Area: Sunrise
Hike Type: Mountain views Pass: Natl. Park Pass
Distance: 5.4 mi RT Duration: 3 hrs Difficulty Level: Moderate
Elevation Start: 6,400 Elevation End: 7,200 Elevation Gain: 800
Snow-Free: Mid-July – Septt  

For many hikers, fire lookouts are a fascination. Is it because they wonder how work crews got all the materials up so far to build the lookout? Is it because people want to identify with those who staff such lonely spots watching for fires? It’s hard to tell, for sure. One thing is certain, though. Mount Fremont Lookout in Mount Rainier National Park is one of the most intriguing.

It has much to offer — great views of Mount Rainier, green forest vistas, white mountain goats, and a trek across the mountain’s awesome alpine tundra.

The trail starts high at Sunrise on the northeast side of the mountain. You get there by driving Highway 410 to the White River entrance to the park. Proceed 14 miles to Sunrise, elevation 6,400 ft. From the picnic area, take the Sourdough Ridge Trail upward.

The initial part of this hike is a common path that leads to other popular hikes in the Sunrise area. You’ll be treated to impressive views of Mt. Rainier to the south and the entire Cascade range to the north. The trail drops slightly, scales a rocky slope, and, at 1.2 miles, ascends to reach Frozen Lake and a confluence of five trails. A fence protects the pristine lake, with its intense aqua hue, since it is the source of drinking water for Sunrise.

The lookout trail makes its way around the western edge of Frozen Lake and winds up a hill that attains a shoulder of Mount Fremont. From here, the way continues up the ridge, reaching at one point a steep drop-off that is near the high point of the hike on Mount Fremont’s ridge. Looking back, you can drink in refreshing views of Mount Rainier. But take care not to fall. The path then descends a bit as it traverses the ridge to the lookout, which should be obvious to you now that it is not on Fremont’s summit. You’ve made it to the treeless, craggy lookout site at 2.7 miles and 7,181 ft.

The two-story lookout structure, built in the mid-1930s, was restored and is still used by backcountry rangers. If rangers are there, take advantage of the opportunity to talk to them and learn more about the lookout and the views. Go up on the catwalk, and peer through the lookout windows to view the austere bed facing the mountain, a table with a checkerboard tablecloth, an ancient chair, and a propane stove. Take time to eat lunch. Enjoy the awe-inspiring views of Mt. Rainier and the Cascades. Take plenty of photos to remember the experience. Look for wildlife, including mountain goats and marmots. On a clear day, you might be able to see the Olympic range. With good binoculars, it’s said, you can see the Space Needle in Seattle.

On the way back, continue to relish the views. Pause at the convergence of the trails at Frozen Lake and absorb the exceptional vistas of Mt. Rainier’s north and east side, including Curtis Ridge, Carbon Glacier, Willis Wall, and Liberty Ridge. Also take in Burroughs Mountain, Yakima Park and the broad sweep of Grand Park. Take more pictures.

When you have returned to Sunrise and your car, in honor of the dazzling “white” top of Mount Rainier, treat yourself to a symbolic ice cream cone. Consider it a delicious conclusion to a successful day hiking on the mountain.

– Mary Janosik, Visit Rainier Hiking Expert

Starting Point: 46.914722, -121.642222
Notable Waypoints:

Trailhead: N 46° 54′ 53, W 121° 38′ 32
Lookout: N 46° 56′ 03, W 121° 40′ 32

About The Author

Mary Janosik

Mary has lived in the small town of Enumclaw, in the shadow of Mt. Rainier, all of her life. Her parents raised six kids on the backside of a mountain. Playing in the woods and exploring the countryside, often on horseback, life was an adventure just outside the backdoor. And Mary was content to enjoy nature's treasures close to home, most of the time. It wasn't until 2001, when Mary's 21 year-old daughter wanted to start hiking, that she thought it would be great to spend quality time with her in the mountains a little farther from home. Mary and her daughter started hiking seriously that year and couldn't seem to get enough. (In 2004 they did 72 hikes in 52 weeks.) It was always an adventure exploring new trails and visiting old ones in all the seasons. In March of 2007 Mary's daughter moved to the beautiful state of Colorado and she drafted her wonderful husband as a hiking partner. Mary started a photography business in January 2005 and has her work hanging in a few businesses in Enumclaw and in surrounding towns. She's primarily a hiker... the photos result from something that she loves to do.