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Sunset at Park Butte Fire Lookout – Hiking and Camping!

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Hiking and Camping at Park Butte Fire Lookout

Park Butte Fire Lookout, located in Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest is an one of the best fire lookout hikes in Washington State! It is an amazing place to hike up to if you want unobstructed views of Mount Baker itself!

I unzipped the door to my tent and peeked outside. I was immediately hit by layers and layers of mountains glowing pink, purple and blue signalling the beginning of sunrise.

Dave and I spent one night camping just below the lookout and walked up to the lookout to watch both the sunset and sunrise which were incredible! The hike is 11.5km / 7.2 miles return with an elevation gain of 615m / 2,020 ft so perfect if you are looking for a medium difficulty hike with incredible views.

girl sitting at park butte fire lookout at sunrise

The hike starts in the forest and continues there for a while until opening up above the treeline. This is where the trail view become breathtakingly beautiful with open rolling hills and amazing views of Mount Baker.

One of the awesome things about this hike is that you can stay in the fire lookout. More information on how to stay in the fire lookout is located in this blog post along with details on how to camp at Park Butte.

In this guide, I will tell you everything you need to know about hiking to Park Butte, including where to park, what National Park passes you need/permits and details on camping at Park Butte along with our experience camping just under the fire lookout!

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📃 Hike Stats

Distance: 11.5km / 7.2 miles
Time: 4 hrs 15 mins 
Elevation: 615m / 2,020 ft
Dog Friendly: Yes, on leash
Toilets: Yes, at the trailhead

🥾 Everything you need to know about hiking to Park Butte Lookout

Where is Park Butte Lookout Located

Park Butte Fire Lookout is located in Mt Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest in Washington State.

Finding the Trailhead

You cannot get to park Butte without a car. The Park Butte trailhead is approximately 3 hours drive from Seattle and the carpark is located up a bit of a pothole infested forest road.

We didn’t have any issues getting up the road in our SUV and we saw lots of smaller cars on the road too. Just make sure you take it slow.

The map below shows where to park for the trailhead. You can leave your car overnight in this carpark if you plan on camping. You will need to display a recreation pass on your car. Accepted passes are Northwest Forest Pass or America the Beautiful Pass.

Don’t leave your valuables in your car. This is something we make sure not to do whenever we are hiking somewhere as an overnight trip. In fact, we leave literally nothing in our car so that there is no temptation. I know sometimes this isn’t always possible when you are travelling, but if you can, empty your car beforehand.

Park Butte Lookout Trailhead
Park Butte Lookout Trailhead

The parking lot is quite large and can hold around 50 vehicles, however due to the popularity of the hikes in the area it fills up fast. We chose to start late rather than early and got a spot as the morning hikers were leaving. If you are choosing to do this as a morning hike, we recommend arriving at the parking lot early to ensure you get a spot.

Click here to open the map in Google Maps!

Tips for hiking to Park Butte Lookout

  • Bring Mosquito Repellent. The bugs are ruthless up there in Summer. I got attacked way too many times by those giant flies!
  • Wear sunscreen and bring extra.
  • If you are planning on staying in the fire lookout, try to arrive nice and early and bring along a tent as a back up in case it is already occupied.
  • Don’t forget your camera, because PRETTY VIEWS! 😍
Couple standing at Park Butte Fire lookout at sunset

🥾 How Hard is the hike to Park Butte Fire Lookout

The Park Butte Hike is easy to moderate in difficulty. The hike starts off quite flat, before climbing through the forest via switchbacks.

We did this hike on a super hot Summers day which I wouldn’t recommend as it made it so much harder than it should have been. We were able to cool off along the way by filling our hats with icy water from a few of the streams on the way up.

After the switchbacks through the forest, the trail opens up into some meadows and is relatively flat for a bit. There is one final steep climb from the meadows up to the lookout. This is probably the steepest part of the whole hike.

The trail is well marked and we didn’t have any issues in finding the way, however when we are hiking, we always have the All Trails maps downloaded on our phones just in case.

Our first view of the lookout from the trail

Park Butte Lookout Hiking Time

On average, Park Butte takes hikers about 4.5 hours to complete. Depending on your hiking ability, it can take you anywhere from 3.5-6 hours to complete.

Facilities

There are toilets in the parking lot but no running taps so make sure you bring along your hand sanitiser and plenty of drinking water.

