Kelly Butte Trail
Chinook Pass, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
The lookout was originally built in the 1920s and replaced in 1950. The lookout has been restored by the Forest Service, Washington Trails Association (WTA) and other volunteers after some vandalism; and the trail has been groomed to create less harsh scrambles.
Colquhoun Butte is along the same forest road and only a few miles away, if you start early and want to double up trails. It was also a fire lookout although lacking in views and actual building at the top. This butte's old trail is infrequently used so you'll most likely find solitude with beautiful views of Rainier along the ridge-line near the summit.
What to check out
Wildflowers start in June right as the trail opens again for the season, and last for several months, changing different colors as the weeks go. Bear grass is one of the more unique and easily identified wildflowers in the area.
A 360 view from the summit of more mountains than one could name, but you certainly can't miss epic Mt. Rainier.
From the summer, crests and valleys can be viewed, to look for herds of white mountain goats, deer, and some animals of prey.
-Northwest Forest Pass or America the Beautiful pass required
-3.4 miles round trip
-1,100 ft elevation gain (high point, 5,400 ft)
-Dog Friendly, unlike anything on Rainier
One of the nice things about this hike is that it's far enough out of the way that it's never busy; but closer enough to enjoy the drive. It also helps that it's an easy drive all the way to the trail head. You may not want to be taking a rear-wheel drive vehicle up there, but most cars won't struggle.
Starting off in a flat, shaded area, this trail is deceiving and unassuming. Suddenly the trees end and an epic view of Rainier welcomes you... to the actual trail head. That goes straight up with switchbacks.
Luckily the switchbacks are all relatively short and the views are breathtaking every step of the way, giving you an excuse to take breaks often. The entire trail is an opportunity for photos and deep, refreshing exhales.
When you reach the end of the switchbacks, there's a quarter mile of straight and relatively flat trail towards rocks, behind which the lookout sits. In the summer months it's open to the public, but it is boarded out of season. I've experienced both. Explore the top some, walk around the lookout, take in the views, and hope for some wildlife sightings.
This hike never gets old. Fini agrees.