Winchester Mountain Lookout Hiking and Camping Guide
Are you looking for a hike in the Mount Baker area that has absolutely incredible views but you won’t lose any toenails over?
You have officially found it! As soon as I saw photos of people camping at Winchester Mountain and then googled the stats, I added it to the top of our Mount Baker hiking wish list. Yes, we have one of those.
Winchester Mountain Lookout was as dreamy as I imagined it to be. From the top, you get 360 views of the surrounding mountains including Mount Baker!
You can do this hike as a day hike or an overnight camping experience. Camping here surrounded by the beautiful mountains was a dream!
Winchester Mountain Lookout is located in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest near Maple Falls and to get there you have to drive up a 4×4 road.
The trail will take you up into the mountains where you will be absolutely blown away by the surrounding mountain views. The hike takes you to not only an incredible view, but also to a fire lookout.
In this guide I will tell you everything you need to know to hike to Winchester Mountain Lookout including how to camp there and what to expect from the trail and the road leading to the trailhead.
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Distance: 4.7km / 2.9 miles out and back
Elevation Gain: 396m / 1,299ft
Time: 2 – 3 hours
Dogs allowed: Yes
Toilets: At the trailhead only
Everything you need to know about hiking to Winchester Mountain Lookout
📍 Where is Winchester Mountain Located?
Winchester Mountain Lookout is located in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest near Maple Falls. From Seattle, the trailhead is about a 3 hour drive away. The closest parks visitors centre is about 15 minutes before you turn off onto the forest road. They have lovely cold glacial water that you can fill up your drink bottles with here.
🥾 How hard is the hike to Winchester Mountain?
Winchester Mountain is probably the most bang for our buck in terms of a hike that we have ever done. In other words, the incredible view greatly outweighs the amount of effort to hike there! The hardest part is probably the 4×4 road that you need to drive up to get to the trailhead.
Apart from the road, there are some dusty and gravelly slippery sections about 3/4s of the way up that we were glad we had hiking poles for.
If you don’t like heights, you might find the higher up switchbacks on this hike a little scary as the trail is pretty narrow with steep drop offs towards the gorgeous views on one side. I get a little funny with trails like this sometimes especially if they are at all slippery so I just concentrate on the trail rather than the drop offs next to me.
🐶 Can Dogs do the Winchester Mountain Trail?
Dogs are allowed to join you on the Winchester Mountain trail! However, they will need to be kept on leash as there is a lot of wildlife on the trail, including mountain goats!
⌚ Winchester Mountain Hiking Time
It took us about an hour each way, so 2 hours of hiking altogether with some time at the top to enjoy the view (and the goats).
For a guide of all of the things we take hiking, check out our hiking gear guide!
🎟 Park Permits
You will need a park permit to park at the trailhead for the Winchester Mountain hike because the hike is located in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
You can either use your annual America the Beautiful Pass which you can purchase here, or you can purchase a day pass from the Glacier Public Service Centre which is located about 15 minutes before you turn off onto the forest road.
If you plan on camping at Twin Lakes or along the trail overnight, you will need 2 day passes because they expire at midnight. The day passes are $5 per day.
🚗 Where to Park
The parking for the Winchester Mountain trail is at Twin Lakes. There is a designated parking lot for hikers by the second lake or you can pull up on the side of the road. There was still some snow leading down to the parking lot when we were there in July so we parked on the side of the road.
🚶♀️ Finding the Trailhead
You will begin and end the Winchester Mountain trail at the same trailhead, making it an out and back hike.
The Winchester Mountain trailhead is located between the two lakes. Once you have parked, walk down past the campgrounds at the second lake along the gravel road. You will pass a toilet on your left and the trailhead will be directly in front of you by the lake.
There are pit toilets at the Twin Lakes Campground. Other than this, there are no other facilities along the trail so you will need to use the green toilet and pack out all your toilet paper.
📵 Cell Service
There is no cell service out here so make sure you have downloaded offline maps and a trail guide and someone knows where you have gone. This is a relatively popular trail on the weekends so you will likely see other people on the trail.
🚱 Where to Filter Water
There is nowhere to filter water along the trail, however if you need to, you can filter down at the lakes at the bottom of the trail where you will park your car.
When we did this hike, there were other people at the top melting the snow and filtering it because they ran out of water. I wouldn’t recommend doing this as it is a dog friendly trail so you never know who has pee’d in that snow pile. If you are desperate and need to filter the snow, you can always boil it first to help kill any bacteria.
🐻 Are there Bears in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest?
Black Bears are common in the Mount Baker area.
Bring along bear spray with you and ensure you know how to use it. You can purchase a bottle of bear spray here. 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.
Other than bears, there are also mountain goats.
🐐 Mountain Goat Information
When we woke up after camping at Winchester Mountain Lookout, we were visited by a friendly young mountain goat. I think mountain goats look like something out of Narnia! Their distinctive white coats, sharp black horns, and nimble hooves make them instantly recognisable.
