High Rock Lookout – Washington State
Distance: 5.1km / 3.1 miles Elevation Gain: 396 metres / 1,295 ft Time: 2-3hrs Dog Friendly: Yes Toilets: None
High Rock Lookout in Washington State is a easy – moderate difficulty hike that leads you up to what used to be an old fire lookout, but is now just a lookout from a platform. The reason that it is such an epic hike is that on a clear day, you have the best views of Mt Rainier!
The High Rock Lookout trail is located right next to Mount Rainier National Park near Ashford. It is not in the park, so you don’t need a National Parks Pass, but we would still classify it as a must-do Rainier hike because the views of Mt Rainier are insane! The hike is 5.1km / 3.1 miles long with an elevation gain of 396m / 1,295 ft and will take you around 2-3 hours to complete. Dogs are allowed on the trail but must be kept on a leash.
The best views are from the top of the hike but there are also some pretty amazing views of Mount Rainier right before you leave the forest to climb the rock.
This guide will tell you everything you need to know to hike to High Rock Lookout, including where to park and whether you can camp at the lookout or not.
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Where is High Rock Lookout
High Rock Lookout is located in Washington State, just outside of Mount Rainier National Park near the town of Ashford. The lookout was built on the largest point of the Sawtooth Ridge, which is overlooking the Nisqually River Valley. The trailhead for High Rock Lookout can be found on the NF-8440, which is a dirt road off the NF-85.
Click here to open the map in Google Maps!
How to Get to High Rock Lookout
High Rock Lookout is about a 40 minute drive from Ashford, near the Paradise area of Mt Rainier National Park. Take the NF-52 (Kernahan Hwy) and then turn right onto the NF-85. The next turn will be a left onto NF-8440 which is a bit of a bumpy dirt road. We had our SUV on it and it was just fine. Eventually, as you climb uphill you will turn a corner and arrive a small unofficial looking parking lot. There might be a couple of other cars here or depending on what time you arrive, it may be packed.
If the parking lot is full you can drive further down the road and find a spot out of the way of the traffic. You may just have to walk a little further to reach the trailhead.
The Trailhead is a little tricky to find. Facing the way you were driving, the trailhead will be on your right. There are some overgrown bushes that kind of disguise it a little but it is definitely there! Use the map below to find the trailhead.
The above map shows where the trailhead and parking is for the High Rock Lookout Trail as well as some other awesome hikes and viewpoints in Mount Rainier National Park.
Do You Need a Pass for High Rock Lookout?
High Rock Lookout is not located in Mount Rainier National Park and so you don’t need a pass to park or hike the trail.
How Hard is High Rock Lookout
High Rock Lookout is an easy-moderate hike. The trail starts out pretty easy and takes you through the forest, eventually beginning to climb up higher and higher. The trail gets a bit harder as you make your way further into the hike due to the elevation.
Finally, once you emerge from the trees, you will have to navigate your way up a steep rock face. This is the most difficult section of the hike and also a little mentally challenging if you are afraid of heights. The lookout is up the top of the rockface on the edge of a cliff and the entrance to get onto the platform is right next to a huge drop off. I found this spot pretty scary but if you go slow and don’t look over the edge you won’t have any issues.
When is the Best Time to Hike to High Rock Lookout
You can only do this hike when the road leading to the trail is snow free, as it does not get ploughed over the Winter. This doesn’t mean that you cannot snow shoe the road to get to the trailhead, but it will add about 10 miles to your hike. The best months to do the High Rock Lookout trail are usually from July until October.
The best time of the day to do this hike would be at sunrise or sunset, although you have to make sure that Mount Rainier is not cloud covered.
Unfortunately when we did this hike at sunset, Mount Rainier was stuck behind some clouds for the entire sunset. The clouds only cleared once we had began hiking back down. Luckily there was still a little bit of light left and so we had time to snap a couple of photos before it got too dark.
Can You Sleep at High Rock Lookout?
You are not allowed to sleep on the lookout platform or along the trail. This can be potentially dangerous due to lack of a lightning protection system.
Random Facts About High Rock Lookout
The fire lookout was originally built in 1929 on Sawtooth Ridge to assist rangers in spotting wildfires around the Mount Rainier area. High Rock Lookout is on a peak that is 1,732m / 5,685ft high which makes the views absolutely bonkers!
Over the years, the lookout has not been maintained and became unsafe until 2015 when efforts were started to restore the lookout. Since then, the lookout’s hut has been fully removed leaving only a platform, to assist in restoring the lookout.
I’m not sure if there are plans to restore the lookout back to its original state but I hope so!
Other Must-do Hikes Nearby
If you are this close to Mount Rainier National Park, you may as well make the most of your time there and do some other hikes that are located within the park. A few must do-hikes near High Rock Lookout are listed below.
Mount Fremont Lookout Trail – The Best Fire Lookout Hike in Mt Rainier
Distance: 8.6km / 5.4 miles | Elevation: 274m / 900ft | Time: 3hrs | Level: Easy-moderate
The Mount Fremont Lookout Trail is located in the Sunrise area of Mount Rainier NP and is about a 3 hour drive away. It’s not exactly close to High Rock Lookout but I wanted to add this to the list because, if you like fire lookouts, this one is an awesome one! This was our favourite hike in Mount Rainier and we actually did it twice because we loved it so much!
The hike takes you to an amazing fire lookout at the end of the trail with insane views and is a one of the best Mount Rainier hikes to do at sunrise or sunset. This hike is definitely worth the long drive to get to.
The Skyline Trail
Distance: 10km / 6.2 miles | Elevation: 545 metres / 1,788 ft | Time: 3.5-4.5hrs | Level: Moderate
The Skyline Loop Trail is the most popular hike in Mount Rainier and for good reason. You get the most incredible views of Mount Rainier the majority of the way and at some points along the trail, you are so close to Rainier that you can actually hear the glacier cracking!
It is only a 1.5 hour drive from the High Rock Lookout Trailhead to Paradise Visitor Centre which is where the Skyline trail starts.
Distance: 5.1km / 3.2miles | Elevation: 390m / 1,279ft | Time: 2 – 2.5hrs | Level: Easy-moderate
Comet Falls is one of the best waterfalls in Mount Rainier and we were shocked at how beautiful it was.
The hike is pretty short but quite steep and the trail is very easy to follow. A great option if you love waterfalls.
Where to Stay Near High Rock Lookout
The closest town to the High Rock Lookout trail is Ashford and so there are a few accommodation options here. When we did this hike we actually just free camped in our car. We have marked this spot of the map and noted the coordinates below, however please note that this is free camping for a reason. It is on the side of the road so you will hear traffic and may be disturbed by car lights through the night and there are no facilities.
Free Camping (no facilities)
To find free campsites, we use the website Free Campsites. This website includes updates and reviews from other campers on the quality of the sites and whether their experiences were good or not. If you do camp for free you need to be aware that there will not be any facilities and it may not be in a great location. We usually break up our trip by staying in motels or paid campgrounds as well.
Although we didn’t get the best weather conditions for the awesome views of Mt Rainier at the lookout, we still loved this hike! We met a lot of other hikers up at the lookout and it was fun to chat about other hikes to do in the area while we were all waiting for Rainier to appear. If you only have time to do on fire lookout hike in the Mount Rainier area and are trying to choose between High Rock Lookout and the Mount Fremont Lookout hike, we would personally LOVED the Mount Fremont Trail much more!
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