Hiking in the North Cascades: Hidden Lake Lookout

It’s been over a month and a half since we’ve had rain here in Western Washington and I’m loving every day of it! It’s been warm and sunny for weeks–perfect hiking weather. So earlier this week I decided to do an overnight trip to Hidden Lake Lookout in the North Cascades. Unlike most other hikes I’ve done this summer, no one else was available so I ended up going solo. I’m glad I went though because it turned out to be one of my favorite hikes!

This particular hike is a little different from most, since there is still an old fire lookout on top of the mountain. Before the age of satellite imagery, people used to actually live in these little houses dotted across summits all over the Cascades to keep watch for wildfires. The cabin at Hidden Lake Peak has been long out of commission, but is still maintained for people to visit. And when I learned that people could actually spend the night in the lookout, I knew I had to do this one.

To ensure a spot in the lookout (which is first come, first serve), I set out in the wee hours of the morning for the trailhead. Much earlier than I normally do, so it was strange finding the parking lot nearly empty when I arrived. The trail is 4.5 miles long (one-way) and gains over 3200 feet in elevation. I’ve done longer hikes in the past with more elevation gain, but I really underestimated that 3200 foot climb! If there is one word I could use to describe this hike (other than AMAZING), it would be “up.” Because that’s all it does–continuous uphill walking for miles with barely a break. There were several times where I thought I was nearly at the top, only to find another hill to climb.


For the longest time I though the top was just over this hill. Boy was I wrong.

When the lookout finally came into view, I’ll admit I was slightly discouraged at how small and far away it looked. I could see it in the distance, sitting precariously atop a pinnacle that looked impossible to get up safely without climbing gear. A few minutes later I came across a couple of hikers coming down the mountain who had spent the previous night in the lookout and shared good news: it was empty! This instantly made me excited and energized again. With a giddy grin on my face, I made my way across the last few remaining snowfields to the base of the knoll. Here, I got my first glimpse of Hidden Lake. The main trail also peters out from here and becomes less obvious, making it a little harder to navigate. I eventually found the faint trail up the steep, rocky slope, marked by cairns. I’m actually surprised I didn’t fall off the cliff as I was going up, because I was so distracted by all the glorious scenery around me! The final stretch to the lookout required a scramble up a talus slope, which made things a little more fun.

First glimpse of the lookout. So far away!


When I finally reached the cabin, I was really surprised at how well stocked and furnished it was. It had a bed with blankets and pillows, a bookshelf, both wooden and gas stoves, a pair of fishing poles, a dinner table with chairs, and other homey accessories. There was even extra food and water stored in there. Needless to say, I discovered I didn’t need 90% of the gear I brought with me since it was already all in the cabin. How they got all of this up here? I have no idea. Probably balloons.



It was really hot in the lookout, so I spent a majority of my time outside admiring the views, sunbathing on the rocks, and reading The Hunger Games. Other hikers eventually began arriving and I chit-chatted with a few of them throughout the day. Later in the afternoon, another overnighter arrived at the cabin. Technically the rule is “first come, first serve” but I couldn’t turn someone else down the opportunity to spend the night in such an awesome place. So I had a roommate! I had high hopes that a beautiful, young girl around my age would also knock on the door, but the 70ish year-old-man was the only other overnight hiker. His name was Joe and he turned out to be great company. He brought an Irish penny flute with him, which he played for quite a while outside on the rocks. It seriously sounded like the music played during the Hobbiton scenes in Lord of the Rings. It was awesome.



After watching an AMAZING sunset, we headed off to bed. I originally planned on taking a few night photos, but that didn’t happen. I had fallen victim to “cozy sleeping bag syndrome” and did not want to leave the comforting warmth of my sleeping bag. So I just read until I fell asleep, which was perfectly fine to me after a long day of hiking. In the morning we were greeted with an equally spectacular sunrise. I’ve watched the sun rise and set over the ocean countless times. But seeing it from this perspective—surrounded by endless glaciated, jagged peaks—was incredible.


It was hard to leave such a beautiful place. Eventually, after lazing around all morning, I ate breakfast, got my things together, said farewell to Joe, and started heading back down to the car. Another great trail crossed off my hiking bucket list!

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12 thoughts on “Hiking in the North Cascades: Hidden Lake Lookout

  1. I did this hike last year, but the entire area was under clouds. I have a 360 view of gray! You are right, you look up and see the lookout for the first time and IT IS so far away. AND up! But every bit worth it. Great photos.

  2. Hi Stephen , Amazing journey … we are heading there in week 🙂 Cant wait ! What day was it you stayed overnight? Was it at weekend ?

  3. Great photos and write-up, but don’t forget to mention that the lookout is maintained by volunteer efforts. I am not affiliated with Friends of Hidden Lake Lookout, but whenever I go up there, I look for the addressed donation envelopes that they leave in a box on the bookshelf. A small donation, (whatever you can afford) I’m sure would be appreciated. Send a check to:
    Friends of Hidden Lake Lookout
    c/o Chris Lynch
    24942 Graber Lane
    Sedro-Woolley, WA 98284
    Happy trails!
    Jim Ed

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