Suntop Mountain L.O.

Washington Lookouts

Location.

Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Status.

Staffed by Volunteers; Currently standing

Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.

4 hours

Date visited.

August 6, 2022

Elevation.

5,280′

National Historic Lookout Register.

Yes

Trip Report.

Every year I like to plan a camping trip for my friends and I, or at least for the ones that are interested in camping. It started as a tradition with my friend, Anjelica, at South Beach State Park in 2016. It was the first time we came to the realization that we could plan a camping trip without our parents. It was just us and her boyfriend at the time. In 2017, it really took on its true form as a girls trip when two more friends joined us. During that trip, on a hike, there was a trail sign that someone had carved in the words “Lost Boys” and the year they were there. We joked that we were now considered the Lost Girls. Since then our little group of four has managed to go camping every year (minus a year for the Pandemic) and we still jokingly refer to ourselves as the Lost Girls. I always try and pick somewhere new for us to explore when planning. It generally ends up being in central or northern portions of Washington since we are split between Portland and Seattle. This year was a bit different since we had two more friends and three dogs joining us. The campground I picked this year, Silver Springs, was in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie NF and close to plenty of recreation opportunities. I didn’t expect to explore as much as we usually do just based on the logistics of getting us all around. Traveling with dogs immediately cuts out any trail options in the National Park too. Out of curiosity, I decided to look at the potential Fire Lookouts in the area. I saw we were really close to Suntop, which is just outside of the National Park with a great view of Mount Rainier. I recommended it to my friends who all seemed to be down. Step one in slowly tricking my friends into going to Fire Lookouts. I was still skeptical we’d be able to round up everyone for the caravan and short hike though. But, even after we all made it to camp they seemed motivated to make it happen. Not that any of them read this blog, but thanks friends!

We left camp around late-morning on Saturday with a two car caravan. I made the mistake of not bringing a map or doing much research on the route needed to get there. That’s on me, but I truly didn’t think it was going to happen. Luckily, I had a vague idea on where we needed to turn from looking at the route prior to the trip and guessed correctly. From HWY-410, we headed north and turned left onto NF-73. There wasn’t a sign for this road, so it would have most likely been a guessing game regardless. We were able to get service here and confirmed the remainder of the route. We stayed on NF-73 for a little over a mile before we turned left onto NF-7315 which was signed. You will stay on NF-7315 for around 5 miles until you reach the trailhead or summit. There is a gate just past the trailhead that might be open depending on when you visit. We were able to continue past the gate since it was open and I have the luxury of friends with high-clearance vehicles. The road getting there was rough and would need caution in a low-clearance vehicle just to reach the trailhead. Past the gate the road is significantly worse, but we were able to roll around the large embedded rocks with no issues in a Toyota RAV4 and Subaru Outback. There was a sedan that had made it to the summit too, but it didn’t look like it would have been worth it. We also passed a large RV broken down in a pull out along NF-7315 which is a skinny and steep mostly single track road. A reminder that just because someone has done it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea. My partner and I always joke about meeting something like that on these back roads, but I never thought I’d actually ever see one.

From the parking area on the summit, which has room for 10 to 15 vehicles, it was a short easy walk to the lookout. I was hoping to at least do a little portion of the hike, but I can’t complain about being chauffeured to the summit. The Fire Lookout can also be reached via the Suntop Trail #1183. If you park at the trailhead along NF-7315 it is only a half of a mile to the summit. But, if you are looking for more of an adventure you can start at the Suntop trailhead, which is accessed from a different road, and hike the 16 miles round trip. When we approached the Fire Lookout we were greeted by the friendly attendant on duty. I didn’t catch his name or ask as many questions as I wanted to because of all the people. But, he did mention he was staffing it through a volunteer partnership with the Forest Service. He was also only staffing it for two or three days before someone else would come up to volunteer and rotate service. We didn’t stay for long after taking pictures since we left our lunch at camp. I ended up driving my friend’s RAV4 back to camp since she wasn’t keen on the steep drop offs along the road. She also has a fear of heights like me, but I’m more used to driving on these kinds of roads. It was helpful for me to see the road conditions from the drivers seat for when I inevitably come back with my partner.

History.

