North Cascades | Skagit Range
Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest | Mount Baker Wilderness
Location: 48.956472, -121.643167
Summit Elevation: 6,510′
Lookout Type: 14’x14′ L-4 groundhouse
Site Established: 1931
Current Structure Built: 1935
Date Visited: 8/28/17
One of Washington’s few lookouts available for first come, first serve overnight stays, Winchester just might win the prize for biggest reward with the least amount of effort: 3.5 miles and 1,300′ gets you some mighty fine 360 views of the North Cascades! Fall is an especially berryful and colorful time to visit.
Photos from a 2017 visit.
The Winchester Mountain Lookout was built in 1935 by the U.S. Forest Service on a site associated with late 19th century gold mining and prospecting activities. The lookout received its name when Jack Post, a well known fire lookout overlooking mining operations near Twin Lake left his station and his rifle as well. The rifle disappeared, finally reappearing the following year, and Winchester Mountain was born. As early as 1931, a map denoted Winchester Mountain as a lookout point.
It’s assumed the lookout was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps since a 200-man CCC camp was established in Glacier in June of 1933. The lookout remained staffed until 1966 before it became severely weathered from both exposure and vandalism. The Mount Baker Club secured a special use permit in 1982 to repair and restore the structure and it is currently open to the public first come, first served.
The lookout used to be open for winter stays but after repeated damage from visitors, the lookout is now closed from November through May or later. Winchester Mountain was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987 as well as the National Historic Lookout Register in 1994.
Please use extra care in treating these historic structures with respect so all can continue to enjoy and use them.
Distance (RT): 3.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,300′
For a short effort, Winchester is a wonderful reward with a beautiful 360 panorama. In fall, you’ll be treated to spectacular colors and blueberries! The trail starts out moderately, climbing up from Twin Lakes and then progressing to a series of switchbacks. In about 1.5 miles you’ll cross over a pass where the trail gets a bit narrow and rocky. Once past that, it’s a quick 400′ to the lookout.
The summit has lots of room for spreading out and the lookout is available for first-come, first-served stays. Please treat it with respect! It’s been closed for winter usage due to damage sustained from careless parties.
Bonus side trip: Only a quarter mile from the trailhead at Twin Lakes is a junction to High Pass, which is well worth exploring. When I visited Winchester I spent an evening camped at High Pass and since most are going to the lookout, it was pleasantly quiet with spectacular views of Ruth Mountain and Mount Baker.
From Glacier on State Route 542, drive east 12.5 miles and turn left on Twin Lakes Road just past the DOT’s Shuksan maintenance facility. The road is rocky and potholed but usually driveable by most vehicles. At 4.5 miles you’ll pass the Yellow Aster Butte trailhead and continue another 2.5 miles on a rugged, rocky, one-lane road to Twin Lakes and the Winchester Mountain Trailhead. This road is known to be challenging, so if you don’t have a high clearance vehicle, you’ll likely need to park at Yellow Aster Butte or below and hike the extra road mileage. Twin Lakes has several nice campsites and vault toilets.