Hiking to Jumpoff Lookout may not be for everybody, but if you make the trek, it has a lot to offer. From a family-friendly lake to a more challenging climb to a fire lookout.
Beginning next to a sweet little lake, the trail switches character several times on its way to a standing fire lookout. Initially, it is an easy, low elevation gain trail through rugged lava fields now dominated by Ponderosa forest. It then switches to a very rugged 4x4 track, torturously winding through ever steepening meadows. At about the halfway point it gains a ridgeline, where the trail continues with this Jekyll-and-Hyde routine to the summit.
Lost Lake, which hosts the trailhead, offers free, primitive camping. The lake itself has a fun, 0.75-mile informal trail to circumnavigate the lake. If you look closely, above and to the left of the lake, the lookout building may be seen high upon the ridge line. The Jumpoff trail is an unsigned trail leaving the primary parking area just right of the lake. The first mile and one half rolls up and down through fairly recent lava flows. Small knobs of basalt flow poke through the ground here and there. You will cross a gravel road and then quickly you are at a small camping shelter alongside Long Lake.
From Long Lake, the nature of the trail turns a bit more serious. Keep in mind as you hike this trail that it is historically a 4x4 track. There are places where the trail will split and go two separate ways only to merge a short distance later. You may also be dumbfounded by the ability of others and their machines to traverse some gnarly terrain.
From the shelter at Long Lake, turn to the left and ascend a steep track. It will almost immediately fork. Either fork works for your route, though the left-hand fork is more suited to hikers. For the next mile and a half this track twists its way through Ponderosa forest, knobs of basalt, and shattered fields of talus.
Occasionally, views of Rainier and the surrounding valley make themselves known. Much of the track is low angle but when it does decide to gain elevation it tends to do so abruptly and without switchbacks. Numerous sinks exist where water collects and meadows have formed. Wildflowers and wildlife is in abundance throughout this hike.
At 2.5 miles Louie Way Gap is reached. This wide, grassy saddle is signed. Trail 1127 crosses and you will turn north (left) here. This track remains in the realm of ORVs, but much of it is too difficult for weekend warriors. It is infrequently enough used that you will need to pay attention at times to stay on the trail. Trail 1127 stays predominately on the east side of Divide Ridge.
Once again this track forgoes the niceties of switchbacks so when it wants to gain elevation it does it quickly. For the most part however, your trail sidehills the eastern flank. Numerous meadows support lush wildflowers well into August. Remarkably, you will notice fun changes in fauna as the grassy meadows and Ponderosa forests jockey with sagebrush steppe community and rugged basalt talus fields.
A mile from Louie Gap is a fantastic dry camp situated directly on the basalt cliffs facing west. These steep cliffs are dappled in brightly colored lichens, mosses, and even ferns in their deep folds. Shortly after this site the trail turns to ascend a 350-foot talus field. If the warren of elk tracks has you confused here just head towards the bottom left hand corner of the talus.
A well constructed trail cuts diagonally across the talus field, ascending from left to upper right. At the top of the talus a large grassy plateau is reached. Turn left onto the double track trail and follow this the remaining half mile to Jumpoff’s fire lookout.