5 Lookouts Near Seattle to Visit This Summer

Summer is coming and that means the highest of elevations will be free of snow and hiking can begin! High elevations provide some of the most incredible views of the PNW and I have just the place to go! Add fire lookouts to your hiking plans this summer! 

What are fire lookouts? Are all lookouts, "fire watch" lookouts?

While Fire lookouts have really only gained popularity in the hiking community some have actually been around for nearly 100 years. Fire lookouts were designed and built by the Federal Forest Service to provide a safe place for their fire watchers to be housed during the fire seasons. Fire Lookouts are almost always found at the top of mountain peaks, well above the tree line, because this allowed fire watchers to have an open view of the forests below them.


These shelters vary in size as some are 2 layers with rooms on the tops, other are just a window enclosed building, but almost all are on a stand with thick wire cables reaching from the platform to mountain ground it sits on (these wires are meant to protect the lookout and the watcher in case of lightning strikes). Due to the remote nature of these lookouts the watchers would need to hike in on miles of trails to reach their new home for the fire season. 

trail to fire lookout
wide shot of fire lookout]

Fire Lookouts are one of the most common lookouts but is not only type of lookout. Many of the lookouts in the Cascades were actually built during the World Wars as a lookout for foreign aircraft since the United States was worried about the Pacific Coast being the target on foreign attacks (time would show that the Axis Powers would not make any attempts on attacking mainland USA). These lookouts served a great purpose during the wars and many were then staffed as fire lookouts after the threat of war was gone. 


Exact numbers are uncertain but some records suggest there used to be over 300 lookouts, but as the need for them decreased and technology developed these fire lookouts began to be removed. Some of the most up to date records show there to be only about 90 lookouts remaining. Some of these lookouts are still operational during fire season and some are simply just existing.


These remaining fire lookouts and trails have provided hikers with opportunities to reach heights above the trees and take in some INCREDIBLE and BREATHTAKING views. I strongly recommend finding yourself out on these 5 hikes this summer. The window of opportunity for these hikes might be short but squeezing these into your schedule will be well worth it.

view from washington fire lookout

Quick Safety Tips

These hikes are at higher elevation which means there may have snow on the trail much longer than the lower elevation hikes, always check trail reports and make sure you’re prepared for a variety of weather. The window of opportunity for these hikes might be short due to snow conditions but squeezing these into your schedule will be well worth it. Always remember the 10 Hiking Essentials & practice Leave No Trace Etiquette. 

Now it’s time to learn about 5 of the best Fire Lookouts in the Seattle Area!

view from tolmie fire lookout

Tolmie Peak Fire Lookout

Location: Mt Rainier Area; Carbon River (NW Side of the National Park)

Distance: 7.5 Mile Roundtrip & 1,100ft Elevation 


As one of the most picturesque views of Mt. Rainier Tolmie Peak Fire Lookout finds itself perched atop Eunice Lake with an incredible view of the lake and the mountain filling the view above.


Starting at Mowich Lake, the trail to Tolmie Peak is a nice and steady climb, which allows hikers to the chance to enjoy multiple views of Mt Rainier before even reaching the best view. With 2 very accessible lakes along the trail many hikers find themselves taking in the blue waters of Eunice before making the final assent to the lookout.


I have seen multiple individuals swimming in the lakes on hot summer days. This trail is extremely popular on warm summer days so I recommend getting to the trailhead early or plan to hike up to another half mile getting to the trailhead.


Do not let the fear of crowds deter from this hike, the views are absolutely worth it and there is lots of space along the trail and at the lookout.

ire lookout close up Large

High Rock Fire Lookout

Location: Mt Rainier Area; White Pass (South Side)

Distance: 3.2 Miles Roundtrip & 1,365ft Elevation


I first found High Rock Fire Lookout before the pandemic when and it has been one of my favorite lookouts. This Fire Lookout provides one of the only chances in Washington to see where a lookout once stood and will soon stand again, a real “before & after moment”.


