Mt. Baker / Snoqualmie Nat. Forest
Mt. Baker / Snoqualmie Nat. Forest
Built » 1950
Elevation » 5409 Ft
Hike » 3.4 Miles Round Trip
Elevation Gain » 900 Ft
Kelly Butte Lookout is located on the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest roughly 25 miles northeast of Mount Rainier. The trail begins on an old logging road, then switchbacks steeply amid rock towers and outcroppings, before leveling out and climbing gently through green meadows to the top of the ridgeline and the lookout. In the summer months, the hillsides and meadows are full of wildflowers including Indian Paintbrush, Columbine, Lupine, Phlox, and more. On a clear day, the panoramic views from the lookout include Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, and Mount Stuart, among other peaks in the Cascade Range.
The first lookout on this site was a cupola cabin built in 1926. It was replaced in 1950 with an L-4 cabin and staffed into the 1980’s. During World War II while the majority of adult men were away fighting, the Forest Service recruited teenage boys from local high schools to staff fire lookouts in the summer. One such teenager was John Sandor, who was only 16 when he spent the summer of 1943 as the lookout on Kelly Butte. As one of eight children, Sandor had watched his mother cook dinner many times and thought he would have no trouble preparing food for himself. His first night in the lookout, however, he remembers his attempt at cooking spaghetti turned into a “gluey glob of sticky pasta noodles in the shape of a cooking-pot.”
After Kelly Butte Lookout was abandoned by the Forest Service in the 1980’s, it began to fall into disrepair and was further damaged by vandalism. In 2007, a group of volunteers led by Bob Adler began a restoration project of the lookout that lasted for 5 years, culminating in a re-opening dedication and volunteer appreciation ceremony in 2011. Today the Kelly Butte Lookout is staffed by volunteers on most weekends from July-September, and the door to the lookout is often unlocked for visitors, even when it’s not being staffed.
The original cupola lookout in 1939 (R), and the current lookout in 1996 before restoration (L).
My Hike » 07.05.16
As far as forest service roads go, the road to Kelly Butte is pretty well maintained. There were some rough spots here and there, but overall I’d say the drive to this lookout was one of the easier ones I’ve done.
You can spend the night in the Kelly Butte Lookout on a first-come, first-served basis. There are two single beds (one is a cot), some camp chairs, a table, and a camp stove. Bring your own sleeping bag, food, cookware, and a lantern. I didn’t spend the night on my visit, but definitely plan on going back for an overnight at some point.
The old route up to the lookout involved a steep scramble with the help of a rope, but improvements to the trail in 2007 mean you can now switchback easily up the initial ascent. The rope is still there, but is old and frayed and probably shouldn’t be trusted… It’s located about 50 yards past the sign for the newer section of trail after you come out of the woods from the old logging road.
From Enumclaw head east on WA-410. Two miles past the town of Greenwater, turn left onto paved FR-70. Continue 8.1 miles to FR-7030, and turn left (this is where the pavement ends). Follow FR-7030 for 3.9 miles to a T intersection and turn left. After 1.3 miles, turn right at the signs for FR-7030 and Kelly Butte. Continue on FR-7030 for 1.3 miles to the trailhead, which will be on the left.