Getting to the Winchester Mountain Lookout in the North Cascades, Mt. Baker area is harder on your car than it is on your legs. The drive to the top involves a seven mile, single lane dirt road with some big potholes and more than a few washout areas. That said, once you arrive at the trail head the rest of the trip is a snap.
This is a short hike with a killer view of the North Cascades and Mt. Baker. Backpacker Magazine calls this hike the best day hike in America. If you are looking for a peak to bag and you want to maximize your view and minimize your effort, this is it.
We haven’t had a chance to explore much of the North Cascades yet, but this was a great intro. You get a ton of great photo opportunities without too much effort.
Winchester Mountain Lookout Trail Notes
Once you shake off the bumps from the road up the rest is easy. The trail is well engineered and distributes the elevation gain evenly. The total distance from parking lot to lookout is only about two miles with a steady elevation gain of about 1500 feet. The views and photo opportunities start right away.
On The Trail…
The trail starts on the patch of land between Twin Lakes. You will need to sign into a backcountry registration box as you enter the Mt. Baker Wilderness area. A few hundred feet after the sign in point you will come to a fork in the trail, be sure to turn left (West). This turn was well marked with a sign when we visited. The rest of the way is well marked all the way to the top.
The views start right away and as you climb you will be able to see outstanding views of the North Cascades and Mt. Baker continiously.
Follow the link below to print or download a trail map and GPX file:
Photography and Time Lapse Video Experiments
Unlike our adventure up Mt. Pilchuck to make a time lapse video of the sunset, the Winchester Mountain Lookout trail is simple. Sunset videos mean trekking down by headlamp, which wasn’t a problem at all.
Couple of lessons learned on the time lapse… At Mt. Pilchuck I shot directly into the sunset and at some points the sun was too intense. This time I aimed for a valley north of the point on the horizon where the sun set to try to avoid the washout. It didn’t work as nicely as I hoped. There was much less color, although I like the effect of the cloud movement.
Experiments will continue, here are the results of this adventure:
Winchester Mountain Still Photos:
In addition to the video, we got to shoot a number of great still photos along the way. The views start right above echo lakes and get better with each switchback. When we hiked this route (September, 2017) there were still some wildfires north of us which gave the photos a smoky haze…
More Info, Photos and Bloggers Who Have Written About Winchester Mtn. Lookout
Again, this is a great short hike. Not surprisingly, there has been a lot written about it.
Below is a list of cool links and blogging about the road up, the trail, and the lookout view. Steph Abeggs’s work with the labeled panaroma and 360 degree view is really cool. Andy Porter has some excellent photos from the trail, be sure to check out the night shots. Mike McQuaide turned the drive up into a mountain bike course and ran the rest of the way….
- Washington Trails Association
- Andy Porter Images (including awesome nightime shots)
- Backpacker Magazine (the best day hike in America)
- Steph Abegg’s labeled panaroma from Winchester Mtn. Summit
- Steph Abegg’s 360 degree view
- Mike McQuaide turned the road up into a ride, and ran the rest of the way
If you have a link, blog post, photo or adventure to share feel free to drop a comment below!