Park Butte Lookout
During the height of their time in the 1930’s there were around 5000 fire lookouts constructed in the US, perched atop tall rugged and often not easily accessible mountain tops. Washington State alone was home to 685 of them. They served as stations from which it was easy to locate and report fires so that crews could be dispatched promptly to tend to the flames.
With the rise of technology in the mid 70’s many of these lookouts became obsolete and were consequently removed. Others were left to rot. Only 87 remain standing in the State of Washington of which less than 30 are still used for fire detection. Few of the surviving lookouts became protected and some have been adopted and maintained by volunteers. One such lookout sits atop Park Butte and represents very popular hike in Mount Baker area.
The trail to the lookout starts with a stroll through beautiful Schrieber’s Meadow. In the fall this is one of the best blueberry picking spot in the Cascades. In 0.7 miles the meadow ends and you will reach Rocky Creek. It’s main channel frequently changes location and cairns will often lead you across. Today we are lucky. The flow is so low and we can rockhop. In the spring and early summer this creek can rage with snowmelt and aid of a log or a ladder bridge might be needed to cross. Wading is also not uncommon.
After crossing Rocky Creek you will notice a change in your surroundings. You will now proceed through a forest of mountain hemlock and yellow cedar. Their canopy is appreciated on hot summer days, as the grade stiffens here and you start making your way up to Morovitz Meadow where unobstructed views of Mt. Baker looming over fields of heather and berry bushes awaits.
Stay left at junction with Railroad Grade, unless you fancy an interesting side trip to a snout of Easton Glacier, and descent to Bell Pass Junction. From there you will climb once again on a moderate grade with your destination in clear view. Pikas and marmots reside in the boulder fields nearby and you will often hear their high pitched whistle. Pikas are the shy ones dodging for cover as soon as they become aware of you while marmots often remain perched on their rocks undisturbed by your presence. At the elevation of 5450 ft you will reach the lookout and outstanding 360 degree views.
When we arrive the lookout is free of visitors. It is not an usual winter hiking destination and it’s current accessibility on foot is only possible due to the lack of snow we are experiencing this season. The same lack of snow keeps the snowmobilers who usually roam Morovitz Meadow at this time of the year away and we appreciate the peace and solitude and the undisturbed white blanket of snow around us. Only couple of day hikers stop by and later a group camping in the meadow comes to see the sunset. Apart from them we have the lookout for ourselves, something that would hardly be possible during summertime. Later that night when the dark sky fill with millions of stars we agree we could hardly find a better place to celebrate Valentines Day.
From Burlington (exit 230 on I-5), head east on the North Cascades Highway (SR-20) for 23 miles, turning left 0.4 miles after milepost 82 onto Baker Lake Road.
Continue 12.3 miles on Baker Lake Road. The turnoff onto FR 12 is tricky: FR 12 is marked by a sign at the bridge before the intersection with the Forest Road. Turn left on the unmarked FR 12, continuing 3.7 miles to the intersection with FR 13. Turn right onto FR 13, and proceed 5.3 miles to the trailhead parking area. There is parking for about 40 cars.
Hiked: 2/14/2015 -2/15/2015
Distance: 9.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 2850 ft