Hiking and Camping at Park Butte Fire Lookout
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
Park Butte Fire Lookout, located in Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest is an excellent place to hike up to if you want unobstructed views of Mount Baker! The sunset and sunrise from the fire lookout are incredible! The hike is 11.5km / 7.2 miles return with an elevation gain of 615m / 2,020 ft.
The hike takes you up through the forest until opening up above the treeline. This is where the hike becomes really beautiful as it is much more open with amazing views of Mount Baker.
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One of the awesome things about this hike is that you can stay in the fire lookout. No reservations are required. It is a first come – first serve system and you are by no means guaranteed to have the lookout to yourself.
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.
Everything you need to know about hiking to Park Butte Lookout
Finding the Trailhead
The 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.
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, bring along a tent as a back up in case it is already occupied.
? 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.
⛺ 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!
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.
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
- 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
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
Looking for more amazing places to explore in Washington State? Check out the magical Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park!