WINCHESTER Mountain/Lookout
Route: Twin Lakes approach, snow-covered trail (snowshoe)

TR #: 79

Category: Washington (SR 542)       Lookout Elev: 6,521 ft        Rock Type: Gneiss, others

Partner: (solo) 

Spending a winter night in an old fire lookout on a North Cascades summit is a wonderful way to not study for a statistics midterm.

Amazing views from the old fire Lookout on the summit of Winchester Mountain. From left to right: Border Peaks, Larrabee, The Pleiades, Slesse; Canadian Cascades (such as Mt. Webb); northern North Cascades (such as Spickard, Redoubt, Copper, Pickets, Granite); Ruth, Icy, Sefrit, Goat, Shuksan; and Baker. The lookout is on the far right of the photo in front of Baker.

Overview of Lookout

The Route

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

Road and trailhead:
From Mt. Baker HWY, drive (or snowshoe, depending on season) the Twin Lakes road 5 miles and 1,600 feet to the Yellow Aster Butte Trailhead. The road gets pretty rough here, so most people opt to hike the last 2 miles and 1,600 more feet of road to where the trail starts at Twin Lakes (5,200ft).

It's only 2 miles and 1,300 feet from Twin Lakes to the summit of Winchester Mountain. One of the last fire-lookouts in the region stands on the summit. If snow free, the trail is an easy day hike. In the winter, snowshoers and skiers often opt for a more direct route up the avalanche chute to the south of the trail. Given the southeast exposure check the avalanche conditions before heading up in the winter.

The Lookout

Located in a subalpine setting within the Mt. Baker Wilderness and with views of Mt. Baker, Mt. Shuksan and the Picket Range, Winchester Mountain Lookout (elev 6,521 ft) is a popular destination with hikers. The 14x14' L-4 ground house was built in 1935 and staffed until 1966. It fell into disrepair but in 1982 the Mt. Baker Club obtained a special use permit to restore and maintain the structure, which is open to the public. It is listed on the National Historic Lookout Register.

The L.O. is always open for individuals who want to stay overnight. There are cots, propane, and a few cooking utensils. If you want, feel free to take "supplies" up and donate them to the club. Bring your own water and sleeping bags. The L.O. does not take reservations and is mostly visited during the months July-September because of snow.

• 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

From Winchester Mountain, views are spectacular, including Tomyhoi, Border Peaks, Larrabee, The Pleiades, Slesse, Canadian Cascades, Spickard, Redoubt, Copper, Pickets, Granite, Ruth, Icy, Sefrit, Goat, Shuksan, Baker, and much much more. The lookout is on the far right of the photo in front of Baker. The radial diagram below lists the peaks you can see in order of magnetic declination.

Labeled panoramic view from summit.

Peaks you can see from the lookout.

Photo Trip Report


(Click on images to enlarge)

The road was clear until around 3000ft, about 2 miles before the Yellow Aster Butte Trailhead. From there, it was a pleasant snowshoe on road, and then up the avalanche chute to the Lookout. Snow always makes things pretty. (Note that on a usual winter, you can probably expect snow from the start of the road; but due to Murphy's Law and the fact the winter Olympics have come to Vancouver, snow seems to have gone on strike this year.)
Hmmm...think they check?

Twin Lakes.

The approach route.

The approach route as seen from Goat Mtn, by gimpilator on

Up the avalanche chute.

Views of Shuksan and Baker.

Views of Baker.

The final ridge to the summit.


(Click on images to enlarge)

I had a midterm Monday, so I brought my notes. But the views of endless snow-capped Cascades were much more interesting than my notes on regression analysis. Of course, one of my goals of the trip was some night photography. Clouds moved in obscuring the stars, but candlelight streaming out of the Lookout windows still made for good photos! The sunset was spectacular.

The Lookout on the summit, only half-buried.


Baker from inside.
Alpineglow on Canadian Border Peak, American Border Peak, Larrabee, The Pleiades.
Summit views: Black/white.
Summit views: Afternoon light.

Summit views: Beautiful sunset.

I had my notes cracked open at least.

Exposure: 100 sec, f/10.0, ISO 200.

Exposure: 72 sec, f/13.0, ISO 500.

Exposure: 4 min, f/7.1, ISO 400.

Exposure: 7 min, f/7.1, ISO 400.

Tomyhoi, Border Peaks, and Larrabee. Exposure: 10 min, f/7.1, ISO 400.


(Click on images to enlarge)

The hike out just reversed the hike in. Clouds had thickened overnight and it snowed lightly. I took photos of the many wet slides on the route (I wouldn't hike up here in high slide danger) and the cool perfect 6-pointed snowflakes.
Morning light.
Morning light.

Perfect snowflakes. (These are called Stellar Dendrites, and form at temps around 28°F in relatively moist air. Snowflake formation is complex and varied, but in general drier air would tend to form plates, and cooler air would tend to form needles and prisms. See here for more discussion.)

Wet slides.

This berm used to block the road before an adventurous 4x4 and unseasonable lack of snow made it passable.

Future Visits to Lookout

September 2012 hike to Lookout

On a brilliant autumn morning in late September 2012 I hiked to the lookout with my parents. The fall colors rimmed the trail with reds and oranges. The area takes on a totally different character in the summer and fall, when the road can be driven to the trailhead at Twin Lakes and hikers and campers abound in this popular short dayhike destination. Below are a couple of photos I took in September 2012.


November 2014 hike to Lookout

I visited Winchester Lookout for a third time in November 2014 with my friends Matt, Tom, Carla, Barbara, Elle, and Izzy (Elle's dog). After hiking the snowy trail to High Pass, we hiked up to the lookout. There was enough new snow that we had to walk up the upper Twin Lakes road and use micro-spikes, but not enough snow to make snowshoes necessary. Below are some photos I took in November 2014.