Take Five: Best Sleeping Spots for Washington State Hikers

Travel Lists Washington
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During a particularly challenging hike, the image in your head that motivates you to carry on is the bed you get to collapse onto once night falls. Your Thermarest might not be as cozy as your mattress at home but the mountain ranges that greet you come morning are certainly more scenic than your bedroom wall.

These five fire lookouts and shelters offer hikers a place to rest their weary heads after a long day of hiking Washington’s treacherous trails. Set at the halfway point of a variety of hikes ranging from moderate strolls through the forest to slogs up snowfields, you will be so happy to reach them, you may choose to move in.

1. Mount Pilchuck Fire Lookout

This lookout sits at the top of Mount Pilchuck, a few miles outside of Granite Falls on the Mountain Loop Highway in Washington’s North Cascades. The 5.4-mile round trip gains 2,300 feet and the lookout itself, which was constructed in 1921, sits are 5,300 feet. On clear days, the lookout offers 360-degree views of Mount Baker, the Olympics, and even the distant metropolitan skylines of Bellevue and Seattle. It’s a popular trail, and not just on the weekends, so you might encounter other people at the lookout. Don’t worry, though, the more the merrier, and there’s plenty of room to string up a camping hammock if you can’t snag a spot on the floor. No reservations are required to stay overnight and its free, but you’ll need a Northwest Forest Pass so grab one on your way in from the Verlot Ranger Station.

2. Camp Muir Public Shelter

At just over 10,000 feet, this shelter serves as the launch point for many Mount Rainier summit bids and is as high as you can go on the mountain without a climbing permit. The 100-year-old stone shelter has an upper and lower bunk, can fit 25 people and has an outhouse nearby. The shelter is first-come, first-served so it’s not a bad idea to get an early start. You’ll need a Wilderness Permit to stay the night so be sure to pick one up from the Longmire Information Center on your way up to the parking lot at Paradise. Wilderness permits are free day-of and $20 when reserving online. On clear days you can see Mount Adams, Mount St. Helens and even Oregon’s Mount Hood from the shelter. It’s good to have a map and some basic route finding skills as conditions can change quickly and Camp Muir won’t come into view until you’re almost there.

3. Snow Bowl Hut

Located just outside of Ashford, Washington on the outskirts of Mount Rainier National Park, Snow Bowl Hut is one of a few different huts and yurts in the area under the auspices of the Mount Tahoma Trails Association. This particular hut reopened in 2012 after a fire destroyed the original. Snow Bowl can sleep 14 people and has a big kitchen, dining and living room-all you need are sleeping bags and food (bonus: it’s heated). On clear days Mount Rainier looms large, and it also sits near a large bowl that’s good for taking a few laps on your skis. The hike (or snowshoe/skin) is nine miles round trip and gains 2,000-feet as the wide trail winds through forest and traverses a ridge. It costs $15/night to crash and reservations are required. This hut tends to fill up quickly for winter weekends, so book early or arrange to stay mid-week.

4. Winchester Lookout

At 3.5 miles round-trip with 1,320-feet of elevation gain, this is the shortest hike on this list but offers some of the best views. From the lookout on top of Winchester Mountain you can see Mount Baker, Shuksan and the Northern Picket Range. Located in the North Cascades this lookout was built in 1935 and has cots (you’ll need to bring everything else you need). It’s first-come, first-served and there’s no cost to bunk here for the night. Make sure to check both road and trail conditions before heading to Winchester-the lookout sits on a 6,500-foot summit so snow often remains on the peak well into the summer months.

5. Hidden Lake Lookout

Also in the North Cascades, this hike’s more of a thigh burner at 8 miles round-trip and 3,300 feet of elevation game. The hike up to the lookout offers incredible views, from the deep blue waters of Hidden Lake itself to the plethora of surrounding mountains. There’s no pass or permit required to crash and it’s also first-come, first-served. Keep in mind, however, that if you intend to continue on and camp past the ridge where the lookout sits, you’ll cross from national forest to national park land, which does require a permit. Built in 1932, the shelter was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. Though there’s no cost to stay at the lookout, there’s a suggested donation of $15-$25/night to help cover the cost of maintaining it. With a high point of 6,900-feet, there’s a good chance you’ll encounter snow, especially early in the season.

Anna Callaghan is a freelance writer based in Seattle. She’s written about things like selling her kidney on Facebook (pretty easy), Instagram yoga celebrities, and is an authoritative voice on camping hammocks.