|Mount Baker from Park Butte Lookout|
Difficulty: Moderate; trail is quite rocky in places
Access: Decent gravel road to trailhead doable by most vehicles, Northwest Forest Pass necessary
You better hang on tight to your jaw when you climb the ladder up to Park Butte Lookout, otherwise you'll have to scramble a couple hundred feet down a cliff to look for it when your jaw drops off at the lookout's panorama of Mount Baker and the peaks of the North Cascades. This is one of Washington State's best known and best loved hiking destinations for good reason: the in-your-face views of Mount Baker and the views of the Twin Sisters, the Pickets, Glacier Peak, and just about every other North Cascades peak you can name. The hike starts from a valley bottom and ascends to this decommissioned fire lookout, passing through forest and subalpine meadows to end at a serrated rock ridge in the alpine. It's an excellent hike with unbeatable views and a reasonable effort, which also makes it an extremely crowded and popular hike.
I hiked this trail with three friends after having watched the Perseid Meteor Shower in North Cascades National Park the night before. The approach from Seattle is along I-5 north to Burlington, then east on Route 20 to Baker Lake Road, then north along Baker Lake Road to the left turnoff for National Forest Road 12, then finally 8 miles of gravel road driving along National Forest Road 12 at first and then a right up National Forest Road 13. NF-13 dead ends at the trailhead. We arrived at 10:30 on a Saturday and found a packed parking area at the trailhead.
After departing the parking lot, the trail immediately crossed Sulfur Creek via a well-built bridge. The following mile of trail was flat, easy hiking through the grassy Schreiber's Meadows. We occasionally caught views of Mount Baker through the trees.
|Meltwater stream from Easton Glacier|
We caught our first clear views of Mount Baker at the meadows. At the junction with the trail to the Railroad Grade, we stayed to the left, continuing on towards Park Butte. When we reached the upper end of the meadow, we looked back and saw the rugged, snow-capped peaks of the Mountain Loop Highway and Glacier Peak Wilderness to the southeast.
|Koma Kulshan rises over grassy meadows|
|North Cascades and tarns in the high meadows|
|Pocket Lake from trail|
|North Cascades vista on final ascent to Park Butte|
|Final approach to the lookout|
The lookout was unlocked when we visited. In the summer, the lookout is often claimed for overnight stays on a first-come, first-serve basis. The deck surrounding the lookout was quite narrow, so the lookout provided little room for the many groups that congregated at the summit.
The undoubted highlight was the views- what views! The undoubted star of the show was Mount Baker's tumbling glaciers and the colorful Black Buttes that rose to the west above the Deming Glacier. From Mount Baker looking to the right, we could see Shuksan, the Pickets, Bacon, Triumph, Eldorado, Snowking, Glacier , White Chuck, Pugh, Sloan, and Whitehorse. Loomis Mountain, Dock Butte, and the Twin Sisters filled the closer-in view to the south and the west.
|Meadows surrounding Park Butte and the North Cascades|
|Twin Sisters from Park Butte Lookout|
|The Picket Range from Park Butte|