High Rock Lookout – One of the Best Sunrise Hikes Around Mt. Rainier
Over the last few years, I have frequented Mt. Rainier many times, but it was not till this last season that I discovered the High Rock Lookout in an old handbook. I am a landscape photographer who loves hiking around the northwest and when I read the description and conducted a quick photo-search on Google, I had to see the view for myself. I particularly wanted to see it at sunrise.
About This Hike
Sunrise at High Rock Lookout might sound like a bit of a stretch for those who hate early mornings but it is one that I believe every Rainier enthusiast should see for themselves. The view from the lookout is unlike any other around Mt. Rainier. There is a 360-degree view that is absolutely incredible. Directly to the front of the lookout, there is a ridgeline that leads directly toward Rainier. To the right, Mt. Adams is visible and to the left, there is a rigid rock outcrop that is also very unique. When the sun rises, it does so just behind and to the right of Mt. Rainier and often creates beams of light that shoot across the valley and ridgelines below the lookout. If you are super lucky, you might even witness a cloud inversion or fog in the valleys that create a view unlike any other.
How to Get There
The hike up to high rock lookout begins at the trailhead which has a dirt parking lot located at the following coordinates 46.666416, -121.891251. The trail up is just over a 3-mile round trip trek with an elevation gain of nearly 1400 feet. You can find all the information for the hike on the Washington Trails Association webpage. The trail becomes very steep along the last quarter mile and at the top, hikers are greeted with a cliff face that is hundreds of feet tall and an incredible view of Mt. Rainier.
Best Time to Visit/ Extra Info
As stated, sunrise is by far the best time (in my opinion) to see the view from the top, though sunset can also be beautiful. The obvious downside to getting up for sunrise is that you have to wake a couple of hours in advance to hike to the top before the sun crests over the horizon. However, there is free camping in the nearby area, so I would encourage those looking to make the hike to look into camping at one of those locations. You can also choose to stay in the lookout itself but there are many mice that call it home and the interior reeks so I would not recommend doing so.
When planning the hike, make sure to leave yourself enough time to get to the top and pack light. If you are a photographer try to limit your gear to a tripod and one or two lenses (a 24-70mm is a must and a 70-200mm is more optional). Also make sure to bring a warm jacket, water, bug spray, and of course wear good hiking boots. There are two ridges along the hike. One at the top and one partway up on the right side of the trail. When taking this hike, make sure to be very careful around the ledge as the fall is deadly. If you bring a dog, keep them on a leash; and if you bring your children, keep them close.
Written By Zach Nichols
For additional information please contact the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest, Cowlitz Valley Ranger District at (360) 497-1100