Do you dream of climbing the snow-capped Cascades? Do your eyes light up when a friend suggests boulder hopping? Do you gape in wonder at sweeping views from historic lookouts?
If you answered “yes,” you have found your park in Mount Pilchuck. The 2.7-mile trail begins on U.S. Forest Service land and enters this day-use state park after a quarter-mile. The terrain changes quickly from forest to fields of shale that evoke the face of the moon. Orange poles point the way through the jumble of gray and white boulders and, when the views open up, they reveal Mount Shuksan, Mount Baker and the North Cascades. The trail reaches a chunky white rock wall before winding around the back of the peak for a steep approach to the lookout. The true summit requires a short scramble to the lookout’s wraparound balcony.
Pause and take in the majestic landscape from the lookout – the valley of timber and rock below, Mount Rainier to the south, the Olympic range to the west and the North Cascades all around. Panels on each wall inside the structure tell you which peaks you are seeing.
Grab a snack and some water, and pat yourself on the back. You just climbed 2,300 vertical feet. Chat with other hikers, and peruse the interpretive panels describing the original 1918 fire lookout, the current lookout built in 1942, staffed until 1961 and restored by the Everett Mountaineers in 1989. Having rested a bit, you’ll be fortified for the spectacular descent.
Mount Pilchuck State Park is a 1,893-acre day-use park that features mountainous alpine terrain with diverse scenic and recreation attractions. The park begins on Forest Service land and thus requires a Northwest Forest or America the Beautiful pass. The park’s main attraction is the trail to the summit and fire lookout. The trail begins at 3,100 feet above sea level and climbs to 5,324 feet above sea level. The trail is usually covered with snow until early to midsummer.
Safety precautions: Mount Pilchuck is not just a walk in the park! The hike is strenuous, and in the summer, the trail can be crowded. The trail gains 2,300 feet in less than 3 miles and requires walking over uneven terrain. Water is not available at the trail head and is scarce along the trail. Please be prepared with proper outdoor clothing, boots and plenty of water, and be ready for sudden weather changes.
For your own and others’ safety, keep your pet on a leash and under control at all times. Please consider your children's and pet's hiking abilities.
The first trail to the top of Mount Pilchuck was constructed in 1909, but a more direct, 7-mile route was established the following year.
In 1918, the Forest Service built a fire lookout on Mount Pilchuck’s summit, which consisted of a tent and a fire finder. In 1921, the top of Mount Pilchuck was blasted off to provide a level surface for a lookout tower, and construction began the same year. From 1957 to 1979, Washington State Parks administered a ski area there that was run by a concessionaire; it was closed by 1980 due to poor annual snow conditions. Hikers can still find remnants of the ski area in the form of bolts drilled into the rocks, which once supported the chair lifts.
The lookout tower was rebuilt in 1942, and in 1989, the Everett Mountaineers were instrumental in renovating the structure, recruiting more than 100 volunteers to lend 10,000 hours of service. The area is currently managed as a partnership with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Everett Mountaineers. The USFS maintains the trail and trailhead, and State Parks and the Mountaineers maintain the historic lookout building.