Hike to Winchester Mountain Fire Lookout

Whatcom County, Washington

4.8/5
based on 6 reviews

Details

Distance

3.5 miles

Elevation Gain

1320 ft

Route Type

Out-and-Back

Description

Added by Beau Ramsey

One of the greatest reward for least amount of effort in the North Cascades. Stay the night in a historical Fire Lookout (1st come, 1st Serve). Campsites at lake or on the summit area.

Winchester Mountain is said to have the greatest reward for least amount of effort in all the North Cascades. One of the last fire-lookouts in the region stands on the summit. Views from the summit of Winchester Mountain are beautiful and dramatic to say the least. Being one of the easiest hikes on Hwy 542, it gains only 1,300ft in 2.5 miles from Twin Lakes.

NOTE: A high clearance vehicle is required to drive Twin Lakes Road beyond the Yellow Aster Butte trailhead. Otherwise park at the Yellow Aster Butte trailhead and hike 2 miles and 1,600ft to Twin Lakes (5,200ft). This will change the total mileage from 5 miles round-trip to 9 miles.

GETTING THERE:

  • From I-5 take exit 255 (Sunset/Mt Baker hwy) and drive east 31 miles to the town of Glacier
  • Drive another 13.5 miles and take a left on forest service road 3065 (Twin Lakes Road)
  • Drive 5 miles (stay left at all forks) park at the Yellow Aster Butte/Lake Tomyhoi trailhead
  • From here high clearance vehicles may be able to drive beyond this point but it gets very rough. Park at Twin Lakes Trailhead.
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Features

Camping
Fishing
Photography
Snowshoeing
Backpacking
Hiking
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Forest
Lake
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Reviews

Easily one of my favorite overnight trips to date. The hike quickly takes you uphill (slightly strenuous, but overall easy) so just give yourself time to recover when you need it. The views are INCREDIBLE. We went in mid September and the temperatures quickly dropped into the mid twenties at night but we were well prepared with our winter gear.

One of my favorite hikes when I lived in Bellingham. The best views I witnessed up there was right after the first dusting of snow but the fall colors were still bright orange and red.. Very beautiful scene!

Had a great time backpacking to the lookout tower, although steep the hike is relatively short and only takes around an hour to complete. Definitely one of my favorite views of Mt. Baker. Try to come on a new moon to see the milky way and aurora borealis!

This hike has it all. We went during the week, and not only had the place to ourselves, but the fire lookout as well. It would have been a cold, windy night without it! I would rate this hike as beginner, with the drive up the road to get there being advanced :-/ Even in a compact SUV it was challenging and I got stuck a few times. Made it though and it was totally worth it. I kayaked in the lake for a bit before starting the hike, and if you do want to stay by the lake, there are lots of great little sites with flat tent sites and fire pits. Incredible views that I almost didn't feel worthy of seeing for the little effort it took to hike up -- so good!

This site lists this trail as a beginner, and another Washington Trails site had it listed as an Intermediate. Frankly, under the conditions that I hiked it over the weekend, it is more advanced than publicized, and not for the faint of heart. It's not a long hike, but the elevation gained in a 2-mile distance to the top is pretty intense. I am very fit, and had a difficult time carrying a medium pack. The top third of the hike has switchback turns across a rocky face, and in the rain, was very slick and unnerving. Throughout the trail, lots of loose rock. We spent the night in the fire lookout (thank goodness it is there!), but even with good camping gear, it was cold and difficult to rest. There's a gigantic flag that creates a lot of noise with the wind gusts. In good weather, this location would be amazing, but if there is any risk of rain, I'd suggest skipping it. We got a good look at the lakes as we came down the mountain the following morning, but aside from that, it was not an ideal adventure. The road conditions are not nice, but not that terrible, you just have to drive very slow. You would be totally fine in a truck or SUV, and most station wagons (we drove our Subaru up there). There were no sections where we bottomed out. Just take your time. It's a one-lane road with a lot of ruts.

The forest road to the Twin Lakes trailhead is one of the roughest forest roads I've experienced in Washington State. But a vehicle with all-wheel drive and decent clearance can make it without much trouble if a slow pace and care is taken. The approximate two-mile hike from the trailhead up to Winchester lookout results in a huge reward, sweeping views of countless North Cascades peaks, most notably Mt. Larrabee, Mt. Shuksan, and Mt. Baker. This relatively short hike might have the biggest payoff in the whole of the North Cascades. Outdoor privy at the lookout is no longer in order.

Don't forget your camera - sweeping views of the Cascades make this a truly rewarding hike.

Leave No Trace

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Nearby

Winter Hike to Winchester Mountain

Hike Yellow Aster Butte and Tomyhoi Peak

Climb Ruth Mountain and Icy Peak

Catch a Sunrise at Picture Lake

Hike to Chain Lakes

Winter Backpack to Artist Point