Perched above the stunning landscape of Mount Rainier National Park, High Rock Lookout stands out as a destination hike for all those looking for panoramic views in the heart of the Pacific Northwest. This short hike does not fall short on elevation gain or beauty. While it takes a push to get to the top, this hike should be on everyone’s list who is hiking near Ashford, Washington and Mount Rainier National Park.
This blog post covers the following topics: How to access High Rock Lookout, the History of High Rock Lookout, Hiking the Trail, and of course if High Rock should be a “100 Classic Hike of Washington”. Enjoy!
Hiked on: June 30th, 2023
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Map of Trailhead
High Rock is located on the ancestral lands of theCayuse, Umatilla, Walla Walla, and Nisqually tribes. We are grateful for the stewards of this land past and present. We are honored to be and recognize that we are guests on this land.
Region: Mount Rainier
Distance: 3.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,400 ft
Time: 2 hours +
When to Go: July – Oct
Dogs Allowed?: Yes
How to Access High Rock
High Rock Lookout is located just outside of Mount Rainier National Park which is great for anyone looking to bring their pup on the hike! Just two miles short of the entrance to Mount Rainier turn off of the main road onto Kernahan Rd E/NF-52. The rest of the drive to the trailhead is a collection of forest service roads. While a manageable drive in any car, be mindful that this is a gravel road with plenty of potholes to maneuver around.
The trail does not require any permits or passes, just enjoy!
If you would like to visit Mount Rainier National Park, you will need an America the Beautiful Pass.
Hiking to the High Rock Lookout
While the hike to High Rock Lookout promises exhilarating adventure, you’ll need to lace up your hiking boots, adjust your backpack, and prepare to embark on the memorable experience with unforgettable views of Mount Rainier.
The trail begins with a gradual ascent, gradually gaining elevation with each step. Within the first couple of minutes I came across sights of the first bear grass of the season. Continuing along the path, the terrain surrounding the trail slowly recedes until you’re hiking along a ridge.
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As you approach the midway point, the trail becomes steeper. Luckily, there are a number of benches along the way to sit and catch your breath. The halfway point offers the first glimpse of Mount Rainier! You’ll see it peaking through between the trees just before the trail opens up offering full views. Take your time and embrace the physical exertion knowing that the pay off is just ahead!
As the final stretch unfolds, the forest gives way to rocky terrain. You’ve reached High Rock, but you have not yet climbed High Rock. The last push requires scaling the rock face to the lookout tower. Suddenly you’re hit with the full view of magnificent Mount Rainier. The 360-degree views offer panoramic views of the surrounding Cascades, Mount Adams, Mount St. Helens, and Mount Hood. It is truly awe-inspiring.
Take a break on High Rock Tower which for the time being is now just a platform. Have a snack, relax, and prepare to make your descent.
History of High Rock Watchtower
Fire lookout towers gained prominence in the United States during the early 1900s as a response to the increasing threat of wildfires in forested areas. These lookout towers served as crucial vantage points for fire detection and prevention.
High Rock Lookout was originally built in 1929 by the United States Forest Service as a part of a network of fire detection systems in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Its strategic location atop High Rock provided an optimal view of the surrounding landscape, allowing fire watchers to spot smoke or flames in the distance.
Hike to Another Classic Lookout: Mount Pilchuck
As technology progressed and aerial surveillance became more prevalent, the need for manned fire towers diminished. Many lookout towers, including High Rock Lookout, were eventually decommissioned and replaced by automated systems and aerial monitoring.
Should High Rock be a Classic Hike of WA?
High Rock should absolutely be a “100 Classic Hike of Washington”. The views from the watchtower were inspiring and are usually only captured inside of Mount Rainier National Park. Watch tower hikes hold a special place in my heart because it’s so amazing to think about the history and the vital role that these towers played in protecting our natural areas.