PNW Cabins & Lookouts
Landlocked in the bustling city of Bangalore (once called 'The Green City' of India) we've been reminiscing about our favourite spots in the Pacific Northwest. Last year, we set out on a few hikes that offered sweeping panoramic views from the comfort of rustic cabins, perched in wild and stunning places. With hiking season just around the corner back home, we put together a list of our favourite cabins and lookouts awaiting your overnight sojourn!
PARK BUTTE | washington
We raised snow-chilled beers up towards Mount Baker's melting glaciers, toasting the mountain gods who had lifted the heavy fog. We were the first to arrive at the Park Butte Lookout and celebrating—we'd claimed it for the evening.
It was by snowshoe on a wet November day that Annabelle, Shannon and I first attempted the Park Butte summit. We'd only made it one quarter of the way by the time the trail was lost to waist deep snow. Completely socked in, we boiled tea on the trail and schemed about returning. Shannon and I came back mid-spring, this time with Luke and Ben (Annabelle being in Ireland). We pitched tents in one of the creekside sites by the trailhead to get an early start. By the time we'd gained some elevation, a nasty fog had settled in and turned around many would-be contenders for the summit. We boiled tea to wait out the weather (thinking back to November and happy we'd at least made it further). The fog cleared momentarily, just enough for us to see we were a summit push away from the lookout and find the trail.
Park Butte is a 10x10 cabin perched precariously on a rocky outcrop with windows on four sides and a wrap-around balcony. Inside, there's a double bed, a desk, a xylophone, and a stack of guestbooks worth flipping through. We found buckets under the bed, filled them with snow, and chilled our stash of beers. Charming and unique, Park Butte is but one of many abandoned fire lookouts built on carefully chosen vantage points throughout the Cascade Region; in the 1940s, the Washington State Division of Forestry sought strategic vantage points to build lookouts for the purpose of surveilling forest fires, and in the case of Park Butte, monitoring seismic activity. With it's proximity to Mount Baker, we spent an incredible evening sipping whisky under the stars and watching a constellation of mountaineers' headlamps descending the face of Komo Kulshan.
Note: A backcountry permit is required to camp overnight. Permits are available at the Ranger Station in Sedro-Woolley; I've found the rangers very helpful when calling ahead about trail conditions (+1 360-856-5700 ext. 515. Stocking up on provisions (and craft beer singles) at Trader Joes as you pass through Bellingham is a must! Getting there...
HIDDEN LAKE LOOKOUT | washington
Built on a platform of immense boulders sits a white cabin with windows on three sides. Its location offers a true 360 degree view of the Cascade Range's giants: Eldorado, Baker, Shuksan, Sahale, Triad, Boston, Sharkfin, Forbidden, and Big Devil Peak—mountains rippling in every direction. While one can get a taste of the top of the world at this vantage point, the hike itself is just as rewarding. Offering a vast variety of terrain, the hike begins beneath the dense covering of forest, traverses wildflower meadows, then climbs into the subalpine where snow lingers late into summer. Upon arriving at a saddle, the trail becomes somewhat open to interpretation and requires a fair bit of scrambling in order to reach Hidden Lake (below) or the Lookout (above). The Lookout contains a desk, bed, basic cooking supplies, and some reading material about the local flora and fauna.
Note: A special permit is not required to camp overnight in the lookout (which lays outside park boundaries) but camping at Hidden Lake requires a backcountry permit. Permits are available at Ranger Stations in Marblemount and Sedro-Woolley. In good weather, a sedan with a bit of clearance can make it up to the parking lot, although a truck or 4x4 is recommended. Getting there...
MOUNT STEELE CABIN | british columbia
Nestled along the Sunshine Coast in Tetrahedron Park, just a short (and scenic!) ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay, are four cozy cabins connected by a network of trails and lakes. They are first-come-first serve, but each built to accommodate 12. The cabins are spread throughout the park at various elevations, making shelter attainable at varying hike distances/difficulty, and offering a diversity of views ranging from lakes and tarns to mountains and inlets. The four cabins are:
Batchelor cabin 1010 m (3314 ft)
Edwards cabin 1130 m (3707 ft)
McNair cabin 975 m (3199 ft)
Mt. Steele cabin 1500 m (4921 ft)
Our favourite was Mt. Steele Cabin due to it's unbeatable position just below the peak of Mount Steele, and the series of natural (albeit freezing!) waterfalls on the way. A 200 m trek from cabin to summit awarded us with a clear view the Sunshine Coast on one side, and on the other, Mount Baker shining pink with alpenglow. The cabin itself was spacious and cosy, with a small 'kitchen', dining table, and hearth to warm it in the winter.
Note: The Cabins are kept up by the Tetrahedron Outdoor Club, who charge $15/person/night and $30/family/night for non-members and $10/person/night and $25/family/night for members. There are NO RESERVATIONS. Getting there...
For more huts in this area, check out the Sunshine Coast Trail.
BREW LAKE | british columbia
When we hiked Brew Lake in early spring, we were quite possibly the only two on the mountain. We didn't see a single soul. Once we found the trailhead, we were led through mossy forest and scrambling upwards. Thinks got a little tricky once we hit the snow line, and all trails and markers were buried. We trudged through snow and past canine paw prints, Black Tusk watching us from across the valley.
We reached a summit with no lake in sight, feeling somewhat lost until we realized it was right there—frozen over and under a blanket of snow in the meadow beneath us. Our underestimation of the snow and off-trail route left us without time to checkout the cabin, but it is available first-come-first-serve, and managed by the Varsity Outdoor Club. There are no reservations, but registration helps in coordinating use of the cabin, built to sleep 10 but accommodating as many as 21. There is a $10 fee per person/per night.
Note: We parked somewhere along the Brew Creek logging road, walking across the bridge and 4x4 areas on the map. The trailhead was poorly marked, but keep an eye out to the left where the logging road seems to end and turn into young trees and light vegetation. Within about 50 feet of following this left, you'll meets a tree line where a clearly marked trail appears. I recommend having screen shots of the map and a compass/GPS, especially for anything but a warm bluebird day like we had. Getting there...