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Park Butte

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One of the most spectacular settings in the entire North Cascades, Park Butte provides unsurpassed views of the snowy volcano Baker as well as inviting and outstanding high country that begs to be explored. The historical fire lookout, one of the few remaining in these parts, teeters on the edge of a craggy knoll offering Imax-like showings of Washington's third-highest summit. Come here in summer and play in fields of snow. Come in autumn and roam through fields scorched in crimson. But try to come on a weekday, for the crowds are legion at Park Butte, one of the top hiking destinations in the Northwest.

The trail immediately enters the 8000-acre Mount Baker National Recreation Area (NRA). Created through the 1984 Washington Wilderness Act, the NRA allows for snowmobile use in this otherwise nonmotorized protected area. Cross-country skiers and snowshoers would do better visiting a quieter corner of Mount Baker during winter months.

In 500 feet, come to a junction with the Scott Paul Trail, an alternative return route for strong hikers. Butte-bound hikers proceed left, crossing Sulphur Creek on a sturdy bridge. Enjoy easy walking for the first mile or so through pool-pocked Schriebers Meadow. In early summer, masses of mosquitoes prevent any dawdling.

Continue across flats of heather and hemlock, coming to Rocky Creek and its large outwashes. Fed by the Easton Glacier, this temperamental stream frequently changes course. Consequently, trail maintainers must constantly reconfigure crossings as bridges are often rendered useless.

Once across the silty waterway the trail enters stately old timber and begins swiftly climbing, reaching the upper junction of the Scott Paul Trail at 2 miles (elev. 4500 ft). Now through a thinning forest of yellow cedar and mountain hemlock, the trail gently climbs, breaking out into hopping-with-heather and bursting-with-blueberries Moritz Meadow.

At 2.4 miles the Railroad Grade Trail, a worthy side trip along the lateral moraine of the Easton Glacier, takes off right, reaching High Camp (elev. 5500 ft) in 1 mile. Park Butte lies left and soon comes into view. So too does giant snow cone Mount Baker, dwarfing its surroundings.

Frolic across alpine lawns and beside snowmelt ponds that reflect puffy white clouds and Baker's frozen face before making a steep little climb to yet another junction (elev. 4800 ft). Right heads down to Mazama Park, popular with equestrians and crowd-shunning hikers. Take the trail left for 1 mile of glorious ridge roaming through open parklands above shimmering tarns. Shortly after entering the Mount Baker Wilderness Area, reach Park Butte with its restored 1933 fire lookout.

By now Baker has dominated most of your attention. Views west to the Twin Sisters, down the Nooksack Valley, and all the way out to Boundary Bay are equally impressive. Linger awhile reading lookout journals, soaking sunrays from the lookout's wraparound deck, or just looking out to some of the most spectacular alpine scenery on the planet.
Driving Directions:

From Burlington (exit 230 on I-5), head east on the North Cascades Highway (State Route 20) for 23 miles, turning left (north) onto Baker Lake Road (between mileposts 82 and 83). Continue 12 miles and turn left on Forest Road 12 (the turnoff is 0.2 mile after you enter the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest). Drive 3.5 miles, turn right onto FR 13 (signed "Mt Baker National Recreation Area"), and follow it for 5.2 miles to its terminus at the large trailhead parking area (elev. 3300 ft). Primitive camping and privy available.

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Recent Trip Reports

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There are 137 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Park Butte — Nov 22, 2013 — GodisGood
Day hike
Issues: Snow on trail
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we weren't sure if there would be snow or not, luckily we had 4wd. the last two miles or so of the r...
we weren't sure if there would be snow or not, luckily we had 4wd. the last two miles or so of the road before the trail head was snow covered, some previous tracks, so made it easier to drive up. The trail started out marked out, but then we started following snow mobile tracks and were no longer on the trail. it was a fun day, we fed the birds from our hands, got to play in the snow. This is one of my favorite hikes in the summer.
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Park Butte — Oct 26, 2013 — Eric Jain
Day hike
Issues: Snow on trail
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Reached the trailhead at noon, after a short warm-up hike to Dock Butte. 10+ cars in the (large) par...
Reached the trailhead at noon, after a short warm-up hike to Dock Butte. 10+ cars in the (large) parking lot.

No issues with the trail, but microspikes were very useful on the steep, hard-packed snow above the Cathedral Camp junction.

