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Photo EssayWashington

15 Photos That Will Make You Want to Hike to Hidden Lake Lookout

Hidden Lake

Hidden Lake Lookout is one of our favorite overnight backpacking trips! The trail is a steep son of a gun, but 360-degree panoramic views from a historic fire lookout make it all worthwhile. If you are looking to explore the North Cascades, this hike is an instant classic you can’t afford to miss.

Permits for this hike are limited and issued on a first-come, first-serve basis. Stop by the Marblemount Ranger Station to submit an application.


1. We flew from Salt Lake City to Seattle. During the airplane’s descent, we had a great view of Mount Rainier from outside our window.

Mount Rainier from the airplane window

2. We rented a car at SeaTac Airport, then stopped at the REI Seattle Flagship Store to pick up fuel and some other last minute supplies. From there, we drove to Clear Creek Campground and spent the night in a beautiful forest setting.

Clear Creek Campground near Darrington, Washington

3. The next morning, we drove to Marblemount and turned right onto the single-lane bridge that crosses the Skagit River. From there, we continued up Cascade River Road. After a few minutes, we started to catch glimpses of the North Cascade’s snowcapped peaks.

Cascade River Road near Marblemount, Washington

4. We took the steep, washboarded dirt road to Hidden Lake Lookout Trailhead and it gave our sedan rental about all it could handle. It was chilly in the shade of the forest, but we warmed up fast once we started hiking. Before long, we popped out of the forest onto some switchbacks.

Hidden Lake Trail

5. Even though the hike was hard and the trail was laughably steep, the views were already phenomenal! We got pretty excited when Mount Baker made its first appearance.

Mount Baker from Hidden Lake Trail

6. The smile on Kim’s face says everything! The Hidden Lake Trail was delivering early on.

Kim smiles on the Hidden Lake Trail

7. Another epic view from the trail.

Another view from Hidden Lake Trail

8. After 4+ miles and 3000+ feet elevation gain, we made it to Hidden Lake Lookout! From here, we had unobstructed views of the North Cascades for miles.

Kim at Hidden Lake Lookout

9. We arrived a few minutes after the only other couple at the lookout. After a brief discussion, we told them they could sleep inside the hut. It smelled musky in there anyway, so we were happy to bivouac on a small, flat tent pad at the edge of the cliff. We had a perfect, romantic evening together watching the sunset.

Sunset from Hidden Lake Lookout

10. Kim got a good photo of me in high spirits, just days before my 26th birthday.

Max (the author) at Hidden Lake Lookout

11. That night, Kim woke up to pee outside and saw the Northern Lights! Apparently, I slept through it. The morning after, I snapped this photo of Hidden Lake.

Hidden Lake

12. We also went inside the fire lookout one last time. Can you imagine spending a summer there? You’d be just like Jack Kerouac on Desolation Peak in 1956.

13. We thought the hike up was challenging, but the hike down was even more difficult. My knees were so sore by the end!

Kim and Mount Baker in the distance

14. Kim filled her reservoir one last time near the top. The water tasted so good that she wanted “leftovers” for after the hike.

Kim filters water next to the Hidden Lake Trail

15. Someday, we hope to return to Hidden Lake. It left a lasting impression on us and it’s one of my favorite hikes in Washington.

A talus slope along the Hidden Lake Trail

More Bucket List Backpacking Trips in the Pacific Northwest


Want to hike Washington’s best trails? Check out our other Washington Hiking Guides.

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