Views from these historic structures leave burning memories.

THE MOUNT FREMONT FIRE LOOKOUT; PHOTO: JANELLE WALKER

Snow-clad and draped in glacial-ice, it seems unlikely that wildfire would pose a threat to Mount Rainier. However, ringing the base of the 14,410-foot volcano is a nearly unbroken canopy of towering firs, hemlocks, and cedars within the 235,000 acre national park. And surrounding the park are millions of acres of additional timberland managed within national and state forests and private tree farms. When the nascent United States Forest Service decided that it was a good idea to start building fire lookouts to watch over this treasure trove of timber, they looked toward Rainier’s lofty slopes as the perfect spots to site them.

In 1916 the US Forest Service constructed a stone shelter for fire watching at 9,584-feet on Mount Rainier’s Anvil Rock just below Muir Camp. The rock hovel was replaced 12 years later by a cupola cabin. And while this location did indeed provide excellent fire finding with its sweeping horizon spanning views-all too often it was shrouded in clouds prohibiting any viewing at all.

Long before beat poet Jack Kerouac immortalized the Deception Peak lookout in the North Cascades, author Mary Hardy penned a well-received book, Tatoosh in 1947…

That was the issue too with the park’s second fire lookout situated on a 7,176-foot point on the Colonnade on Rainier’s northwest shoulder. Built in 1930, it was soon taken out of use, replaced by a new tower at lower Sunset Park. But Anvil Rock remained staffed until 1942, not so much as to report fires but to record weather data. Soon after the first tower was constructed on Mount Rainier, both the park service and the forest service realized what many hikers know today-that some of the best and more reliable alpine views are not on the mountain itself, but on the surrounding lower ridges and knobs immune to near perpetual cloud cover.

By the 1930s, the park service and forest service began surveying more appropriate locations for fire lookout placement. And with the nation now in a Great Depression with millions of unemployed young men enrolled in FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC); forest and park officials had an army of labor at their disposal to construct new fire towers.

THE GOBBLER’S KNOB LOOKOUT; PHOTO: KAREN SYKES

Up they went, mostly two story cabins with wrap around balconies; simple in elegance and utilitarian in design. Within the national park seven new fire towers were built; Shriner Peak (el. 5,846-feet) in 1932; Tolmie Peak (el. 5,939-feet) in 1933; Sunset Park (el. 5,530-feet) in 1933; Gobblers Knob (el. 5,485-feet) in 1933; Mount Fremont (el. 7,181-feet) in 1934; Crystal Mountain (el. 6,605-feet) and another lookout on a nearby knoll above Crystal Lake (el. 6,595-feet) in 1934.

And along the park’s periphery in the Snoqualmie National Forest (now Mount Baker-Snoqualmie), Wenatchee National Forest (now Okanogan-Wenatchee) and Columbia National Forest (now Gifford Pinchot), the CCC constructed scores of fire lookouts on ridges, knolls and summits. To the north, lookouts sprouted up on Clear West Peak, Suntop, Kelley Butte, and Bearhead Mountain among others.

To the south, a precariously built lookout was constructed above sheer ledges on 5,685-foot High Rock. And a lookout was built on a 6,310-foot rounded knoll in the Tatoosh Range; where long before beat poet Jack Kerouac immortalized the Deception Peak lookout in the North Cascades, author Mary Hardy penned a well-received book, Tatoosh in 1947 about her experiences as a fire watch during World War II.

THE TOLMIE PEAK LOOKOUT

Along Mount Rainier National Park’s western boundary, a lookout tower was built in 1934 on 5,450-foot Glacier View peak. Thirty years later, the Washington Department of Natural Resources constructed a tower on 4,930-foot Puyallup Ridge. It still stands and is listed on the National Historic Lookout Register. However, it is rarely visited due to access issues over private land.

THE HIGH ROCK FIRE LOOKOUT; PHOTO: JANELLE WALKER

But the lookouts that still remain within the national park and adjacent national forest lands are accessible (mostly by trail) to the general public. Within Mount Rainier National Park, four fire towers remain; one in each corner of the park. And while these four survivors share the same construction; two-story wood-framed with wrap-around windows and balcony-they each provide a unique view and perspective of the sprawling forests surrounding Mount Rainier, and of the mountain itself.

Tolmie Peak Lookout
Sitting watch over the northwest corner of the park, Tolmie’s 5939-foot summit commands impressive views from “the Mountain” to “the Sound.” The trailhead is reached via the Mowich Lake Road where you follow the Wonderland Trail north for 1.5 miles to Ipsut Pass. Then bear left for 1.7 miles through open forest and sub-alpine meadows skirting sparkling Eunice Lake before making the final ascent to the peak.

