Hiking Mount Pilchuck is one of the most popular and rewarding hikes anywhere in Washington. It's a challenging 5.4 miles with over 2,000 feet of elevation gain.
If you complete the Mount Pilchuck Trail, you will be rewarded with incredible views, 360° around you, of Mount Baker, Mount Rainier, Mount Shuksan, Mount Adams, Glacier Peak, and all of the North Cascades.
While the views are nearly unbeatable, there is another reason that hikers endure the steep hike. That is, to explore the Mount Pilchuck Fire Lookout that's on the rocky outcropping at the top of the mountain. From the lookout, you'll be able to see all the way into the Olympic Mountain Range in the Washington peninsula.
The mountain is located in Snohomish County and is about 40 miles from Seattle. It’s a smaller peak of the Cascade Range and sees thousands of hikers every year (Summit Post estimates around 28,000!)
It’s second only to Mount Si as the most popular hike in Washington, especially for those who live in and near Seattle.
The mountain reaches its summit at 5,344' and has an impressive prominence of 2,860'. It’s located within Mount Pilchuck State Park as well as Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
Did you know? The Lushootseed people called the mountain “bəlalgʷa.”
When to Hike Mt. Pilchuck?
The Mt. Pilchuck Trail is easiest in the late spring, summer, or early fall. If you're hoping to avoid the crowds, it's best to confront the trail on a weekday, starting early in the morning, and to finish around midday. On any weekend and summer, you'll find yourself among crowds of avid hikers who are just as excited to see the stunning panorama and the fire lookout as you are!
The best time to climb is between June and early November.
Although the Mount Pilchuck Trail is incredibly popular, it's not an easy hike. This is particularly true in the winter when snow can obscure the path and make the rocks at the top of the mountain perilous. More than one hiker has had to be rescued from this mountainous trail.
We highly recommend signing the trail register at the trailhead and checking in at a ranger station if you're unsure about the conditions on the mountain. Also, make sure you bring traction and hiking poles if there is any snow present on the trail. Poles are also a really good idea in the warmer months as well.
It’s a fairly snowy peak, so you should be prepared for snow into the late summer in especially cold years.
There have been accidents on the mountain that have resulted in more than one fatality, including deaths in 2005, 2008, 2014, and 2015.
Exploring Mount Pilchuck State Park
Mount Pilchuck State Park is a 1,903-acre park that features a variety of day-use areas. It's best known for the Mount Pilchuck trail that extends to the summit of Mount Pilchuck at 5197 feet. It's a strenuous hike that should only be attempted, especially in winter, by those who have experience with snow.
The entire state park is popular with those seeking scrambling and mountain climbing opportunities, as well as birdwatching and wildlife viewing. The park is open year-round and has no hour/season restrictions. If you want more information, call (360) 793-0420.
State Park History
The first trail to the top of the mountain was constructed in 1909. Later, a more direct route was established that is far more popular today. Nine years later, the fire lookout on the summit was built. Over the decades, the fire Lookout has undergone numerous renovations.
Time, there was a ski area administered by Washington state parks on the mountains. But it was closed in 1979 due to poor snow conditions. Today, hikers who have a close eye for detail can find remnants of the ski area and chairlifts.
Mount Pilchuck Trailhead
The trail to the summit of Mount Pilchuck and the fire lookout begins at the Mount Pilchuck Trailhead off of Mountain Loop Highway. It’s just south of Verlot and east of Granite Falls and Lake Bosworth.
The mountain is in Mt. Pilchuck State Park, meaning that you should be prepared with a Discover Pass or the requisite day fee ($10.00) to park in the parking lot.
The trailhead is about 2 hours from Seattle and 5 hours from Portland. Use the map below to navigate to the Mt. Pilchuck Trailhead:
Trailhead coordinates: 48.070141,-121.8191754
Hiking the Mount Pilchuck Trail
From the trailhead at the end of Mt. Pilchuck Road (around 3,100 feet), head south on the trail (Mount Pilchuck Trail #700). The trail gains little elevation until around 3,800 feet, where you’re very likely to see snow in winter.
