North Cascades National Park | Stephen Mather Wilderness
Location: 48.90849, -121.46266 Summit Elevation: 6,280′ Lookout Type: gable-roofed L-4 ground house Site Established: 1932 Current Structure Built: 1932 Date Visited: 10/12/18, 7/28/19
Copper Mountain fire lookout is one of the most remote fire lookouts in Washington State and may have the most spectacular views of any lookout in the state! One of only three lookouts remaining in the North Cascades National Park, Copper’s perch is extraordinary and will make you feel very, very small. Fall colors are stunning and during my visit in 2018 I encountered six black bears along the trail: a single day record for me!
Photos from 2018 and 2019.
Copper’s gable-roofed L-4 lookout was built sometime in 1932. Even back in 1936, despite Copper’s remoteness, it was reported that the lookout had 37 visitors for the season. In 1942 like many other lookouts, Copper was used by the Army as an Aircraft Warning Service post. Sleeping quarters were reportedly added to the site though no photographic evidence of the structure has been found.
Copper is one of only three remaining fire lookouts in the North Cascades National Park and is still manned by wilderness rangers during much of the summer and early fall. The lookout was placed on the National Historic Lookout Register on February 10, 1989.
In the summer of 2021, the Bear Creek Fire closed the Copper Ridge Trail from the Copper lookout to the junction with the Chilliwack Trail but the lookout was never in danger.
It’s pretty tough to pick only a few grand photos to represent the unbelievable views from two trips to Copper, so here’s a handful from the fall of 2018 and summer of 2019.
Bears, bears, everywhere!
I’m pretty convinced that bears must be my spirit animal because I’ve seen over 30 black bears and one grizzly on my adventures over the years. I’ll never forget my day hike to Copper in the fall of 2018 because somehow, on a beautiful fall day, my only company on the entire trail was six bears. I had the entire summit and area all to myself! All the bears were far more interested in noshing on berries to fatten up for winter than they were in me and it was absolutely delightful, especially watching a mama bear and two cubs from afar. To this date I’ve never seen more bears in a single day!
Most black bears are shy by nature and want nothing to do with us, but when hiking in bear country, be aware, make some noise, and consider carrying bear spray just in case. Always give bears a wide berth!
*Copper Mountain is often visited as a multi-night backpack on the longer and popular Copper Ridge loop, traveling 34 miles and gaining 8,600′. The loop requires backcountry permits for overnight stays and can be quite popular during peak season, which is very short in this area. The mileage provided above is for an out and back day hike to Copper from Hannegan Trailhead.
The first time I visited Copper I did it as a day hike from the Hannegan trailhead. The second time I spent the night at Hannegan camp to service some remote wolverine cameras and made the day hike to Copper from there. While it’s a long day, the trail is in good condition and it’s reasonably easy to make good time.
From the Hannegan Trailhead, the trail climbs gradually upward along Ruth Creek to Hannegan Pass, with fantastic views over to the beautiful Ruth Mountain. The trail then descends roughly 500′ to the North Cascades National Park Boundary and the Boundary campground. From Boundary Camp, the Copper Ridge Trail heads to the left, climbing steadily upwards through forest to Hells Gorge, then passing by Egg Point and nearby Silesia camp in about 2.8 miles. From here, the views of the North Cascades and the awesomely jagged Picket Range grow larger and larger and you can catch your first glimpse of the lookout far on the distant ridge.
From Selesia Camp, the trail continues up and down over a few knobs another two miles to the Copper Mountain lookout. Relax, enjoy some snacks, and revel in some of the most incredible views in the entire State of Washington which include Shuksan, Baker, Challenger, Fury, and the Pickets.
The season is notoriously short at Copper and the best time to visit is usually August through early October due to heavy snowpack and tricky conditions.
From I-5 exit 255, go east 34 miles on SR 542. If you need to pick up backcountry permits, stop at the Public Service Center just past the town of Glacier. Continue 12.7 miles to a left turn onto Hannegan Pass Road #32. At 1.3 miles, stay left on Ruth Creek Road, and drive the final 4 miles to road end. A washout has reduced trailhead parking and on summer weekends it’s not uncommon to find cars lined all the way down the shoulder of the road, so be prepared to walk an extra mile if needed.