#25 First Butte Okanogan Range
Summit Elevation: 5,491′
Lookout Type: 14’x14′ L-4 with catwalk
Site Established: 1938
Current Structure Built: 1938
Date Visited: 10/6/17
First Butte is one picturesque summit! It has a fire lookout, beautiful old cabin, and gorgeous views of the surrounding peaks of the North Cascades and Pasayten.
Photos are from a 2017 visit.
The First Butte lookout was built by the Forest Service in 1938 and staffed every season until 1997. In 1942, it was staffed year-round as a World War II Aircraft Warning System (AWS). After being used on an emergency-basis in 1998, it returned to use 5 days per week in 1999 and still remains active for emergency use. It was added to the National Historic Lookout Register in 2000.
Ray Kresek passed along that the ground house at First Butte was originally a garage/woodshed. In 1942 this building was converted to sleeping quarters for enemy aircraft spotters in the AWS mentioned above. Two people were assigned to each station on 12 hour shifts. Very few cabins like the one at First Butte still exist and only two others still stand in Washington: Red Mountain in the Gifford Pinchot and Big Hill in the Okanogan-Wenatchee.
You can drive right to the summit of First Butte, but road conditions likely require a high-clearance 4×4. You can always park lower and walk up. The lookout tower is locked unless staffed, but you can climb the stairs and enjoy the views of Silver Star, the Gardners, and the rest of the North Cascades from below the cab. There is plenty of room on the summit to explore.
I would highly recommend checking in with the local Ranger Station on the West Chewuch Road to inquire about road conditions. There are a few different routes to the summit and the Ranger Station is knowledgeable about recommending the best one. Below is the route I took, which requires a high clearance 4×4.
From Winthrop, head north on Bluff Street, which turns into County Road 9137 (East Chewuch Road). Continue 6.4 miles to a fork, then bear right onto Boulder Creek Road (Forest Road 37). Keep right at another fork in 1.3 miles, continue 6 miles, then turn left onto Forest Road 800. Follow this road 2 miles to a left turn with Forest Road 825 and continue the remaining 2.2 miles to the lookout.
Due to prior washouts, this road can be impossible in anything other than a high clearance 4×4. I had no trouble in my Jeep, but a regular passenger car likely won’t make it past the junction with Forest Road 800. There is a longer access route to the west side of First Butte that uses Forest Road 100 and may be a preferable alternative.