Mount Pilchuck is a very popular hiking destination in the North Cascades despite the difficult, rocky climb to the top. The historic lookout tower is part of the appeal, but the real attraction are the million-dollar views. On a clear day you can see mountains for miles. Mount Baker, Mount Rainier and the Olympics fill the skies around you.
As a sign near the trailhead warns, “The Mount Pilchuck Trail is a steep mountain trail that is sometimes hard to follow. The weather on the mountain can sometimes be extreme. It is 3 miles each way and gains 2,224 ft in elevation.* Search and Rescue teams are frequently called to this trail to rescue hikers. Please, for your safety and that of those that may search for you, do not hike this trail unless you are prepared and know the route.”
I had hiked Mailbox Peak the day before we hiked Mt Pilchuck, and met a fairly new hiker at the summit. She mentioned that she had recently hiked Pilchuck. When I asked her how it went, her only response was “the views were amazing.” After we hiked Pilchuck, I understood why.
*Note that our GPS data recorded a little less distance and a little more elevation gain. As they say, “your mileage may vary.”
Getting to the Trailhead
Head east from Granite Falls on the Mountain Loop Highway. About a mile past the Verlot Visitors Center, you will cross a bridge. Take the next right onto Mount Pilchuck Road. This takes you 6.8 miles and dead ends at the trailhead parking. The first 4.7 miles are very rough gravel, requiring slow and patient driving. The last 1.9 miles are paved.
You’ll need a Northwest Forest Pass to park at the trailhead, since it’s a state jurisdiction (a National Forest Discover Pass won’t work). You’ll find pit toilets and signs warning you to conceal valuables. Apparently break-ins are common here. You should bring a paper map for this drive, as once you leave Granite Falls, cell reception is unreliable.
You can get turn-by-turn driving directions here via Google Maps.
Hiking up Mount Pilchuck
Check the information board at the trailhead for the latest notices for the trail, then start up the forested trail.
A short distance in, you’ll come across the trail register. Please sign-in, as this helps the rangers keep track of folks on the mountain in the case that someone gets lost (as the warning sign indicates happens with regularity).
The first 1.25 miles is a pleasant, shady, well-built trail lined with lush greenery.
Then you reach this talus field. Look carefully at the photo below and you’ll see two orange poles ahead, roughly trail-width apart. While at first glance they look like goal posts that you should walk through, in fact, the have little arrows instructing you to switchback to the left. The key here is to pause, observe and look for clues that keep you on the actual trail, rather than just barreling ahead.
Once you switchback, the “trail” through these rocks becomes a bit more obvious.
This is also about where the trail becomes much more rocky, and stays that way for much of the remaining trek to the summit. Take your time and pause once in a while as the views begin to open up through the trees.
Near the top there is an overlook with mountains for miles. This was the closest we came to a snowfield. There was no snow on the trail for us to contend with, though in a different year or earlier in the season, snow is a reality. The trail is usually covered with snow until early to mid-summer.
While snow makes navigation more challenging, in some ways, the climb (with appropriate gear and experience) would be much more pleasant than the uneven, rocky trail.
The final push to the lookout tower requires some boulder scrambling.
The views are worth it. There is a ladder that climbs to the shelter. On this particular day, the shutters were open, the skies were clear, and the views were amazing in every direction.
The historic lookout at the summit was originally built in 1921. It has been rebuilt, first in 1942 and more recently in 1989, and is maintained through a partnership with the State Park and volunteers from the Everett Mountaineers.
Inside the lookout there are a few bench seats and displays that document the history of the shelter. It’s the perfect spot for a break.
Note that the Mount Pilchuck lookout tower is maintained entirely by volunteers. You are welcome to enter only if the doors are unlocked. If the shutters are fastened down, do not open them. Forcing your way into the lookout, leaving the doors or shutters open could cause irreparable harm to the structure.
Heading down, you follow the same route you came up. It’s 2.75 miles with lots of ankle-twisting rocks and roots, so take your time.
Mount Pilchuck Trail Map & Elevation Profile
Mount Pilchuck Tips and Resources
- Bring plenty of water. You’ll want at least two liters or more. Also bring the 10 essentials.
- Practice the seven Leave No Trace principles.
- Mount Pilchuck – via WTA.org. Be sure to check the trip reports for current trail and road conditions.
- Official Mount Pilchuck State Park website
- Day Hiking North Cascades – Mountaineers Books
Granite Falls Weather Forecast
Originally hiked on July 25, 2018 with Joan and Jessica of You Did What With Your Weiner? Apparently your name must begin with the letter “J” to hike this. 😉