When I saw a sunset picture from a clear day at High Rock Lookout, I knew I had to go hike it, and do it quickly before the road to the trailhead became inaccessible for the winter season. I was in luck: the very weekend coming up was set to be completely clear and sunny. Though I’ve only just moved to Washington, seeing two days of clear skies and sunshine on a late October weekend seemed like a rare occurrence. Rains had already started to return, grey skies were becoming more common, and fall was in full swing. Naturally, I wanted to maximize the weekend by spending as much time as possible outdoors, so I decided I’d take the plunge and head to High Rock Lookout.
High Rock Lookout Trail Review
- Hiked: mid-October
- Distance from Seattle: 2 hours 25 minutes
- Accessibility: Difficult. Not only is it a bit of a drive from Seattle, the last 10 miles or so are on a dirt road filled with pot holes.
- Length: 3.1 miles round trip
- Difficulty: 4/10
- Crowds: 4/10
- Trail views: 10/10
- Water features: 2/10
- Overall: 9.5/10
Other trail notes: The trail starts off a dirt “parking lot” about 9-10 miles off the aforementioned dirt road (note that Google Maps actually says the trail starts a bit before you arrive at the parking area and actual trail head). There’s no cost or permit needed to park here. There is space for maybe 20 cars or so, so if you’re going in peak season, it would be prudent to arrive early in the morning. I arrived around 8:30 am on an October Saturday and I had to park a little down the road from the main parking area! There’s also no bathroom to use at the trail, so plan to stop in one of the last little towns, probably in Ashford, for a bathroom break if needed.
The day of the hike, no one could come with me, so I decided to go alone for my first ever solo hike. I wrote more about the experience here–it’s more of a reflection and less about the trail details. What a way to celebrate my first solo experience! This hike was as close to perfect as you can get. It has a nice little incline of around 1300 feet for a bit of a workout. It’s short at about 1.6 miles to the top, so it’s a trail that is pretty accessible to everyone. And it has perhaps the highest “bang for your buck” value of any hike I’ve ever taken, because the views that you get for the amount of work you put in are almost unfairly fantastic. The only reason it wasn’t a perfect 10/10 for me was because of how far the drive is for how short the trail is, and how many people were there–particularly knowing in the summer it’s probably way busier!
The High Rock Outlook Trail itself is mostly through the woods. There were many people along the trail; we were passing people every few minutes on both the ascent and the descent. Again, when I’m hiking solo, I prefer to be on well-trafficked trails, so I was appreciative of the number of people.
Most of the trail is easy terrain, soft with dirt and pine needles, and well-marked. There are no major ledges or sheer cliffs until you’re at the top. You start to get some views of Mt. Rainier peeking through the forest part way up. It just keeps getting more amazing!
Continuing the ascent, you’ll reach a rock outcropping that is a great spot to admire the vastness of the mountain range. The view from here is almost as excellent as the view from the High Rock Lookout itself.
From here, it’s a quick 5-10 minutes to the lookout. The last few minutes of the hike is a bit of a scramble across a rocky area, but nothing too dangerous. Though I did end up chasing my backpack and water bottle down the rocks after they fell while I was eating…
Bring your warm jackets for the top if you plan to spend any time resting and enjoying the view, because even on a sunny day, the wind chill will make a sweaty hiker feel cold, fast. I spent about an hour at the top taking in the beauty. I felt like the luckiest person in the world to experience a place this beautiful.
This was my very first Washington Fire Lookout hike as well. There are dozens of these places around the mountains here, and as one would expect, they tend to have expansive views of the surrounding nature. Needless to say, I’ll be seeking out more of these fire lookouts in the coming months.
One final thing I loved about this trail is that it is dog friendly. National Parks often do not allow pets on trails–a bummer for pet lovers, but also understandable. This trail is close to the Mt. Rainier National Park entrance, with incredible views of the park, without technically being in the park. So dog lovers, bring your furry friends. They enjoy it just as much as, if not more than, you do.