Gifford Pinchot National Forest
Gifford Pinchot National Forest
Built » 1929
Elevation » 5685 Ft
Hike » 3.2 Miles Round Trip
Elevation Gain » 1365 Ft
High Rock Lookout is located on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest just south of Mount Rainier National Park. Perched high above the Nisqually River valley, High Rock Lookout sits at the most prominent point along the Sawtooth Range. On a clear day, the views from the lookout include Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, Mount Saint Helens, and Mount Hood.
High Rock Lookout was built in 1929 with materials packed in on a mule train from the town of Mineral, WA. It’s a 14×14 foot L-4 cabin with a gable roof. At the time of its construction, access to High Rock was via 10 miles of trail from Ashland, WA with a 4000 foot elevation gain, but over the years, logging roads have crept closer to the lookout and now the hike to High Rock is less than two miles long.
Back when the High Rock Lookout was in service, the nearest water source was several miles away by trail. Lookouts packed their drinking water up to the lookout in five-gallon cans, with the round trip hike taking 2-3 hours. Jim Hale, who spent three summers as the lookout on High Rock from 1938 through 1940, quickly grew tired of this particular chore, and decided that it would be faster to go up and down the cliff side rather than hiking down the back of High Rock. He ordered 300 feet of rope which he attached at the top of the cliff, and was able to lower himself down in a matter of minutes. By pulling himself up hand over hand, Hale was able to make the return trip to the lookout in 45 minutes.
At some point High Rock Lookout was abandoned by the Forest Service and fell into disrepair. The lookout was restored in the 1980’s by a local group of volunteers, and later put back into service by the Forest Service. A man named Bud Panco was the last lookout to work at High Rock. He served for 17 years from 1987 through 2004. Today the lookout is no longer in use and has again fallen into disrepair.
My Hike » 07.13.16
The road to High Rock is really rough and full of potholes. It must have rained shortly before I visited because all of the potholes were filled with water, making it impossible to tell how deep they were before driving through them. I made it to the top in my Honda Civic, but not without bottoming out a few times. If you have access to a high clearance vehicle, that’s definitely the way to go.
Although the doors are often unlocked, spending the night in the lookout is not allowed because it no longer has adequate lightning protection in place.
Bud Panco, the lookout who served at High Rock from 1986 to 2002, was born in 1929, the same year the lookout was built. During his 17 years at High Rock, Bud set a goal for himself to hike from the parking area to the lookout in 29 minutes. He never did achieve that goal, but his best time was close at 32 minutes.
From Ashford, head east on WA-706 for 2.4 miles. Turn right onto Kernahan Rd/NF-52 and continue for 1.4 miles. Here the road curves to the left and becomes Skate Creek Road. Follow Skate Creek Road for 3.3 miles and turn right onto unmarked FR-84. Continue on FR-84 for approximately 6.8 miles to a fork in the road. Veer right onto unmarked NF-8440 and follow for 2.7 miles to Towhead Gap and the High Rock trailhead.