Hiking Mount Pilchuck Trail In Washington



Mt Pilchuck Lookout Tower and views at the summit of the popular Washington hike Mt Pilchuck Trail by Where Are Those Morgans

Mt Pilchuck Trail is a challenging 5.4-mile roundtrip hike with 2,200 ft elevation gain near Granite Falls, Washington. We hiked the steep trail to Mount Pichuck fire lookout tower and we were completely blown away by its 360-degree summit views. As far as we’re concerned, it’s one of the best hikes in the Cascade Mountains, so you shouldn’t miss it if you’ll be visiting the area.

In this guide we walk you through hiking Mt Pilchuck Trail in Washington for the first time, based on our own experiences.

Our Experience

Mark and Kristen Morgan from Where Are Those Morgans together on the outside of Mt Pilchuck Lookout with far reaching views to one side over Washington State
Here we are at Mt Pilchuck fire lookout tower

We spent 6 months living near Seattle in the summer of 2021 and we fell in love with hiking in the Pacific Northwest. After hiking dozens of trails in the three famous national parks, we decided to hike as many trails in between the parks as possible. We’d already hiked nearby Lake 22 Trail in July, but we left Mt Pilchuck until the fall because we knew it would be crowded in summer.

So, we set an early alarm and drove to Granite Falls in the dark, before taking on the dreadful 7-mile pot-hole laden road to Mt Pilchuck Trailhead as day was breaking. We took our time on the short but steep trail and finally summited at the fire lookout tower around 10:00am on a Tuesday morning in October. And we definitely made the right call leaving it until fall because we had it all to ourselves! Read more about us.

Trail Information

  • Distance: 5.4 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation gain: 2,200 feet
  • Time: 3-6 hours
  • Difficulty: Hard

The steep hike to Mount Pilchuck fire lookout tower shouldn’t be taken lightly. You’ll be gaining 2,200 feet elevation in just 2.7 miles, so it’s a bit of slog on the way up. It took us 2 hours to reach the tower and 1 hour 45 minutes to descend, so including the 45 minutes we spent enjoying summit views, our total time was 4 hours and 30 minutes.

After hiking hundreds of trails in Washington, the US and around the world, we’d personally rate Mt Pilchuck Trail as being on the harder side of moderately difficult. As long as you’re a regular hiker and you’re happy with steep elevation gain, you shouldn’t have any problems.

Mt Pilchuck Fire Lookout Tower

The history of Mt Pilchuck lookout tower photo taken from information board inside
History of the fire lookout tower
Inside Mount Pilchuck Lookout Tower where people sleep for sunset and sunrise over Washington
The small but sheltered lookout tower interior
Small and low down entrance to access a wooden fire tower
Crawling entrance to access the inside of the tower

Mount Pilchuck lookout tower was originally built in 1918 for detecting wildfires, before being rebuilt in 1990 by the Everett Mountaineers. Today, it’s the summit landmark at the end of an immensely popular hike, and you can even sleep in the fire tower on a first-come, first-served basis.

To access the fire tower you must climb a tall and steep metal ladder from boulders to the wooden structure. From experience, we can tell you that looking down through the rungs is enough to bring on a sudden bout of vertigo, so if you have a fear of heights we recommend you don’t look down!

A fenced-in boardwalk wide enough for two people runs around all 4 sides of the lookout tower. So you can soak up far reaching views in all directions from the tower. Finally, to get inside the tower you need to take your daypack off and crawl through a small doorway.

Mt Pilchuck Trailhead Parking

Mount Pilchuck Trailhead parking lot roadside next to narrow road at 3,100 ft elevation
Our blue SUV parked with a few other cars when we returned to the trailhead

The trailhead parking area for hiking Mt Pilchuck Trail is located 19 miles from the small city of Granite Falls along the Mountain Loop Highway in northwest Washington State. You’ll turn off Mountain Loop Highway and onto Mount Pilchuck Road near the Blue Bridge.

  • Set your Google Maps destination for Mount Pilchuck Trail parking area and hit directions.

There was only one other car parked the morning we arrived at the trailhead. And by the time we returned to the trailhead around lunch time there were only 4 cars in addition to ours, so it was a really quiet day. The parking area is large and has room for lots of vehicles, but we know it fills early in peak hiking season and especially on weekends, so plan accordingly.

Driving To The Trailhead

When we hiked Mt Pilchuck, the trail itself wasn’t the hardest part of the day, it was navigating the truly awful 7-mile Mount Pilchuck Road from the highway to the trailhead. When we lived in Washington we had to drive pot-hole roads all the time to reach trailheads, but this was one of the worst.