Mount Fremont Lookout
Perched on a ridge over 7,000 feet, the Mount Fremont lookout has the distinction of being Rainier’s highest remaining lookout. Situated in the drier northeast side of the park, the meadows here are punctuated with pumice and rock. The view of Rainier’s impressive Willis Wall and Emmons Glacier is breathtaking. Thanks to a lofty trailhead elevation of 6,400′ at Sunrise, you need not work hard hiking the 2.7 miles to this lookout.

THE SHRINER PEAK LOOKOUT; PHOTO: GARY PAULSON

Shriner Peak
The loneliest of Rainier’s lookouts, Shriner guards the quiet southeast corner of the park. The 4.2-mile hike to this 5,834-foot peak begins off of SR 123. With over 3,400-feet of elevation gain, the trail is often deserted. Consequently, chances are good here for viewing wildlife. Much of the peak’s lower slopes were engulfed by a wildfire (before the lookout was constructed) creating open meadows and prime habitat. Bear, elk, deer, and grouse are abundant on Shriner.

Gobbler’s Knob
At 5,485-feet, Gobbler’s Knob is the lowest of Rainier’s lookouts. It used to be the shortest to reach too-just a 2.5-mile hike from Round Pass off of the West Side Road. But Tahoma Creek has continuously flooded this road forcing its closure. To reach the trailhead now, you must first bike or walk an additional 4 miles each way.

The trail cuts through incredibly lush and thick forest en route to the lookout. Placid Lake George offers respite from the continuous green canopy. Gobbler’s Knob has the distinction of being the closest lookout to the colossal volcano. From the viewing platform it feels as if “The Mountain” is breathing right down your neck.

THE SUNTOP FIRE LOOKOUT; PHOTO: JANELLE WALKER

Nearby remaining lookouts on national forest lands also invite exploring and make for excellent hiking destinations.

Suntop
Perched on a 5,271-foot open knoll just to the north of Mount Rainier National Park, is the restored 1934-built Suntop fire tower. Reached by FR 7315 (off of FR 73 near The Dalles Campground on SR 410) Suntop is a popular family picnicking and sightseeing spot. Hikers and mountain bikes can access it by following a 7.5 mile trail from Buck Creek off of SR 410. And snowshoers and cross-country skiers follow the closed road in winter to the lookout.

High Rock
Perhaps the most dramatic of the remaining lookouts in the area, this 1930-built structure sits on a 5,685-foot precipitous peak along the appropriately named Sawtooth Ridge. And it’s only a 1.4 mile hike to this exhilarating destination teetering above sheer cliffs over 600 feet high. The trailhead is reached by following FR 8440 from Skate Creek Road (FR 52).

THE KELLY BUTTE LOOKOUT; PHOTO: ALAN BAUER

Kelly Butte
A fire tower has graced this isolated and rocky 5,409-foot knob since 1926. The current structure, built in 1950 was recently restored by volunteers. The trail too has been rebuilt in places making what was once a short and steep trail, a little less steep. Besides great views of Mount Rainier, here as with Mount Fremont, chances are good of seeing mountain goats. Reach the 1.7 mile trail via FR 7030 (rough in places) off of the Greenwater River Road (FR 70).

These remaining lookouts, like many of the surviving fire lookouts from coast to coast are primarily no longer used for fighting forest fires. Succumbing to aircraft surveillance, these backcountry sentinels remain in place as historic landmarks, much admired by visitors. But beyond their weathered clapboards, they also provide unsurpassed views of Washington’s beloved lofty landmark, Mount Rainier. No longer needed to suppress wildfires, these lookouts now ignite passion and awe in their admirers by offering some of the hottest views in the Northwest.

Craig Romano, Visit Rainier Hiking Expert

About The Author

Craig Romano

Since relocating from New Hampshire to Washington State in 1989, award winning guidebook author Craig Romano has thoroughly hiked the Evergreen State. He has logged over 17,000 miles on the trail from the San Juan Islands to the Salmo-Priest Wilderness. And he has hiked nearly every trail within Mount Rainier National Park, one of his absolute favorite places. An avid hiker, Craig counts running, paddling, cycling, and protecting natural areas also among his passions. Content provider for Hikeoftheweek.com, Craig has also written for over two dozen publications. Author of nine guidebooks and co-author of four other books, Craig is one of the most prolific trails writers in the Northwest. He is currently working on 100 Classic Hikes in Washington (Mountaineers Books) which includes many Mount Rainier area hikes. His Columbia Highlands, Exploring Washington’s Last Frontier, was recognized in 2010 as a Washington Reads book for its contribution to Washington’s cultural heritage. Visit him at http://CraigRomano.com and on Facebook at “Craig Romano Guidebook Author.”