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Lookout and Little Lookout Mountains Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Lookout Mountain from Little Lookout Mountain (bobcat)
The ford on the East Fork Lewis River, shown at low water levels (bobcat)
Trail sign on the East Fork Trail (bobcat)
Cascade rock cress (Arabis furcata), Lookout Mountain (bobcat)
Mt. Hood from Lookout Mountain (bobcat)
The East Fork Trail to Lookout and Little Lookout Mountains (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: East Fork TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Lookout Mountain
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: In and out
  • Distance: 10.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 3050 feet
  • High point: 4,222 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Summer into fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No

Contents

Hike Description

The twin peaks of Lookout Mountain and Little Lookout Mountain, whose bald summits are similar to Silver Star Mountain’s without the crowds, are also intrusive rock exposed after the uplift and erosion of the Cascades. Originally forested, the peaks were exposed by the devastating Yacolt Burn of 1902, which for over a century was Washington state’s largest recorded forest fire until the 2014 Carlton Complex blaze came along. The peaks’ main distinction for hikers are the far-reaching views, which extend up and down half of the states of Washington and Oregon. They can be reached via circuitous forest roads or by dint of a day hike beginning at the East Fork Lewis River. The trail is kept open by volunteers and is rougher and less evenly graded than your standard maintained tread, thus offering a little adventure in itself. Be aware that there are a couple of unbridged crossings of the East Fork (Water levels can be too high in the spring for a safe fording), and the summits are reached via open country scrambles.

The East Fork Trail #139 crosses the East Fork Lewis River on a decommissioned road bridge. Walk along the old road bed and step over a creek. Much of the trail is overhung by salmonberries with red alder shading the route. Hike above a bottomland and pass an old metal gate. Cross another creek as the road bed rises above the river. Young hemlocks and salmonberry thickets crowd the trail. You may notice a user trail heading up another road bed to the right. Gradually descend, crossing a couple of small brooks. Reach the East Fork at a ford; there is a mining claim posted here as the area attracts placer prospectors looking for flakes of gold in black sand deposits. At higher water levels, it is essential that you have some support, such as trekking poles, to make this crossing; if the ford is beyond your comfort zone (which could be the case in the spring), then turn back. See Tips for Crossing Streams.

After crossing the river, pass a campsite and resume the road bed. Cross a creek over a culvert and see another claim post on a tree. Notice the large snags in the Douglas-fir/maple forest: these date from the devastating Yacolt Burn of 1902. There’s another campsite to your right with the bullet-riddled remains of an old camp stove. Then reach the Second East Fork Crossing. This is usually a rock hop at low water but may necessitate a ford in the spring. Upstream, there is an old log that can also be used.

Now you are on a real foot trail as you traverse through the woods. A sign states that it is three miles to the top of Lookout Mountain. With a tributary of the East Fork on the right, climb up the slope. You’ll see a talus field across the creek. This is a rough, narrow tread, but easily followed through the Oregon grape, sword fern, salal, and vine maple. Cross little Chris Creek, so signed on a Douglas-fir. Reach an open scree slope and get a good view up to your destination: Lookout Mountain. The trail dips and then rises more steeply with noble fir and silver fir entering the forest mix. The bald summit of Little Lookout Mountain hoves into view. The path now has some short, steep sections with nary a switchback and also offers more views to the summits above. Look across to the headwaters of a branch of the East Fork on the north slope of Lookout Mountain. Pass a small meadow which blooms with paintbrush, anemone, and Martindale’s desert parsley in the spring. Now continue up, swishing through bear-grass to pass another makeshift trail sign. Soon reach the East Fork Trail-Road 41 Junction at a trail signpost and get a full on view of your destination.

To reach the saddle between Lookout Mountain and Little Lookout Mountain, head up FR 41 to your left for 130 yards. Reach a road junction and go right up a narrow road to the saddle, where you can get a great view of Mount Hood. A faint user trail leads up the north ridge of Lookout Mountain. Pass blooming glacier lilies in the spring and avoid the first rock outcropping by detouring to its left. You’ll notice the remains of poles that carried the old lookout telecommunications wire. Pass over a second rocky outcrop and keep up through huckleberry, bear-grass, common juniper, and scattered noble firs. There’s a small microwave station at the top of Lookout Mountain and the views are stupendous. Cascade stratovolcanoes from Mount Rainier to the Three Sisters are visible on a clear day. Looking south, Greenleaf Peak is particularly prominent from this angle, and Birkenfeld Mountain hides Table Mountain. The Silver Star Mountain-Bluff Mountain crest is to the west above the valley of the Washougal River. In the spring, glacier lilies, spreading phlox, and Cascade rockcress bloom on the summit meadows, and the concrete pads of the old lookout remain.

Once you have had your fill of the views from here, descend to the saddle and hike up the south ridge of Little Lookout Mountain. You’ll pass one rock outcropping on its left and then a larger outcrop on the right. The old telecommunications wire coils along the ground here. The Rock Creek valley and the headwaters of the East Fork spread below you on either side. Most of the Cascade peaks are visible from here, too, except for Mount Saint Helens, which is obscured by closer summits on the Cougar Rock ridge. Descend to the saddle and then back to Trail #139 for the return trip.


Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Lookout Mtn, WA #396
  • Washington Department of Natural Resources: The Yacolt Burn State Forest Map
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument & Administrative Area
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Gifford Pinchot National Forest
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Mount St. Helens - Mt. Adams

Regulations or restrictions, etc

  • none

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • The guidebooks below cover the mountain summit only, not the East Fork Trail
  • Skamania 231: A Scrambler's Guide by Kelly Wagner
  • Curious Gorge by Scott Cook

More Links


Contributors

Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.