But the good news for you is that Mount Pilchuck was closed in 2023 so the roads could be repaired. So from 2024 onwards, you won’t have to deal with driving 5mph up and down the road, or your car’s suspension taking a beating. So all the historic hiker comments you’ll see on All Trails about the road won’t concern you any longer!

Passes And Fees

Mt Pilchuck Trailhead is located within Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, so you need to display either a Northwest Forest Pass or America the Beautiful Pass, otherwise known as an Interagency Pass.

  • Northwest Forest Pass – Includes access to all National Forest land in both Washington and Oregon. You can buy day passes for $5 or annual passes for $30.
  • America the Beautiful Pass – Includes entry to all US national parks, national monuments, national forests and more for 1 year for $80.

It’s important to know that you cannot use your Discover Pass because they’re not valid at USDA forest service trailheads. Even though the summit is located within Mount Pilchuck State Park, the trailhead is within the National Forest, so it’s subject to federal fees rather than state fees.

READ: Is it worth buying an America the Beautiful Pass?

Mt Pilchuck Trail Walkthrough

We’re going to walk you through the hike exactly as it was for us and with our photos, so you know what to expect:

1. Park, Pay + Display

Map of a hike on information board at trailhead
Map on information board at the trailhead

After driving up the pot-hole road we parked and hung our America the Beautiful Pass on our mirror. Then we grabbed our day packs and filled them with snacks and water, before quickly using the vault toilets and reading the information boards.

2. Climb Through Old Growth Forest

Hiker climbing small wooden puncheon bridges in a forest in the Pacific Northwest
Passing through stunning old growth forest
Hiker climbing wooden steps in a forest leading to trees
First bit of elevation gain on the trail

We began walking on a rocky path through old growth forest, reached a fork, took the right turn and crossed a stream. A sign stating “entering Pilchuck State Park” told us we were on the right path, and before long we were gaining gentle elevation on puncheon bridges and a rocky trail.

3. Switchback

Orange poles marking switchback on Mt Pilchuck hiking trail
Orange poles on scree slope marking the major switchback
Orange marker pole signalling direction on a hike in Washington
Follow the orange poles with directions to stay on trail

Around 1 mile into the hike we reached our first major directional change as the trail entered a scree slope filled with large boulders. We followed two orange poles with arrows pointing the directions to turn sharply left like a switchback, then followed the next orange pole with directions to turn again.

4. Leave The Forest

Hiker walking on trail with trees and far reaching views in the background Mt Pilchuck Trail in Washington
Kristen hiking out of the forest to open up stunning views
Far reaching views over Washington landscape from a hike in Mt Baker Snoqualmie National Forest
Unobstructed views after leaving the forest
Lush green trees and leaves on the Mt Pilchuck hike
Most photogenic part of the hike

The trail narrowed and became steeper as it arced gently around to the right. After another 0.5 miles we left the forest entirely and enjoyed amazing views over the valleys below. And we could see Mt Pilchuck fire lookout tower perched on the edge of a cliff above us from the clearing.

5. Rocky Area

Volcanoes and mountain peaks in the distance from a hiking trail on Mountain Loop Highway in Washington
Volcano views from higher points on the trail
Rocky boulder field on a steep scree slope
Series of short switchbacks through a boulder field
Wooden ladder steps leading from rocks to forest
Wooden puncheon ladders transitioning between rocky and forest trails

We navigated our way through a small boulder field via a series of short switchbacks to gain elevation and pass a handful of false summits. The trail was still very attractive and the views were getting better by the step. Next we passed over The Saddle and began a long and gradual curving ascent to reach the lookout tower. This section was slow going and felt like it was never going to end, but trust us it does!

6. Mount Pilchuck Lookout Tower

Looking up at a hiker on steep boulders with a fire lookout tower beyond
Steep climb up boulders and a ladder to reach the tower
Mt Pilchuck Lookout tower from the side with amazing view over the landscape below
Spectacular views over Washington from the tower
Wide angle photo of Mt Pilchuck Lookout Tower from nearby boulders
Wide angle photo we took of the tower from nearby boulders

And then all of a sudden we reached the summit! We climbed up and over the steep boulders to reach the ladder, and then climbed the ladder rungs carefully to access the fire tower. Looking down gave us a bit of a knee wobble, but once we were up it was awesome and we had it to ourselves the whole 45 minutes we were up there. We walked around each side, took lots of photos and then crawled inside to take a look around.

7. The Descent

Foot on ladder climbing down to rocks from Mt Pilchuck lookout tower in Washington
Mark about to climb down the ladder
Hiker descending Mount Pilchuck Trail with views over volcanoes in Washington skyline
Kristen enjoying the last of the volcano views before disappearing back into the forest
Hiker walking on rocky trail with trees and distant views obscured by misty clouds
Hazy, smoky and misty clouds beginning to role in later in the day

After we’d had enough of the views and filled our SD cards with photos, we took the exact same route back down to the trailhead. In truth, we enjoyed the views more on the descent because we were looking out rather than towards the mountain peak. It was pretty hazy when we hiked but on a clear day you’ll be able to see Mt Rainier, Mt Baker and Puget Sound.

