We hit the mountains and tackled High Rock Lookout just outside of Ashford, WA. Been planning on going for weeks and the weather was predicted to be just perfect. So we wanted to capitalize on that amazing view. Plus, this wasn’t our first time. We attempted this hike a few years ago, but I ended up not finishing. Andy made it to the top. Not sure if it was my sleeping the night before, eating habits, or the elevation. I didn’t get to finish. So this hike has been on my mind for sometime.
Getting there, you go towards the Nisqually entrance of Mount Rainier, turn towards Skate Creek road 52. There will be a sign again before you make the next turn, which will be a right. From here on out it gets tricky. I advise checking Washington Trails Association for better driving directions. Because the forest service road doesn’t have signage and there are plenty of forks in the road. My husband was driving and just the luck of the draw both times we went, he got us there. The road isn’t too bad. A car can make it no problem. Some pot holes, so pay attention if you are indeed in a low clearance vehicle.
Once at the trail head (I do suggest starting your day as early as you can, popular hike, parking fills up, there is overflow parking up the dirt road more, but it adds to your hike) make sure to turn your vehicle around if there is room. If you start early there should be space and once you come back down to your car you’ll be thankful you did. Not much room to maneuver, especially if you have a large vehicle.
Starting your hike. It’s actually a relatively short hike. Topping out at 1.6 miles one way, it’s not to bad. Only if it were level and on solid ground. The start of the hike is dirt, switches back a few times, depending on the time of year (Today June 30th, 2019) we saw lots of wildflowers. Definitely lots of color heading up. At one mile into the hike there is a marker on a tree to the right of the trail. Honestly when you see it swallowing the fact you have almost another mile to go is grueling.
At this point there is a few spots to scramble up large flat boulders. Nothing that is hard. Just watch your footing on loose pieces and more like gravel type rock. I suggesting having hiking/trekking poles. The extra security is always nice. Some more switch backs, the trail is constant up at this point. No flattening, no break in the incline. I believe the elevation gain for this one is around 1500 feet. So it’s a big incline.
You’ll get to clearings where you’ll see Mt. Adam’s and Mt. St. Helen’s. Be sure to stop and take in the sights. Continuing on the trail to the right, you’ll see a couple clearings where you can see the lookout. Don’t climb the mountain up to the lookout. The hillside is very unstable with large rocks and boulders. Could definitely be dangerous. You’re almost there. Just stay on the trail.
The last stretch to the top, you’ll know it because again you’ll see the lookout. Will be right in front of you as you come around the last switch back bend. But don’t get in to big of a hurry. To the left just at the bend there is a boulder with a plaque talking about how and when the lookout was made. Kind of cool history. Plus the view of Rainier is absolutely breath taking. Continuing on, you will soon reach the end of the dirt path you’ll see more info up on a tree about the area. Cool to read about it. The space just beyond that tree there used to stand a cabin where the people that manned the lookout stayed. The building has since been demolished.
Now the tricky part. This is where I gave up the first time. I know crazy. Was almost there. But the rock face made me nervous. And even today, it proved its point. Even still at this point you’re still climbing up, but now it’s on solid rock. No dirt, no cushion. And on this rock is smaller rock, gravel like, even what seemed to be sand like. HUGE slipping hazard. While going up I did ok. My husband did ok, my two daughters 9 and 14 did ok. I did expierence a bit of vertigo climbing this portion of the trail. Not sure why, heights usually aren’t an issue. But today, it got to me. We reached the lookout. Looked around, walked around the edge of the building (the porch) a few times. Was graced with a view of Mt. Hood even. Probably my favorite part. We went inside, they had a guest book to sign we did that. Was nice to have the break inside away from outside (shutters were closed) as I was really not having fun anymore. My husband sensed it. So we decided to go down to a flatter spot to have our lunch. Remember me describing the climb to the lookout from the dirt path… now we have to go down. Which I almost did, head over feet. I slipped and slid on the loose sand/gravel. I squealed, thankfully my husband wasn’t far and was able to make it to me before I did fall. It was super scary. I didn’t like it. He made sure our kids made it to the flat dirt spot. Then came back for me. Held my hand the whole way down, he could feel me shaking, and we both could hear it in my breathing. Was literally one of the scariest moments of my life. Thankfully, I just ended up with a pulled muscle in my thigh and a bruised ego. But I’m happy that’s the worst it was.
We sat on the flat spot a good long time to allow me to catch my bearings. Let the kids eat. And take in the scenery. Was a little warm I’d say 70/75ish. So tee shirt, pants weather. Make sure you dose yourself heavily in bug spray. Our hike in wasn’t terrible early in the a.m. around 7:30. But up there around 9:00/9:30 the bugs to seemed to come out with that warmer weather. We ended up reapplying bug spray after lunch. Not even sure what type of bugs they were. Flying and annoying is the best I got. Haha.
Now our decent back towards our truck. Definitely wasn’t going up. Was a quick decent passing LOTS of people, some groups, couples, one family with kids and plenty of dogs. We were so happy we started early. Less people, bugs weren’t as bad, and we had the view, by the time we left and saw Rainier again on the way out the clouds consumed the mountain.
Overall… Do I recommend this hike? Yes. Is it hard? I feel it to be more moderate/hard. If it were a 3 mile hike one way at that grade, yes that would be hard. This is a great conditioning hike, for beginners. Would I recommend for families? No. While we were a family, I think part of my issue was not only worrying about where I was stepping but I had my eyes glued on what my kids were doing, where they were the entire time. Like I said, my kids are 9 and 14. They did the hike no problem. But overprotective mama bear says not that one again with them (or me, lol) Can dogs go? Yes. Saw plenty of dogs. Just keep in mind that final climb to the lookout. Saw a couple dogs that were not liking it and seemed to be scared of the height. Also, remember the lookout is on a hill there really is no where to be, sit, stand around the lookout itself. If you have a dog on a leash. It could be a tripping hazard to you or even others. Do you need a pass to park? No.
It was a great hike. I’m happy I was able to finish it this time. Having lost over 100lbs helped. Will I ever do it again? No probably not. I went up and saw it and called it a day and that was my goal. Just to make it to the lookout and say I did. Happy hiking, please enjoy and be careful!