In June 2021 the existing lookout was removed to be repaired, with an anticipated completion and replacement by the end of 2023. Regardless of the lookout being in place or not the landscape is filled with views of Mt. Rainier, Mt. St Helens, Mt. Adams, and on the clearest of days, Mt. Hood. Do not let the short length of the trail fool you, the quick elevation gain will leave you with pride of your accomplishment and potentially some sore legs the next day.

view from fire lookout Large

Fremont Fire Lookout

Location: Mt Rainier Area; Sunrise Visitor Center (NE Side)

Distance: 5.6 Miles Roundtrip & 1,200ft elevation

Inside the National Park Boundaries you will find several fire lookouts but the trail to Fremont Fire Lookout is one of the most unique. Starting at the Sunrise Visitor Center hikers will find themselves walking through repaired meadows, along exposed rock paths, and will even pass Frozen Lake, all while having incredible views of Mt. Rainier.


During my last trip to Fremont Fire Lookout I was also able to experience the vast wildlife in the National Park as I saw a handful of chipmunks, Hoary Marmots, and a herd of 7 mountain goats. Although you are in the National Park the crowds will grow smaller as you pass Frozen Lake and the lookout typically is not overcrowded unlike other parts of the park.


It is important to know that this section of the park is often fogged in during early summer months due to the elevation and tendency of cloud burn off to not happen.

Heybrook Lookout

Location: Central Cascades; Index Area

Distance: 2.6Miles Roundtrip & 850ft elevation

Heybrook Fire Lookout is a very unique lookout beyond its beauty. This lookout is one of the tallest lookouts in Washington at 63 feet tall with 2 stories to the elevated building but is also one of the lowest in elevation in Western Washington.


The height makes up for the low elevation to allow hikers to see above the trees and gain a beautiful view of the cascades. For those who want to spend more than just an afternoon at the lookout may find themselves doing just that as the upper level of the lookout can be rented out to spend the night in. The lookout is rented out up to 6 months in advance to anyone who finds themselves lucky enough to secure a rental.


The rentals from May 18th to October 31st are released on May 1st and this year were quickly filled. The next chance to secure a reservation will be on November 1st when the new slot of reservations up to May 2024 will be released. The rental is managed through Recreation.gov

towering heybrook fire lookout
trail to fire lookout

Granite Mountain Lookout

Location: Snoqualmie Pass

Distance: 8.6Miles Roundtrip & 3,800ft elevation

Located less than an hour from Seattle Granite Mountain Lookout is the closest of the lookouts mentioned but is also the toughest. Believed to have been used as a WWII watch and is now used as a fire lookout.  Snoqualmie/North Bend area is known for several difficult hikes that have been taken over crowds for the amazing views.


In my experience, although popular, this incredible hike remains more hidden and not as crowded. With an elevation gain just shy of 4,000 ft your legs will be sore the next day (or even during it), but I can promise you the views will make it all worth it. Sitting above most of the Cascades this lookout will provide sweeping views of the Snoqualmie valley below.

fire lookout Large

Final Trail Thoughts

Fire Lookouts are often maintained by groups of volunteers so please make sure you are being good stewards of the land and cleaning up any trash you see on the way to the lookouts. Access is very limited in the winter and spring to these lookouts which increases popularity in the summer months – make sure you pack your patience and arrive early to trailheads.


Finally, Fire Lookouts are often staffed by the USFS during the summer months. If they are being staffed when you are there, they often will allow you the opportunity to go into the lookout and see all the instruments they use to watch over the forests (I have found that many trail reports will note when lookouts are being staffed, aim for those days for the full experience).


No matter if the lookout is being staffed these lookouts will provide amazing views to anyone willing to lace up their boots and start on that trail. Take the opportunity to climb above the trees and see from a bird’s eye view this summer. With that, Happy Hiking & see you on the trail.

Matt Bio Headshot

Matthew Rounsley

Hey everyone! My name is Matt and I am a lifelong native to Washington and am obsessed with all things PNW. This summer you can find me out of the trails as part of my goal to spend every weekend outside in nature. Other than hiking I love traveling, trying new restaurants, and being a tourist in my own town. Social: Mainly Instagram @matt_rounsley

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