Suntop was built in 1933 as a 14’x14′ L-4 ground cab. It is one of two remaining lookouts of its kind on the Snoqualmie NF. It was used for the Aircraft Warning Service from 1942 to 1943 during World War II. An access road wasn’t built to the summit until 1956. Although the same structure still stands today, it was refurbished in 1989. It is still staffed on a volunteer basis through the Forest Service.

More Information.

AllTrails

US Forest Service

Washington Trails Association

Backpacking: Lower Crystal Lake

Backpacking

Location.

Mount Rainier National Park

Trail(s).

Crystal Lakes Trail

Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.

3-1/2 hours

Date(s).

July 6-7, 2019

Mileage.

6 miles RT

Elevation gain/loss.

2,300′

Trip Report.

This trip was just shy of a year from our first backpacking trip and the small little trio that I started with had grown. Alex had met his partner, now fiancĂ©, Emily the year before. While I had also started dating my partner by then too. Emily is an avid planner like me and put together this trip for us. She submitted for the permits through the system used back then, which was a mail-in form. You are now able to get these permits online through Recreation.gov if you plan ahead. Otherwise, you are left to the mercy of walk-ups. One thing I like about the permit system of Mount Rainier NP is that they only release the amount of permits equal to the amount of camp spots at each back country location. I’ve come to find that not all National Parks treat their permit quotas the same. This trail was conveniently located in between Seattle and Portland which meant no one had to drive any farther than the other.

We all left relatively early in the morning to get to the park as early as possible. We had to pick up the permits from the White River Wilderness Information Center beforehand which is conveniently located just down the road from the needed trailhead. Emily, Alex, Garnet, and I all carpooled together from Portland while Anjelica drove down from Seattle to meet us. The trailhead is located off of HWY-410 just north of the White River park entrance. There is parking on both sides of the highway that can accommodate roughly 20 cars. The trail to Crystal Lakes leaves from the east side of the highway and starts by crossing Crystal Creek on a log bridge. Your hike will begin in a sub-alpine forest and switchbacks up to the lakes basin. The trail climbs 1,600′ of elevation in the first 1.3 miles, but don’t let the numbers deter you. Although you climb a decent amount of elevation in a short amount of time, the trail is a consistent gradual grade with no significantly steeper sections. You will pass a trail junction for Crystal Peak that can be added as a 5 mile RT side with an additional 1,800′ of elevation gain for the heartier adventurers. From that junction, it’s only another 1.7 miles to upper Crystal Lake. Our permits were for the Lower Crystal Lake which is smaller and only offers two back country camp spots. A wilderness ranger passed us on the way up and checked our permits. A friendly reminder that you need permits to camp in this area and they do indeed check. There are rumors of being able to see Mt Rainier from parts of the trail, but we had no such luck on our trip. We were socked in by a fog cloud. We were able to reach Lower Crystal Lake just before noon. There was no one else there and we had our pick of the spots. Upper Crystal Lake is the more popular destination for day hikers.

We set up camp after having lunch and explored the area around the lower lake. Besides the two camp spots there is also a back country privy and bear pole to hang your food. The shore of the lake is a bit marshy and the better water source is from an outlet stream near one of the camps. There is also a very overgrown user trail that circles the lake. You can tell it sees significantly less use than the rest of the area. We had hoped the fog would clear off for some better views before heading the remaining 0.7 miles to the upper lake, but it didn’t look promising. Eventually we all hiked up to explore around some more since it seemed too early for drinks and games. We had learned from our first backpacking trip that if you start drinking the wine early, it is also gone early. The upper Crystal Lake is much larger than the lower lake and is surrounded by towering peaks. On a clear day it’s worth it to continue the hike up to Sourdough Gap to get a great view overlooking the lake and part of Mt Rainier. This is also where the trail leaves the National Park and connects with the Pacific Crest Trail. We were still settled in a fog cloud and none of us felt it was worth the effort to continue past the lake. Similar to our backpacking trip to Green Point, I had a strong urge to jump in the crystal clear water while everything else was already damp. There were more people around this time and no campfire to warm myself afterwards. I had talked myself out of it, but debated it the remainder of the trip. After taking a sufficient amount of pictures at the foggy upper lake, we headed back to camp for drinks, dinner, and card games. Since there were more of us, we opted to plan our meals separately instead of relying on Alex to do all the work. Garnet and I had a backpacking staple of soy sauce ramen with tuna added. It was warm, salty, and delicious. The fog started to break up a little after playing a couple rounds of Pay Me, a long card game that my family plays often and I have since taught to my friends. We decided to pack up the wine and head to the upper Crystal Lake hopeful for some views. Although it was never truly clear of fog, we did get a better view of the surrounding peaks. We decided to enjoy our drinks on the rocky shore for a while soaking in the scenery. We all headed back to camp before it was dark and settled in for the night.