Along the trail, there are no toilets, including at the top so you will have to use the green toilet. Make sure you pack out any toilet paper that you bring in. ❗ Human waste must be packed out on this trail and disposed of in receptacles at the trailhead. Not nice to deal with I know, but these are the rules to keep the trail beautiful.

Are dogs allowed on the Park Butte Lookout Trail

Yes, dogs are allowed on the Park Butte Lookout trail, however, they must stay on a leash.

When is the best time of year for Park Butte Fire Lookout

The best time of the year to hike to Park Butte Fire Lookout is during Summer when the weather is (hopefully) beautiful. There are some beautiful wildflowers along the trail which can be seen until about August.

Is there cell service along the trail

You most definitely cannot count on cell service on this trail. You will be deep in the backcountry. Make sure you bring along offline maps like Alltrails.

⛺ Backpacking to Park Butte

Park Butte is a popular backpacking trail and with good reason. It is not too long and has incredible views of Mount Baker and the surrounding mountains. Both sunset and sunrise was incredible from the fire lookout!

Mount Baker from the Lookout

Staying in the Park Butte Fire Lookout

Yes, you can stay in the fire lookout! Park Butte is one of the most popular hikes in the Mount Baker area and so if you want to snag a spot in the lookout overnight, you will need to arrive nice and early in the morning.

We did the hike on a Sunday in August and arrived in the afternoon. There was already a group at the lookout who had been there since 10am that morning.

girl at fire lookout looking out at the view of the mountains

Sharing the lookout with others

If you are lucky enough to get a spot in the lookout overnight, you need to remember that this doesn’t mean that it is only yours to enjoy. In the lookout it states that you must not control who can and cannot enter the lookout. There will likely be other hikers coming up to the lookout to have a look and get their photos. Please be considerate. 

What is included in the lookout

  • Games
  • a bed platform and thin sleeping pads (not the most comfortable so you could always put your own camping mats on top)
  • A visitor log with many entertaining stories and artwork
  • chairs

Bring along a tent as a back up plan

We brought along our tent in case the lookout was full, which is was and we managed to get a pretty epic tent spot. We have heard stories of people not having a back up plan and having to hike back down in the dark which would be so disappointing.

When we spoke to the group staying in the lookout overnight, they mentioned that it got really really hot in there and became a bit of a sauna overnight. In comparison, our tent was really nice and breezy.

Water Sources

When we were there is August, there was plenty of water fed by a stream coming off the mountain from snow melt. This stream was located about a km down from the lookout so make sure you fill up if you need to on your way up.

We filter our water using our water filter. Water sources can be different from year to year and during different times of the year so please make sure you check an updated online source such as All Trails before you go.

Mount Baker

Leave No Trace

Whenever you are enjoying the beautiful nature that our world has to offer, remember to leave no trace (LNT)! Respect the beautiful places that make our world beautiful and take out everything that you take in, take only photos and respect the wildlife and other people. You can read more on the 7 LNT principles here.

Commonly Asked Questions

Do I need a permit to hike or camp to the lookout?

You do not need a hiking or camping permit, however you will need to ensure that you have a National Parks Pass on your cars dashboard. Passes that are accepted in Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest are the Northwest Forest Pass or America the Beautiful Pass.

If you don’t already have an America the Beautiful Pass, you can get a day pass from the Mount Baker Ranger Station in Sedro-Wooley on the way. If it is a weekend and the station is closed, you can the Cascade Mercantile.

Are there bears in Mount Baker?

Black Bears are common in the Mount Baker area. Make sure you carry bear spray with you and know how to use it. If you are camping, make sure you have either a bear cannister or Ursack which you should store well away from your tent with all of your smelly items including toothpaste during the night or otherwise are confident in doing a bear hang.

girl at Park Butte fire lookout at sunset

Can I reserve the fire lookout?

The Fire lookout cannot be reserved for an overnight stay. You can stay in the hut on a first come – first serve basis and be prepared to share the hut with others.

Things to Take on a Backpacking Trip

Are you thinking about going on an overnight hike and don’t have any idea where to begin when it comes to gear? I’ve got you covered with my guide on Backpacking Gear Items that you need this Adventure Season!

Our Thoughts

We absolutely loved this hike and we didn’t mind at all that we didn’t get to stay in the lookout. We actually think that our tent was probably a bit more comfy than the beds in the lookout. The 11.5km / 7.2 miles was well worth the effort as the views up the top were spectacular!

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