#10 Hidden Lake Central North Cascades
Summit Elevation: 6,890′
Lookout Type: Gable-roofed L-4 cab
Site Established: 1931
Current Structure Built: 1931
Date Visited: 10/7/14
I’m not sure there’s a lookout in the state that can rival Hidden Lake’s tremendous 360° panorama of the North Cascades. If it’s views you want, views you’ll get and they’ll include all the big ones: Sahale, Boston, Forbidden, Torment, Johannesburg, Eldorado, Booker, Baker, and Shuksan.
Hidden Lake is available for overnight stays first come first served. Consider making a donation to the Friends of Hidden Lake Lookout, which maintains the structure. Donations can be made at the lookout or through paypal using friendsofHLLO@gmail.com.
Photos are from a visit back in October 2014.
Hidden Lake Lookout was built in late summer or fall of 1932 by the U.S. Forest Service and members of Larson Brothers Construction. The design was developed in 1930 by the Aladdin Company from Portland, Oregon, who was the principal supplier to the US Forest Service of pre-cut lookout houses.
Materials were shipped to the Baker River Ranger Station, then carried 7 miles up trail by pack teams to a saddle between Hidden Lake and the southern summit of the peak. Everything was then carried by hand and winched 400′ to the summit for assembly. Hidden Lake was one of the earlier L-4 lookouts built in the Mount Baker Forest.
The lookout was used during WWII as an Aircraft Warning System and staffed from 1951 to 1958. In 1961, it was restored by Dr. Fred Darvill and the Skagit Alpine Club. The lookout is maintained today by Friends of Hidden Lake Lookout and available to visitors on a first come basis, year round. A donation of $15-$25/night is suggested and welcomed.
Hidden Lake was added to the National Historic Lookout Register in 1996 and is one of two gable roof style lookouts that remain on the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie Forest, the other being Three Fingers.
Distance (RT): 8 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,300′
The route to Hidden Lake begins from the Sibley Creek trailhead, winding through thick forest for more than a mile before opening up into a spectacular alpine basin with steep, vertical cliffs. In the fall, it’s a dazzling technicolor explosion of color! As the trail switchbacks upward, Eldorado, Baker, and Shuksan come into view.
Around 3-3.5 miles, you’ll get your first view of Hidden Lake Lookout perched dramatically on top of a near vertical block of rock and you’ll wonder how the heck you get up there, but there is indeed a trail!
Below the lookout the trail traverses through a rock gully and when I visited in 2014, the route-finding was a little tricky. A few cairns led the way but I’m sure with all the traffic this trail has gotten in recent years the path is well defined.
At the top of the gully is a saddle with tremendous views down to the Hidden Lake cirque. The trail continues up the backside of the mountain straight below the lookout with a final short but easy rock scramble to the top.
Dogs are allowed on the trail to the lookout but not on the trail to Hidden Lake as that’s inside the boundaries of North Cascades National Park. Also be aware the summit requires some rock scrambling that can be tricky for dogs, so make sure your pup is capable.
This hike is extremely popular, so finding the lookout unoccupied takes a lot of luck. There are some camping spots lower on the trail and at Hidden Lake, but the lake requires a backcountry permit.
If you do camp lower on the trail, be sure to camp only in established campsites and practice leave no trace principles. The meadows and environment are fragile here, so please take care of it so others can enjoy it.
Caution: Snow can linger on this trail well into July which makes its season very short. Though Hidden Lake can be accessed in the winter, it takes good navigation and avalanche awareness skills. There is dangerous avalanche terrain in this area and the challenging weather and terrain of the North Cascades should not be underestimated.
From Marblemount on Highway 20, turn onto the Cascade River Road and drive just short of 10 miles to the junction with FS Road 1540, signed Hidden Lake Trail. The road is steep and can be very rutted and rocky, so a high clearance 4×4 is highly recommended. The trailhead is 4.5 miles up the road and quite small, so park courteously to leave room for others.