Everything was damp the next morning. It didn’t rain but there was a constant mist in the air that clung to our gear. Knowing we were only going for one night, Garnet and I had decided to be a bit fancier with our breakfast. We packed up fresh eggs and made a scramble with cheese and tomatoes. Our friends were skeptical of the non-refrigerated eggs but we had no issues with it. There were still no signs of the sun planning to come through to break up the mist and help dry us all out. We cleaned up our camp, filtered water, and packed up our wet gear. Always remember to Leave No Trace and pack out everything you pack in. No one ever ended up joining us at the other camp by the lake. The hike down was pretty uneventful and we passed another park wilderness ranger. I think they frequent this trail often due to it being off a main highway and the close proximity to the wilderness center. There were still no views of Mt Rainier on our way down, but we seemed to have finally hiked our way out of the fog cloud. The sun was even shining when we reached the car. We said our good-byes to Anjelica and headed back towards Portland. We made a quick pit stop at the Packwood Brewing Co for tacos and beer.

More Information.

Washington Trails Association

National Park Service

AllTrails

Shriner Peak L.O.

Washington Lookouts

Location.

Mount Rainier National Park

Status.

Maintained; Currently standing

Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.

2-1/2 hours

Date visited.

October 3, 2021

Elevation.

5,846′

National Historic Lookout Register.

US 207; WA 26

Trip Report.

Fall has arrived! And with it brings the hunting season and potential for snow. My partner and I decided to enjoy a weekend at home for a change despite the gorgeous weather forecast. We still planned on hiking to a lookout in the area as a day trip though. We debated between seeing Clear Lake, Shriner Peak, Gobblers Knob, or Burley Mountain. But, Shriner Peak had been calling my name for a while now, even with the daunting elevation and drive time. We compared the distance and elevation to other challenging hikes we’ve done and decided to go for it. The trailhead is easily accessible off of HWY-123 between the Ohanapecosh Campground and the White River Park Entrance. AllTrails noted the trail as 7.5 miles round trip with 3,356′ elevation gain, while the National Park noted the trail as 8 miles round trip and 3,434′ elevation gain. My phone tracked it closer to 8.5 miles round trip. It is described as difficult and strenuous, but we found it to be more of a moderate hike. It is a continuous up hill climb but nothing in comparison to other hikes we’ve done. If you’ve done Devil’s Peak via Cool Creek Trail then this one will be a breeze in comparison. You will still want to bring a lot of water and lunch for the summit. Despite not feeling like a strenuous hike, I experienced 3 Charlie Horses in one of my calves. I repeat bring lots of water. I’d also recommend this as a late season hike, the cooler temperatures and breeze make a difference. The park notes this as one of their loneliest trails, if you’re looking for a less crowded place to hike. We still saw about 12 groups of people on this hike though. But, in comparison to other trails in the park it is definitely less visited. Some of the groups only hiked to the false summit, 2.5 miles in, which offers a great view of the mountain and below valley. By the time we reached the summit we had it to ourselves. The summit also has two backcountry camp spots only a short hike from the lookout. You need permits to backpack in this area and there is no reliable water source.

I love being able to meet the people that are knowledgeable of these places. We had the pleasure of meeting Ranger Pete from the National Park service while on the summit. He had hiked up when we were enjoying lunch on the catwalk of the lookout. He was staying there for the evening and going to be boarding up the windows in preparation for the winter season. He was kind enough to answer our questions about the area and lookout to the best of his knowledge. He used to work in Glacier National Park and mentioned they actually have active lookouts in the park still. The ones in Mount Rainier National Park function mostly as standing exhibits but are still used by staff and volunteers.

