lookout

Mount Pilchuck Lookout (elev. 5324 ft) has been a U.S. Forest Service lookout since 1921. The present wooden L4 14x14' groundhouse was built in 1943 and staffed until 1957. The site was transferred to the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission and in 1989 that agency cooperated in a reconstruction of the lookout by the Everett Branch of The Mountaineers. Reached only by trail, it is used as an interpretive site. This lookout is available for public use on a first-come, first-served basis. Besides for some benches, it is not furnished.

• Fire Lookout Structures in WA's Mountain Ranges
It is my goal to eventually visit all the remaining standing fire lookouts scattered about the mountain ranges of Washington. Click the following link to go to my webpage on fire lookout structures of Washington, which gives a bit of history of fire lookouts as well as a complete listing of the remaining standing lookout structures in the state.

The views

The 5,324-foot summit has tremendous views of the Cascades, Olympics, and Puget Sound. If not obscured by clouds, you can see Mt Baker to the north; Three Fingers, White Chuck, and Glacier Peak to the East; Mt Rainier to the South; and several peaks on the Olympic Peninsula to the West. The radial diagram below lists the peaks you can see in order of magnetic declination.

Peaks you can see from the lookout.

My Photo Trip Report from a Winter Trip to the Lookout

The Lookout on top of Mount Pilchuck.

The outer deck of the Lookout.

Some rime on the lookout. Can only imagine what kind of weather this place gets during a rough winter storm!

Another photo of the outer deck, black and white.

Warming up with some hot chocolate inside the lookout (basically just a seating area inside, with some interesting historical photos and articles around the edges).

The summit area to the north of the lookout. We didn't see any peaks because of the clouds, but the fog and clouds gave some nice wintertime photos.

Two trees (black and white and color versions).

Rime on icicles.

More cool ice formations.

Snowy pine cones.