Once you get out of the trees, you'll find yourself on a boulder field which can be intimidating if you've never done this sort of hiking before. Take your time crossing it and keep your eyes peeled for views of the fire lookout up above. There will be cairns, or small stacks of rocks, in the boulder field that will help you stay on the path.
Over the next 2 miles or so, you’ll gain around 1,300 feet as you climb to the summit of Mount Pilchuck. As you approach the summit at 5,344 feet, you’ll circle around the backside and finish the hike to the summit.
Did you know? Mt. Pilchuck used to have a ski resort on it!
Hiking Mt. Pilchuck in Winter
In winter, Mt. Pilchuck increases in difficulty significantly. You may find that the Road, Mount Pilchuck Road, is closed with snow several miles before the trailhead.
You should be prepared for up to 5 miles of additional hiking in the middle of winter. Most hikers who attempt this mountain winter bring some kind of traction with them. Snowshoes are most commonly used, but in colder conditions, when the snow is hard, you might need crampons or even an ice ax.
If you're planning on hiking Mount Pilchuck in winter, make sure you keep a close eye on conditions and do not attempt the mountain in poor weather. Although it's certainly not the most difficult or the most dangerous mountain in Washington, ill-prepared hikers have had to be rescued from its slopes more than once. Fog is another important consideration. It can obscure the trailhead and be potentially very dangerous near the summit, where there are steep drops.
Did you know? The first ascent of Mt. Pilchuck was in 1897.
Mt. Pilchuck Fire Lookout History and Reservations
The famous Mount Pilchuck fire Lookout was constructed in 1921. This was around 10 years after the first mountain trail in this area was established. Today, the fire lookout serves as an impressive landmark and Memorial to the past. Today, it is an incredibly popular hiking destination and overnight camping area for those who are willing to hike up the mountain with all of their gear.
Reservations are not required to stay at the fire lookout, but hikers in large parties should be aware that the mountain can be incredibly busy, and there may not be the space, or the solitude, that you're looking for.
At one time, there were almost 700 fire lookouts in Washington state. But, today, few remain that haven’t been destroyed (most met their end after catching fire during lightning strikes).
Can I hike Mount Pilchuck in November?
Yes, it's possible to reach the summit of Mount Pilchuck throughout the year, including in November. But hikers should be aware that it's usually in early November that conditions deteriorate on the mountain. Any winter ascent should include snow gear and a knowledge of travel on steep snow in the mountains.
Can you camp at the Mount Pilchuck ski area?
Yes, you can camp at the summit of Mount Pilchuck at the historic fire lookout. But there is limited space, and you’re likely going to be sharing it with more than one group in the summer.
How long does it take to climb Mount Pilchuck?
It takes about 4 hours to successfully climb Mount Pilchuck. In the winter, this number is likely to be larger as snow travel takes longer, and the road may be closed several miles from the trailhead.
How tall is Mount Pilchuck?
Mount Pilchuck is 5,344’ tall.
Nearby Hiking Trails
If you've already completed the Mout Pilchuck Trail or are looking for something a little different, there are several nearby trails that are worth checking out:
Heather Lake Trail
The Heather Lake Trail is a very popular nearby lake that gains less elevation and is shorter than the hike up Mount Pilchuck. But it's still a moderate hike. It leads to the beautiful Heather Lake, that's a perfect place for a picnic on a warm summer day.
Lake 22 Trail
Lake 22 is another nearby moderate lake hike. It’s a loop trail, taking you around 7 miles and providing amazing views of a waterfall and alpine Lake 22. Luckily, there is little elevation gain, and when the trail does go uphill, it’s very gradual.
Big Four Ice Caves
If you’re looking for something very different, we highly recommend checking out the Big Four Ice Caves. This is a short, easy trail that leads to ice caves. But be careful of the conditions and don’t enter any off-limits part of the caves!