Some things you should know about mountain goats are:
- Mountain goats are often seen in alpine meadows, where they graze on alpine plants and shrubs.
- Despite their name, mountain goats are not true goats but rather belong to a distinct species within the Bovidae family much like bison, buffalo and antelopes.
- Mountain goats are attracted to pee, particularly human urine, because it contains essential salts and minerals that they need for their diet. This is usually the reason they sometimes show up unannounced at campsites in the backcountry because the availability of these minerals can be limited.
- If you see a mountain goat in the wilderness, it is important to:
- Maintain a safe distance of 50 yards (150 feet) away from them.
- Stay calm and quiet
- Do not feed them
- Keep any pets you have with you under control
- Avoid eye contact
⛄ When Will the Snow Melt / When Will I be able to Hike to Winchester Mountain Lookout?
We hiked Winchester Mountain in the middle of July and there was still some snow around which meant there were less spots for camping at the top. The snow only affected one section of the trail which had an alternative, more scrambley alternative way to avoid the snow.
🏠 Can I Stay in the Lookout
If you want to spend a night at the summit of Winchester Mountain, can choose to stay in the Winchester Mountain Lookout which is located at the summit. Camping in the lookout is on a first-come-first-serve basis, so if you have your heart set on sleeping in the actual lookout, you should arrive as early as possible in the morning.
I recommend bringing along a tent as a back up unless you don’t mind hiking back down to camp at the lake if you lookout is full.
⛺ Where to Camp Along the Winchester Mountain Trail
If you don’t sleep in the lookout, there are some flat spots to camp next to the lookout but not too many. I would say maybe 2-3 good tent spots?
When we were there, there was still a big snow patch that was taking a up a lot of the potential camping space so we chose to hike back down 2-3 minutes and camp in a flat spot to the side of the trail with incredible views of Mount Baker!
Do I need a Permit?
You do not need a permit to camp, 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 (you will need 2 day passes for an overnight stay as they expire at midnight) or the America the Beautiful Pass.
🥾 The Winchester Mountain Lookout Hiking Trail
The Winchester Mountain Lookout trail is only 4.7km / 2.9 miles return which is incredible for a hike with such amazing views!
First Section of the Hike
The hike starts by taking you away from Twin Lakes and up into the forest. You will start climbing pretty much straight away over a series of switchbacks. The hike climbs steadily like this the entire way.
Follow the signs to Winchester Mountain and if in doubt, go left at all of the intersections. The start of the trail is shared with the High Pass Trail, which eventually turns right to take you away from the Winchester Mountain Trail.
Soon, you will get above the treeline into the meadows but the switchbacks continue. Now you should be able to look up and see the switchbacks winding up above you, and perhaps even some other hikers.
Second Section of the Hike
The last switchback on this section will take you all of the way across to the left of the mountain. The views from up here are insane, looking back down towards Twin Lakes.
Once you have reached the other side, there will be a short, slightly steeper section and then BAM! You will run head on straight into an awesome view of Mount Baker. Did I mention that there are incredible views along this entire trail?
Once you are done admiring and taking photos of Mount Baker (don’t worry, you will have this view again near the top), the trail will take you away from Twin Lakes and around the back of the mountain up some more switchbacks. This is the final lot of switchbacks before you reach the summit.
The last part of the trail to get up to the lookout is a little steeper with more uneven ground and a very slight scramble but nothing too insane.
Congratulations! You’ve made it to Winchester Mountain Lookout!
🌲 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.
🥾 Other Great Hikes Nearby
If you are staying in the Maple Falls area, there are loads more incredible hikes to do around here! A couple of amazing hikes near Maple Falls are the Chain Lakes Loop and Park Butte Fire Lookout which is a little further away but well worth the drive.
Park Butte Fire Lookout
Distance: 11.5km / 7.2 miles | Elevation Gain: 615m / 2,020 ft | Time: 4-5 hours | Difficulty: Moderate
Park Butte Fire Lookout is another amazing fire lookout hike in Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest which gives you unobstructed views of Mount Baker itself!
You can try your hand at camping in the fire lookout or bring along a tent and camp in one of the most beautiful places we have ever been to!
Chain Lakes Loop
Distance: 10km / 6.2 miles | Elevation Gain: 547m / 1,794ft | Time: 3 – 4 hours | Difficulty: Moderate
Chain Lakes Loop is another fantastic trail in the North Cascades. From the Winchester Mountain trailhead, the Chain Lakes trailhead is about a 1 hour drive.
The views on the Chain Lakes Loop are absolutely stunning and include amazing views of Mount Baker from the trail. This is definitely a must-do hike if you are in the North Cascades / Mount Baker area!
🗨 Our Thoughts
LOVE LOVE LOVE! This hike is gorgeous! The views are insane the entire way up! Although the road is extremely rough and I would only attempt it in an AWD or 4×4 with high clearance, the views are well worth the trouble.
Dave and I enjoyed jumping in the lake at the bottom at the end of our hike to cool off. The water was cold but refreshingly beautiful!
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