History.

Shriner Peak L.O. was built in 1932 by the National Park Branch of Plans and Designs. It’s the standard 2-story frame cab used by the National Park service that features a ground floor storage room and upper live-in space. It is one of the four remaining lookouts within the Mount Rainier National Park. It was actively staffed until the 1980’s and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. I just need Gobblers Knob to finish visiting all the lookouts within this National Park.

Fly Amanita on the trail
Fly Amanita on the trail

More Information.

Washington Trails Association

National Park Service

AllTrails

Mount Fremont L.O.

Washington Lookouts

Location.

Mount Rainier National Park

Status.

Maintained; Currently standing

Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.

4 hours

Date visited.

July 8, 2017

Elevation.

7,180′

National Historic Lookout Register.

Yes

Trip Report.

This was the first fire lookout I ever visited! I was staying with a friend in Tacoma for the weekend and we decided to go on a hike with one of their friends. Their friend had done this trail before and thought I would love it. They, of course, were right. The views were stunning even from the Sunrise Visitor parking lot and only continued to get better. We took the Sourdough ridge trail until we met up with the other trail junctions near Frozen Lake. The Mount Fremont Lookout trail continues to the right up the ridge. It was only 2.8 miles to the lookout with 900 feet of elevation gain from the parking lot. The trail is very exposed most of the way up, so make sure to come prepared. I didn’t end up getting close to the lookout because I wasn’t sure if we were allowed to at the time. I thought it might have been actively staffed. It’s noted that it is still used by volunteers and park rangers occasionally, but open to climb the stairs and catwalk. The WTA was doing some major work on the trail when we visited. After looking at descriptions of the trail now it appears they were adding stairs to help with erosion. Their project took most of the summer in 2017 to complete.

History.

Mount Fremont Lookout is a standard National Park fashion 2-story frame cab that was built back in 1934 by the Emergency Conservation Works Association. This is one of four lookouts within the National Park and by far the easiest to access. It’s also the highest lookout in the park with an elevation above 7,000 feet.

More Information.

National Park Service

Washington Trails Association

AllTrails

Tolmie Peak L.O.

Washington Lookouts

Location.

Mount Rainier National Park

Status.

Maintained; Currently standing

Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.

4 hours

Date visited.

August 25, 2018

Elevation.

5,939′

National Historic Lookout Register.

Yes

Trip Report.

I woke up early in the morning to meet my friend for this hike. They live in the Seattle area and I’m located in Portland. The drive time is about the same for us but we met in the middle to carpool the remainder of the way. The trail is located on the park’s northwestern corner off of Mowich Lake Road. Driving down Mowich Lake Road is 17 miles of dusty gravel one way. It’s a maintained gravel road and I had no issues in my Civic aside from the constant bump of washboard. Although you do not pass a National Park kiosk you will still need a National Park pass to park and recreate in this area. The trail starts on the north side of Mowich Lake near Mowich Lake C.G. The trail hikes gradually up through forest to Eunice Lake where you will get your first glimpse of the lookout. From Eunice Lake you only have a steep mile left to climb to the lookout. Please only hike on the already constructed trails in this area. The subalpine meadows and shores of Eunice Lake are delicate and easily damaged.

After hiking a total of 3.25 miles and gaining 1,010 feet of elevation you will reach the summit. Tolmie Peak L.O. offers commanding views of Mount Rainier and the surrounding area. It’s a great place to stop and enjoy lunch before hiking back out. There are no backcountry camp spots in this area of the park which means it can only be reached via a day hike.

History.

The lookout itself is in great condition and well maintained by the National Park Service. It’s the original 2-story frame cab that was built by the CCC in 1933. It’s also one of the four remaining lookouts within the National Park. You have access to the cat walk but the doors to the inside are locked. The shutters were open when I visited, so I was able to get a glimpse into what life inside the lookout once was. The name Tolmie Peak comes from Dr. William Tolmie who allegedly led a botanical expedition into this area. But recent research now shows that Dr. Tolmie actually ascended Hessong Rock instead.

More Information.

Washington Trail Association

National Park Service

AllTrails