SHOP: Our travel photography gallery

Pros and Cons

Huge boulders at the summit of Mount Pilchuck hiking trail with distant views over Washington
Razor thin rocky ridge at the summit of the peak


  • Fire lookout tower at the summit
  • Mixed terrain trail keeps things interesting
  • Sensational summit views
  • Short trail so you don’t have to spend all day hiking
  • Trailhead road has been resurfaced
  • You can hike Lake 22 before or after


  • Trail can become extremely crowded
  • It’s not suitable for beginners
  • Very rocky and uneven throughout

Sunrise + Sunset Hiking

Mt Pilchuck Lookout fire tower perched on top of rocks on a steep cliff edge
Superb view of the lookout tower from the nearby rocky ridge

Mt Pilchuck is a popular sunrise and sunset hiking destination in Washington, and the next time we’re in the area we’ll probably do one of them ourselves. But if you’re thinking about a dawn or dusk hike, or you plan to stay in the fire tower, you need to be prepared with headlamps, flashlights, warm gear, plenty of food, snacks and emergency first aid equipment.

Check sunrise and sunset times for Granite Falls and allow 3 hours hiking time to reach the summit before sunrise or sunset, so you have enough wiggle room and you can get settled in a good spot. Remember, the summit has 360-degree views so you’ll be in for a real treat.

Hiking Tips

Puncheon bridge wooden steps built into forest floor with lush green leaves
Puncheon bridges are common in forested areas of Washington hikes

Here are our best quick tips for the Mount Pilchuck hike:

  • Begin very early or much later in the afternoon to avoid crowds
  • Hike in late spring or fall to avoid the summer rush
  • Robust shoes are essential to help with gripping on slickrock and boulders
  • No specialist gear is required for this trail in good weather
  • Don’t forget your poles if you typically use them to hike
  • Can be bad for bugs in summer months so don’t forget repellant
  • Mt Pilchuck is a dog friendly trail but bear in mind it’s a steep hike
  • Bring plenty of water and snacks or a light lunch for the lookout tower

Do you use offline maps to track your hikes with any of the best hiking apps? We typically use All Trails to look at recent comments, then we use Gaia GPS offline maps navigation when we’re on trails with no service.

EXCLUSIVE: 20% GAIA GPS Premium discount

Where To Eat And Stay Nearby

Hiker with Osprey backpack enjoying views over distant mountain peaks
Kristen enjoying views over distant mountain peaks

FOOD: Granite Falls is a small city but it’s the closest place you’ll find any places to eat, and there’s actually a decent range of cuisine options.

Top rated eateries include:

HOTELS: You’ll be fine for eating out but hotels are another story. Lodging options near and along Mountain Loop Highway are sparse. Lake Stevens is closest, but Marysville or Everett might suit you better.

Top rated hotels include:

Best Time To Hike Mt Pilchuck Trail

Wooden fire tower in the Cascade Mountains
The fire lookout on a sunny but cool day in October

We think September and October are the best times to hike Mount Pilchuck Trail to benefit from comfortable hiking conditions, fewer crowds, misty mornings and fall colors. But May is also an excellent month to hike because the spring air smells amazing and the trails are just opening after a long winter.

Personally, we would avoid the busy summer months of July and August, but the warmer weather and longer days might appeal more to you. If you do visit between June and August, we recommend avoiding weekends and particularly holiday weekends if possible.

READ: The best hikes in the US

The Morgan Conclusion

Hiker admiring views over Washington mountain peaks from a hike in the Cascades
Kristen enjoying the amazing view before dropping back into forest on the descent

All Trails has the trail at 4.7/5 with over 3k+ ratings, and it’s hard for us to argue with those 3 thousand hikers. Now that the road leading to the trailhead has been resurfaced, we imagine that rating will rise because it’s a fun hike and it leads to magnificent views.

We don’t mind short and steep mountain peak hikes because they almost always lead to great viewpoints and it means we’re not out hiking all day. And after hiking lots of trails in Washington, we’d say Mt Pilchuck was right up there with our favorites.

More From Washington

Want more Washington content? Head to our Washington Travel Guides to explore National Parks, popular day hikes and best things to do around Seattle.

We hope this guide to hiking Mt Pilchuck Trail helps with planning your visit to Washington!

Please let us know if you have any questions in the comments below.

Happy Travels,

Mark and Kristen

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