Trailblazers: Park Butte Lookout
Hiking up to Winchester Mountain last week got me in a lookout sort of mood, so this week I hiked to another excellent lookout in the Cascades, Park Butte.
The Park Butte lookout is situated atop a jagged ridge to the south of Mt. Baker. 360-degree views offer up an incredible array of alpine lakes, meadows and mountain ranges that make the seven-mile hike a worthwhile one.
As I was beginning my hike, several mountain climbers at the trailhead were gearing up to climb Mt. Baker and seeing their heavy packs made me grateful that I’d only be carrying a light load. This hike can easily be done in one day, even if driving from Bellingham.
The trail itself travels through many different landscapes, from glacial fed rivers to wide open meadows dotted with wildflowers. If you begin below tree line, a series of switchbacks eventually brings you out into the wide expanses below Mt. Baker. The trees here are all old growth hemlock and yellow cedar.
The trail passes through a few rivers and seasonal changes in their flow can often wipe the trail out of existence. In any case, following the man-made piles of rocks called cairns is an easy way to find the path again.
Once you’ve made it to the meadows the hiking is relatively easy and straightforward. Look to your left once you’ve broken out of the trees and spot the lookout on the ridge above you, that’s your goal.
The lookout itself is perched almost bird-like on top of the ridge, so take care in climbing the ladder to enter. Once inside you can enjoy the views you came for, the Twin Sisters range is framed perfectly by the door and wide windows capture the entirety of Mt. Baker’s south face.
Like its sibling lookout on Winchester, Park Butte is maintained by volunteer efforts and overseen by the Skagit Alpine Club. Take care when visiting here and enjoy one of the few remaining intact lookouts in the Cascades.
Directions: From exit 230 on I-5S, head east on the North Cascades Highway for 23 miles, turning left onto Baker Lake Road. From here go 12 miles and take the first left once you pass into the Mt. Baker Wilderness, immediately after the bridge. Go about 3.5 miles until turning right on Forest Road 13, then drive until reaching the trailhead at the end.