Credit: photo courtesy Mt. Rainier Visitors Association
High Rock Lookout has excellent views of Mt. Rainier and is a popular hiking destination, featuring a steep climb of 1,400 feet over 1.6 miles.
ASHFORD – While great weather has brought thousands of visitors to Mt. Rainier National Park this summer, some savvy hikers have found an excellent day trip is a visit to High Rock Lookout in the Nisqually Valley, just outside the park entrance.
High Rock Lookout is one of the fire lookouts that was used by the Forest Service in pre-satellite days, so that staff could keep an eye out for smoke, indicating a forest fire.
Since their purpose was to observe large swaths of land, fire lookouts are always located atop high peaks and offer incredible views. High Rock Lookout is just such a site, and still retains the original 1929 tower, perched at 5,700 feet and offering a sweeping view of Mt. Rainier.
To reach the trailhead, drive east on SR-706 from the Mt. Rainier Visitor’s Center in Ashford. After about three miles, turn right on Kernahan Road (also which turns into Skate Creek/FS 52), and drive one and a half miles before taking a right on Osborn road. Immediately take a left on FR 85 (it is unmarked), and continue 5.8 miles. When the road forks, take the left fork onto FR 8440 (unmarked) and continue 4.5 miles to the trailhead on the left.
A slightly longer, but smoother alternate route is to drive east on SR-706, turn right on Kernahan Road (which turns into Skate Creek/FS 52), and drive 4.6 miles before taking a right onto FR 84 (this is unmarked – it is one turn after the dirt road with the gate on the right) and keep on it for 6.8 miles, bearing right onto FR 8440 for the final 2.7 miles to the trailhead (on the right). This route is recommended for cars lacking four-wheel drive.
The trail is 1.6 miles each way, but with a hefty 1,400 foot elevation gain. The well-used trail is wide and in great condition, following the spine of the ridge through hemlock and silver fir with wildflowers decorating the trail in the early summer months.
The path steepens as it approaches the lookout, and towards the end hikers can choose to either scramble up a steep rock slope with a 600-foot vertical drop to the right for the most direct route to the lookout, or wind a bit further through the forest and then cut back up along the ridge, approaching the lookout from the west with the cliff to the left.
High Rock sits on a prominent point on Sawtooth Ridge, and is a popular destination for nature photographers.
This hike takes an average of three hours round trip, and while the steep incline may intimidate hikers early on, the hike is finished in a short time and the view is well worth the effort.
The fire lookout is open during the summer so hikers can go inside and check it out. The path is clear of snow as of early July, and bear grass, Indian paintbrush and avalanche lilies color the landscape.
While this trail does allow dogs, they should be kept on a leash due to the dangerous ledge near parts of the trail. Similarly, this path is not recommended for young children. Since there are no public facilities, make sure to bring plenty of water and snacks.
For more information, contact the Mt. Rainier Visitors Association at 360-569-0910 or firstname.lastname@example.org.