Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
Staffed by Volunteers; Currently standing
Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.
August 6, 2022
National Historic Lookout Register.
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.
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.