Six Classic Washington Fire Lookout Huts

The vast, rugged land­scape of Wash­ing­ton state is home to a mul­ti­tude of secrets, hid­den on spec­tac­u­lar high trails above the trees, and open­ing the door to a mul­ti­tude of excit­ing adven­tures. Washington’s fire huts were once the first line of defense against for­est fires, manned by vol­un­teers who would spend sum­mers in iso­la­tion. But now the huts offer overnight lodg­ing and unique van­tage points high above Washington’s crag­gy land­scapes.

Here are clas­sic fire huts in the upper left cor­ner of the con­ti­nen­tal U.S.

fremontFre­mont Look­out
With a rel­a­tive­ly easy trail and a breath­tak­ing view of Mt. Rainier, Fre­mont Look­out offers stun­ning vis­tas with a 5.6‑mile round trip trail and just over 900 feet of ele­va­tion gain. The 1934-con­struct­ed hut is one of four remain­ing near Mt. Rainier and plays home to moun­tain goats and black bear. In spring, the land­scape lends itself to col­or­ful car­pets of wild­flow­ers, con­trast­ing near­by Rainier’s icy glac­i­ers. As hik­ers climb high­er, they are reward­ed with an ever-expand­ing sky­line of peaks, stretch­ing for miles in the dis­tance. This is a great trail for casu­al hik­ers or those with fam­i­lies and young chil­dren.

Mt. Pilchuck
Con­struct­ed in 1918, Mt. Pilchuck fire hut is among one of Washington’s most pop­u­lar, with an often crowd­ed trail but and spec­tac­u­lar over­look of the North Cas­cades and sev­er­al Washington’s famed vol­ca­noes. The 3‑mile trail, which gains just over 2,100 feet, climbs mod­er­ate­ly steep and rocky sec­tions. Along the way, hik­ers pass the rem­nants of the for­mer Mt. Pilchuck ski area, which fea­tured a rope-tow and chair­lift but closed in the 1970s. The peak is an excep­tion­al climb through­out much of the year, and exhil­a­rat­ing in win­ter, how­ev­er, under the snow, it is prone to avalanch­es.

Win­ches­ter Moun­tain
Built in 1935, Win­ches­ter Look­out fea­tures one of the finest sky­lines in the state. With over­reach­ing views of Mt. Bak­er, Shuk­san, Gran­ite Peak, the Pick­ets, plus vis­tas all the way into British Colum­bia. Sit­ting just above Twin Lakes, hik­ers can choose to camp down below and make the look­out a day-trip, or camp inside the look­out on a first-come, first-serve basis. In win­ter, Win­ches­ter makes for a spec­tac­u­lar snow­shoe or Ski-in/s­ki-out expe­ri­ence, with an easy but seclud­ed expe­ri­ence, made only dif­fi­cult by a long approach into Twin Lakes. The loca­tion, plus the remote feel make Win­ches­ter Moun­tain one of the most-loved fire huts in the state.

sourdough mountainSour­dough Moun­tain
As with Des­o­la­tion Peak, Sour­dough moun­tain has its own lit­er­ary dis­tinc­tion as it was the tem­po­rary home for Beat­nik poets Philip Whalen and Gary Sny­der who occu­pied the space in the 1950s. The vibrant wild­flower-car­pet­ed peak stands proud­ly above Dia­blo Lake, between a sky­line of jagged gran­ite moun­tains and lush pine forests in North­ern Wash­ing­ton. The trail is one of the more dif­fi­cult, fol­low­ing a series of switch­backs that rise well above the tree line to a promi­nent look­out over the lakes, forests, and peaks.

Des­o­la­tion Peak
Set at the heart of the North Cas­cades, Des­o­la­tion Peak is one of the more stren­u­ous hikes in the state and a dif­fi­cult hut to reach. But it has his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance, as it was the sum­mer res­i­dence of writer Jack Ker­ouac. In 1956, Ker­ouac spent 63 days in the sum­mer as a fire watch­man. Dur­ing that time, he for­mu­lat­ed his ideas for Lone­some Trav­el­er, The Dhar­ma Bums, and Des­o­la­tion Angels. At the top, hik­ers are offered views high above Ross Lake, includ­ing Jack Moun­tain, and the jagged spire-like Hozomeen Moun­tain. For lit­er­ary lovers of Kerouac’s work, Des­o­la­tion Peak is almost like a pil­grim­age.

Three Fin­gers Look­out
Dra­mat­i­cal­ly perched above the Moun­tain Loop High­way, Three Fin­gers Look­out is one of Washington’s most icon­ic and spec­tac­u­lar fire huts, soar­ing high above the glac­i­er. Three Fin­gers is one of the grand prizes of fire look­out excur­sions involv­ing glac­i­er cross­ings, steep lad­der climb­ing, scram­bling, and ulti­mate remote­ness. Get­ting to the look­out involves knowl­edge of tech­ni­cal skills includ­ing ice axes and rope, but the perch allows for overnight stays and one-of-a-kind views and accom­mo­da­tions in the heart of the Cas­cades. Get­ting to Three Fin­gers isn’t for the faint of heart, but at an ele­va­tion of 6,854 feet, it’s cer­tain­ly one of Washington’s most unfor­get­table expe­ri­ences.

It’s impor­tant to treat the fire huts and his­tor­i­cal struc­tures with care and respect includ­ing avoid­ing over­crowd­ing, denounc­ing and report­ing van­dal­ism, and own­ing a sense of respon­si­bil­i­ty and stew­ard­ship for these extra­or­di­nary places. Treat them with the care and respect that any wild area deserves.