Followed tracks up the north side of the ridge from the last flat area below the lookout ("no camping"); the summer trail would have been easier. The final section to the lookout was dry.

Lots of freeze-dried blueberries in the meadows. Encountered fewer people than expected (from the number of cars in the parking lot).

Photos: http://picasaweb.google.com/eric.jain/ParkButteOctober2013
Tracklog: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/395899519
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Park Butte — Oct 24, 2013 — geezerhiker
Day hike
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I was on the trail at sunrise because I knew the sky would be clear. The fall colors are fading on ...
I was on the trail at sunrise because I knew the sky would be clear. The fall colors are fading on the mountain, but conditions were perfect for tarn reflection photos.

The road is good and the trail is clear. Rocky Creek is only a trickle on the Park Butte trail. Ice begins at mile 2.7. Traction is good until you cross the open meadow and start up the hill on the far side. My microspikes were perfect for going up to the plateau tarns and returning to the meadow. Trekking poles and gaiters were useful as well.

Seven other hikers greeted me on my way back to the TH. And I passed one other vehicle on the road as I left the mountain.

Even without vibrant fall color, this was a great hike today.
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Park Butte — Oct 20, 2013 — parisrobin
Day hike
Issues: Snow on trail
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I started at 1pm and ended in the dark at 6:45pm: Fifteen cars dwindled to two. Just after 2 mile ma...
I started at 1pm and ended in the dark at 6:45pm: Fifteen cars dwindled to two. Just after 2 mile mark of NRA trail I met hikers who said the Park Butte Trail was closed and too dangerous due to snow. Others said they had been on the Railroad Grade Trail. I crossed Moritz Meadow, now snowfree, and hikers were in T-shirts or open shirts getting tanned. I took the trail toward Park Butte and very soon encountered wet slushy snow especially easy to walk upon/through with poles. I became entranced with moire patterns in the snow, sparkling streams, rocky buttes, pastel-highlighted mountain peaks, and wondering where oh where is that fire lookout. At the junction with the short trail section to Mazama Campground I finally saw the ridge the lookout was perched on. I realized the next mile of steeper snow covered trail might not be a safe choice for me, particularly coming back down from the lookout though it is apparent others have done it recently. Instead, I checked out Cathedral Rock and got some views over to Twin Sisters. Not far on my way back down the trail I investigated the outback privy and realized that the meadow above it might be a great vantage point to photograph Mount Baker. Well, what a great discovery and I just kept going (to the right, toward Baker)--meadows, half frozen tarns, stream crossing, animal tracks, new vistas, and steps up to Railroad Grade Trail.--So much drama, so much fun, so many additional photo ops. Somewhere in Schriebers Meadow I lost some fabulous sunglasses--finder's reward Available. I don't recommend finishing the last 100-200yd in the dark, but the trail/boardwalk is so well groomed that it is a lovely evening stroll.
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Railroad Grade, Park Butte — Oct 17, 2013 — Maddy
Day hike
Issues: Mudholes | Water on trail | Snow on trail
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Beautiful sunny cool weather with no breeze today. The trail is snow free to the meadows. The first ...
Beautiful sunny cool weather with no breeze today. The trail is snow free to the meadows. The first half of the Railroad Grade is snow free and the second half is covered with snow and a bit dangerous for the final 1/2 mi. All the snow covering the meadows made for wonderful off trail wandering. The snow is firm and easy to walk on without snow shoes. The trail to Park Butte is completely snow covered. Just a few slippery spots. The tarns on the way to Park Butte are mostly frozen over. Not much fall color but beautiful none the less.

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parkbutte jasoncasey.jpg
Park Butte. Photo by Jason Casey.
WTA worked here!
2009, 2011, 2012, 2013
Location
Park Butte (#603)
North Cascades -- West Slope
Mount Baker - Snoqualmie National Forest, Mount Baker Ranger District
Statistics
Roundtrip 7.5 miles
Elevation Gain 2200 ft
Highest Point 5450 ft
Features
Rivers
Lakes
Fall foliage
Wildflowers/Meadows
Mountain views
Summits
Wildlife
Established campsites
User info
Northwest Forest Pass required
Guidebooks & Maps
Day Hiking: North Cascades (Romano - Mountaineers Books)
Green Trails Hamilton No. 45

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Note: the description and driving directions for this Mountaineers Books entry are copyrighted and can't be changed.

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