One of the best hiking trails for big views over Puget Sound is Mt. Pilchuck. The mountain stands well west of the main Cascades Range, and is easily identified from the Puget Sound lowlands. From the summit, the views extend from Mt. Baker to Mount Rainier along the cascade front while to the west across Puget Sound lowlands are the Olympic Mountains. You'll also travel through some old-growth forest on the way. On the summit, you are greeted with a fire lookout managed by Washington State Parks and maintained by volunteers from Everett Mountaineers.
Summit Elevation: 5,327 feet
Distance: 2.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,200 feet
Access: Good gravel roads
Take the Mountain Loop Highway to the Verlot Visitors Center. Continue another mile past the visitor's center, cross a bridge, then take the next right onto paved Mount Pilchuck Road, FR 42. Proceed 6.8 miles to the large parking lot. The last mile is unpaved but drivable for all. A Northwest Forest Pass is required in the parking lot.
Hike the trail to the summit. A few boulder fields are crossed, look for orange markers that guide the way.
The first documented fire lookout camp on the summit of Pilchuck started in 1917 as mountaineer parties reported them there. During that same year 1917, the Washington Forest Fire Association stated they "contributed towards the construction of a trail leading to the lookout which is being established by the Forest Service on Mount Pilchuck in Snohomish County." We learn from newspapers in 1918 that the District Forester ordered a cupola lookout house from Millmade Construction Company of Portland. "The new type of lookout house adopted by the District Forester provides for a house 12 feet square surmounted by a cupola six feet square. All the house and cupola is surrounded by windows and the entire house is constructed of ready-cut material, so that it may be transported up the mountains without unnecessary trouble. The material for a lookout house weighs nearly four tons including the glass and hardware. All the pieces are numbered so that there is no time lost in putting it together and so that no extra material will be carried to the top of the mountain where the stations are located." The materials did not ship until September. That summer in 1918, a phone line connecting Granite Falls to the Forest Service lookout on Mt. Pilchuck was completed. The D-6 cupola lookout was packed up the mountain and assembled sometime between 1919 through 1921, with it still under construction in 1921. One old photo said the summit had to be blasted to make room for the building which might explain the missing 2 years of 1919 and 1920. It was first used in 1921 by the first lookout person, Everett Huff manning the station. In 1938, the present L-4 cab was built, which was last staffed in the 1960's. The trail started at the Mountain Loop Highway until the 1950s. After that, logging and ski development pushed the road up to 3,200 feet. Now the trail is just 2 miles long. The lookout was restored in the 1990's with the help of many and Forrest Clark of the FFLA. It is amazingly still standing considering the abuse it receives from the thousands of visitors each year. There is a book out there called "Pilchuck: The Life of a Mountain", Superior Publishing, 1949 if you wanted to learn more.
Looking North August 24, 1935
Looking Southeast August 24, 1935
Looking Southwest August 24, 1935
1918 Mountaineers Annual
1921 Mountaineers Annual
1931 Baker National Forest Map
Hiking up the trail with an infant
Looking south from the trail
Looking to Three Fingers Mountain from the trail
Looking north with Mt. Baker in the distance
My only visit reaching the summit was during some pretty bad weather
1921 lookout under construction
Hiking trail topo map