#1 Granite Mountain Alpine Lakes
Location: 47.41712, -121.48132
Summit Elevation: 5,629′
Lookout Type: 10′ L-4 tower
Site Established: 1916
Current Structure Built: 1956
Dates Visited: 12x. 11/14/00 (first), 9/22/17 (last)
If you live in Seattle, there’s a good chance you know about Granite Mountain. It’s one of the more popular hikes along the busy I-90 corridor and beautiful summer weekends can attract 100+ cars parked all the way down to the highway. Granite puts on a colorful fall show and if you like pika watching, the talus fields surrounding the summit are ripe with them!
Caution: In winter, Granite has extreme avalanche danger.
Photos above are from multiple visits between 2012 – 2017.
A Mountaineer Journal describes the summit of Granite as having a summer forest lookout station as early as 1916. A 1920 summit photo confirms the existence of a cabin and in 1924, an elevated D-6 cupola cabin was constructed. A new Weyerhaeuser product called Balsam Wood was used as additional insulation and shutters were hinged from the top.
In the 1940s the lookout was possibly used during WWII to spot enemy aircraft. The current 10′ L-4 tower was built around 1956 and is usually staffed with volunteers from June through September.
My visits over the years.
I first hiked up to Granite Mountain back on November 14, 2000 with my dad, shortly after moving to Seattle. Since then I’ve visited the lookout nearly a dozen times and in every season. I even had a summit champagne celebration in November 2014 with a friend after completing a local hiking challenge.
I was most recently on the summit in September 2017 with my folks, who finally got to enjoy the views from the top on a beautiful fall day. It’s amazing how it never looks the same and it’s fun to see the changes between spring, summer, fall, and winter. This is also one of my favorite places to photograph pika!
Distance (RT): 8.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,800′
Summit Elevation: 5,629′
If you look at maps, it’s possible to get creative with routes to Granite and turn this into a much longer adventurous outing, but most people take the standard approach from the main I-90 trailhead. The first mile of the trail starts relatively tame and you’ll climb most of the 3,800′ to the summit in the last 3 miles.
From the Pratt Lake trailhead, head up the trail and look for the Granite Mountain junction in approximately 1.2 miles. Now the upward climb really begins! A few seasonal streams can provide water sources but don’t count on them during the height of summer and don’t count on shade either. Once you leave the trees it’s a hot, exposed climb to the top.
Higher up as you spy the lookout in the distance, be aware that the trail breaks into several paths that lead everywhere. Some people head straight up the ridge crest, climbing over boulders to the summit. The recommended route is to turn right through the basin and around to the backside of the mountain where a trail will obviously lead you to a final steep climb to the top. Look and listen for pika along the way, they’re very popular here.
From Seattle, drive I-90 east 46 miles to exit 47. Turn left at the stop sign and cross over the freeway. Make another left at the T intersection and park at the Pratt Lake Trailhead. Caution: In winter, avalanche danger on Granite Mountain can be extreme!