Hiking throughout the Pacific Northwest can leave the outdoor-loving adventurers soul feeling like it’s finally found its way home. There are countless mountain peaks beckoning in the distance, cascading waterfalls and glacier-made lakes hiding around corners, and endless hikes just waiting to be explored. In this grandiose part of the country, the only thing an adventurer’s soul may find troubling is deciding which treks will make the cut as a ‘must-do’ hike for the season.
A good place to start for narrowing down the search is to ask the locals (they really do know best). The next step would be to take into serious consideration any hike that a local refers to as ‘absolutely breathtaking’, or ‘best hike of your life’.
Hiking High Rock Lookout
Following this rule of thumb is exactly how I stumbled upon one of my personal favorites— High Rock Lookout , a lightly trafficked, moderately difficult hike located in Ashford, Washington. The trailhead sits a few miles outside of Mt. Rainier National Park, and along with being jaw-droppingly beautiful, the hike also has one of the best shots of Mt. Rainier I’ve ever seen (for free!).
With postcard-worthy views, a 600 ft. Vertical drop overlooking Cora Lake, and an end destination at one of the last standing fire lookouts’ in the area, ‘breathtaking’ may even stand to be an inadequate description.
High Rock Lookout will lead you to one of the most prominent points along the Sawtooth Ridge—a picturesque mountain line that overlooks the Nisqually river just south of Mt. Rainier. At 3.2 miles round trip and a 1365 ft. elevation gain offering few switchbacks, the moderately rated climb to its spectacular views is short, exerting, but undoubtedly well worth it. Since the start of the hike itself begins at an elevation of 4,300 ft, the hike is best accessible in the warmer months ranging from May-October.
The trailhead for High Rock Lookout is located off National Forest Road 8440 outside of Ashford and the Nisqually entrance to Mount Rainier National Park.
The unpaved road to the hike is rugged and strewn with potholes, but still accessible by all vehicles. Cell service cut’s out about 30 minutes from the trailhead, so a print-out map of the area can come in handy. No passes are required for vehicle parking.
Once you arrive at the parking lot, you’ll likely find yourself in the limited company, as High Rock Lookout tends to be a bit of a remote destination.
The trailhead sign and a narrow path mark the start of the hike and lead into a winding, forested setting for the 1.6-mile climb. Along the trek hikers are greeted by 2 wooden benches, ample amounts of shade, and a few “sneak peek” vistas before reaching the summit.
Once you spot the nearly 100-year-old fire tower perched atop a climbable exposed rock ledge, you can start your well-deserved victory dance because you’re in the home stretch!
After scaling the final steps to the lookout, hikers are rewarded with spectacular 360-degree views of snowcapped peaks, rock-faced cliff sides, rolling valley’s and of course, Mt. Rainier. Take caution at this pinnacle peak however as the lookout and summit have no cables or railings marking the cliff’s edge.
Although the iconic 1929 erected fire lookout is no longer staffed today, feel free to venture inside to explore as it remains open to the public during daylight hours. Along with the rest of the area, it’s certainly a sight to see, and just one more reason that makes High Rock Lookout a ‘must-do’ hike of the season.