Mount Fremont Lookout can be snowy, cloudy, smoky, or foggy, so a hiker should plan with these in mind. This means that one may not be able to catch the full, close-up beauty of this mountain and other surrounding mountain ranges. But hikers who are lucky to get on the trail on a clear day have so much to talk about. We are going to find out what is the right time or season to hike Mount Fremont Lookout Trail.
Mount Fremont Lookout trail is in the Sunrise area of Mount Rainier National Park. This is in the Northeast of the park and happens to be the highest point one can get by car. It sits at 6,400 feet. Mount Fremont Lookout is rocky and directly faces Mount Rainier. If you want to have an unobstructed view of Mount Rainier, take the Mount Fremont Lookout trail if you are at Mount Rainier National Park.
The fact that it is the second most visited area speaks well for its popularity and suitability as a hiking trail. It is relatively a low-mileage trail, and a hiker does not have to struggle to get to the top.
It is fun hiking Mount Fremont Lookout, especially at sunset when the mountain colors keep changing. The rocky trail takes the hikers through alpine meadows, then a small lake.
Hikers get to see an old-time fire lookout (Mount Fremont Lookout Tower). Only four of such lookouts still stand. This one is the highest lookout (7,181 feet). The spot also provides a 360° view of other mountains.
To see a further breakdown of the Mount Fremont Lookout trail, please visit the official page for the Washington Trails Association. Link to the relevant page on wta.org for the hike.
The Mount Fremont Lookout History
Mount Fremont Lookout is a two-storey cabin built in 1934 to monitor the wildfires erupting in the forest. It was built with help from the Emergency Conservation Works Association (ECW). The help was in the form of transporting building materials and trailblazing to the lookout sites. The design followed that of the National Park Service Branch of Plans and Designs.
Soon after the completion of Fremont Lookout, a windstorm destroyed its hip roof. This was repaired immediately. Throughout its life, it has had other rough encounters with the storms. A recent one was in 2006.
While hikers cannot get inside the lookout, they are free to look through the windows at the old-school appliances.
Getting to the Trail
The trailhead address is Sunrise Park Road, Mount Rainier National Park, Ashford, WA 98304. Coming from Enumclaw, take Route 410 to Sunrise Road. This is 3.5 miles north of the intersection with Route 123.
From there, turn west on the Sunrise Road, come through the White River entrance to Mount Rainier National Park, and then take the meandering drive up to the Sunrise Visitor Center.
Fortunately, the meandering road also offers beautiful scenarios along the way, so it is not a dull drive. The trail starts on the parking area’s north side.
Park Facilities and Regulations
There is lodging for those unused to campgrounds. There is also a cafe with light foods like ice cream, sandwiches, coffee, Sosa, etc. The Visitor Center also has a clean washroom. There is an open-air toilet downhill from the Lookout Tower. The pit toilet is sparsely hidden behind some small shrubs.
The road to Sunrise, which leads to the Mount Fremont Lookout trail, is only open between late June to late September because of the harsh winter conditions that make hiking unsafe.
The road itself is steep and windy. Add that to the elevation, and the result can be serious if a hiker slips. It still remains unsafe even if you are driving.
The safest time to hike the trail is in the summer. There is not much snow around this time, though. Now, because hikers can only be here in the summer, it means many of them rush to the site almost at the same time to have a quick fun before the season ends. Thus, it is a busy trail.
You should arrive early by sunrise or late by sunset if you long for a hike with less crowd along the way or at the mountain top. Visiting on weekdays will also save you from the large crowds that visit on weekends.
To enter Mount Rainier National Park, one has to pay the entry fee ($30 per vehicle), which expires after seven days. An America the Beautiful pass is an alternative; for $80 per year, you are free to get into any forest, National Park, or monument. It can be purchased at the entrance or online.
For the hikers coming with snacks or other forms of food, it is required that they also have bags for the trash. It is against the regulations to litter the area.
Dogs are not allowed beyond the parking areas or campgrounds.
Navigating Mount Fremont Lookout
The navigation of Mount Fremont Lookout kicks off on the Sourdough Ridge Trail. This trail becomes gravel then splits off to the Mount Fremont Trail a short distance past Frozen Lake. There are not so many trails around here, but they do have helpful signposts to guide hikers in the right direction.
After 1.5 miles of hiking, Frozen Lake comes to view. Though just a small lake, it is the only supplier of drinking water for the Sunrise area of Mount Rainier National Park. There is a junction of Frozen Lake and Burroughs Mountain Trail slightly past the lake. There are five different trails at the junction.
Go to the right for the official start of the Mount Fremont Lookout Trail. There is a Fremont Lookout signage around there. Expect no other junction from here. The first part of the trail is through the woods, which soon gives way to an open area. The rest of the trail is open, so hikers are able to see far and wide because there are no obstructions. The surrounding mountains, the valleys – they are all within sight on a sunny day.
But being in the open also mean exposure to the sun, so plenty of water is a must. Sunscreen is another necessity. It is an easy incline throughout the way, with mainly a steady elevation. The actual climbing is at the beginning and towards the end of the trail. The steep areas of the trail may not suit those who fear heights.
It takes only about 2.5 hours to get to the peak. It is a short trail alright, but you may need to come with snow gears for the sake of snow in some parts. There is no struggle because you hardly feel the climbing. Furthermore, there are plenty of beautiful sceneries all the way, and which will distract you from focusing on the elevation.
Of course, you also should watch your steps, so do not be distracted all the time, lest you trip. The rocky trail is narrow in some parts, and that requires your eyes to be firmly on the road. Come with sturdy hiking boots that can withstand rocky surfaces.
Other attractions include herds of mountain goats grazing in the slopes around the mountain, deer, marmots, squirrels, chipmunks, and other harmless creatures.
Sunset hikers usually get to the top and then spread out on the rocks to enjoy the sunset. Others hang on the lookout patio. It can be super windy up there, so one needs to have a parka.
The clouds change colors up there, and it is an incredible sight to behold. There is a scientific explanation for this. Above these clouds, the peak of Mount Rainier can be seen. Other views include Berkeley Park, Grand Park, Skyscraper Mountain, Redstone Peak, among others.
With a binocular, one can cite a black bear in Grand Park. Once the hikers have had enough viewing of the scenes with their binoculars, they fish out their cameras to take photos and videos. Those who get up here by sunrise enjoy watching the sun paint Mount Rainier in different colors, from orange, reddish-pink to gleaming yellow.
Some hikers come when there is still much snow. It is best one comes with microspikes if the trail still has snow on it. Again, those who stay at the top after sunset need to have headlamps to illuminate the way down the mountain. Usually, the way back is full of groups of people, which is comforting. Mount Rainier is in front of the hikers retracing their steps to Sunrise.
While on the Mount Fremont Lookout trail, it is rare to come across the less-aggressive black bears that roam the Mount Rainier National Park, but a hiker can still carry with him a bear spray, just in case.
There used to be mountain lions around the trail, but they are hard to come by these days. To date, no bear attacks have been recorded in the park Anyway, having some companions with you is not such a bad idea, by the way, especially if you are all alone. After all, you cannot rely on your phone to call for help should an emergency arises. The cellular network is poor here.
Wear warm clothes because there is a constant cold breeze across the mount. Again, carry lots of drinking water for a trip such as this. There are enough spaces at the top of Mount Fremont Lookout for a picnic; therefore, you can come with snacks or food.