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#5 Sun Top Mount Rainier Area

Location: 47.041009, -121.5987277
Summit Elevation: 5,271′
Lookout Type: 14’x14′ L-4 ground house
Site Established: 1932
Current Structure Built: 1932
Dates Visited: 7/8/08, 5/18/19

Sun Top is a fantastic all-season destination near Mount Rainier that offers many creative ways to get to the summit including driving, hiking, biking, and skiing or snowshoeing.

The lookout is volunteer staffed during summer, stop by and say hi but be courteous with visiting hours.

Sun Top is one of only two L-4 ground house structures remaining in the old Snoqualmie National Forest and you can hike, bike, drive, or even ski to its summit.

Photos from visits in 2008 and 2019.


History.

Sun Top was built in 1932 or 1933, but not much documentation or historical research has been uncovered about its initial construction. The lookout was staffed year-round during WWII as part of the U.S. Army Aircraft Warning Service.

As late as 1956, the lookout was fairly remote and difficult to access. Trails now improve access and the lookout continues to be staffed annually by volunteers for purposes of fire detection as well as visitor information services.

Sun Top is one of two L-4 ground house structures still standing in the old Snoqualmie National Forest, the other being Evergreen Mountain Lookout (page coming soon!).


The route.

Although you can drive to the top when the gates are open in summer, Sun Top is one of the few lookouts that has a lot of creative ways to get the summit by all means of transportation.

CX bike: Simply ride the forest service roads to the summit and get in a lung and leg-busting climb!

Mountain bike: Create an awesome loop from White River that includes Skookum Flats and Sun Top, just be prepared that Skookum has some technical sections packed with roots.

Hike: Consider a 14-16 mile day hike on the Sun Top Trail from near Ranger Creek Airstrip.

Ski/Snowshoe: In winter, grab your skis or snowshoes and take a ski tour to Sun Top. This is definitely on my to-do list this winter! Remember in winter to always check avalanche conditions and forecasts.

Forest Road climb by bicycle.

This is a GPS track from the straightforward forest road climb to the summit, perfect for a CX bike.

Distance (RT): 13.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,172′
Summit Elevation: 5,280′

If you’re feeling ambitious or the gate is closed in early season, you can ride your bike all the way to the summit on Forest Service roads. From Forest Road 73 just off Highway 410, park at the Skookum Flats North trailhead. Bike up the main Huckleberry Creek Road about a mile, then turn left onto Forest Road 7315 and follow it all the way to the summit. Definitely bring your climbing legs for this one!

This is a steep ride, but super fast on the way down! I recommend this when the gate is closed early season, then there’s no need to worry about vehicle traffic on the descent.


Sun Top over the years.

My first visit to Sun Top in 2008 was a bit accidental. I was doing a lot of mountain biking at the time and two really fast, talented mountain bike guys I knew took me along for a big weekend of camping and biking near White River. We rode Palisades, Noble Knob, Skookum Flats, and then looped up to Sun Top. It’s a great area for mountain biking!

I didn’t have many photos from 2008, so I returned again late in May 2019 and brought my bike, thinking the gate might not yet be open for the season. Turns out it was but it was a beautiful day with little traffic so I rode anyway. I had to leave my bike about a half mile below the summit and walked up through lingering snow. The only person I met all day was an older gentleman and his dog Rey, named after Star Wars. The friendly man was a local resident and told me lots of great mining stories.

If you have eagle eyes, or a good zoom lens, you can see Fremont Lookout far in the distance from the top of Sun Top.

It’s tough to see, but if you zoom way in where I have the photo circled, you’ll see Fremont Lookout from Sun Top. Just barely!

Directions.

From Enumclaw, drive Highway 410 24 miles and turn right onto Forest Road 73 (Huckleberry Creek Road). In winter, the Sun Top Sno-Park is 1.5 miles up the road. In summer, turn left onto Forest Road 7315 and follow it 5 miles to a gate that may or may not be open. If open, you can drive to the lookout. If not, park and hike a half mile up.

A Northwest Forest Pass is required in summer and a Sno-Park Pass in winter.