The concept of sleeping on top of a mountain in a lookout tower somehow convinced me to ride a bike 10 miles up a washed out forest road with a 30 lb. pack and hike another seven miles to climb three ladders to access the Three Fingers Lookout. The top of the ragged spire was blasted off to house the Three Fingers Lookout with dramatic drop-offs all around and views of the Cascade mountain range.
Planning for a women weekend getaway with my friend Jodie, I had to find a mountain bike to stash in the woods and pack the essential snow travel gear to make it across steep snow sections where the snow hadn’t melted out and the trail wasn’t passable yet.
It’s the first time I’ve heard of Boulder Creek Wilderness, and I’ve done my fair share of researching public lands in the state of Washington. The drive from Seattle didn’t take as long as some of my adventures and only seeing four others on the trail meant we had chosen the right time and objective.
I kept asking myself, “I’m not a biker. Why did I sign up for this?”
Jodie has an ease and confidence on the trail and bike. I have always respected her temperament in the mountains and is probably why she’s a good adventure partner for me. Finding patience in a partner makes or breaks a trip, and fortunately, she took the time to make sure I was close-by on the bike and also allowed me to try out her fancy mountain bike on the ride out.
The trip was perfect and I left feeling closer to Jodie and refreshed after watching the sunset behind the Puget Sound and also rise to the mountains in the east. The lookout is a magical place and worth the weekend adventure.
What to expect when sleeping in the lookout
The Three Fingers Lookout itself is similar to others in the Washington area, like Pilchuck. It is first-come, first-served for sleeping and has a platform the sleeps two snuggly. Since we were the later party, we slept on the floor. I’d say six is the max number you’d want in the lookout but could probably squeeze in eight. The other group cleaned the floors and did some handy work before we arrived. The shutters, or wooden window covers, take some skill to set up. Having a tall person in your group definitely helps and is better when done as a team.
I highly suggest hanging your food high as there were traces of mice in the lookout. For the bathroom area, designate one place where the group can “go.” Privacy is limited.
Getting to the trailhead
Getting to the Three Fingers Lookout trailhead, you leave Seattle and navigate to Forest Service Road 41. Planning to sleep at the bridge where the road is blocked from vehicle access, we arrived to a group having a fire by the river. Highly recommend ear plugs and maybe sleeping a little further down the road. The road has decent sized potholes, so make sure your bikes are secure.
The best months to venture to the lookout include: June, July, August, Sept, and October. Though depending on prior year’s snowpack, June could be too early in the season. It’s helpful to find recent trip reports or current GPS tracks to help make the decision.
Three Fingers Lookout stats
Distance: approximately 33 miles round-trip with 20 miles on a bike
Elevation: 6,480 feet
- Car, bike to trailhead: 2 to 2.5 hours
- Trailhead to lookout: 5 to 6 hours
- Lookout to trailhead: 4 to 5 hours
- Trailhead to car: 1 hour
Bike 10 miles following a contour line with mild elevation along forest road 41.
Stash bikes in the woods and lock them around trees. Add garbage bags to protect the chains.
You arrive at the trail sign and enter the Boulder Creek Wilderness area. The trail board has minimal signs, one about not leaving valuables in the car that is 10 miles away and the second warning food odors attract bears.
Hiking in the forest sections, keep your eyes on the trail as much as possible. The trail isn’t maintained but still surprisingly good shape minus the overgrowth of berry bushes trying swallow the trail. Watch for prickly brush and plants in some sections but continue through the forest for many miles until you reach the plush alpine meadows scattered with ponds early in the season.
Continue to hike until you reach Goat Flats where you can camp for the night, use the backcountry toilet, or take a snack break with views of the spires. Here’s where some patches of snow started during my trip but the trail is still easy to follow.
Connect the trail and snow sections the best you can. It wasn’t as straightforward for us with steep snow crossings. Sometimes we lost elevation to avoid a sketchy crossing. Adding an ice axe and microspikes worked wonders on these sections without needing to remove the microspikes on the trail parts. Switchback up the trail to a saddle that could be used as a backup camping location if the lookout is full.
At roughly 5,700 feet, you come to a saddle. Depending on the snow and the season, we entered into the moat, or the section where the snow was separating from the rock for protection where the trail normally would be. We navigated through a couple of these before down climbing one extremely steep snow section.
The trail was easy to follow and the snow mellowed out for the rest of the climb to the lookout. We decided to melt water at the last snow patch for dinner, breakfast, and hot beverage reserves before climbing the janky three ladders and a couple of hand ropes to the top.
Fortunately for us, a father and son duo were already setting up the lookout and opening the window shutters for the views. We melted snow for them to save a long trip down to some trickling water and had fun playing “Name that Peak” during our stay.
Retrace your steps.
Bring spare bike tubes for tires just in case. I borrowed a friend’s road bike and got a flat the last mile on the way out. Instead of taking the time to change the flat, we decided to walk the bikes the rest of the way, picking berries as we went.
Trip dates: June 29-30, 2019
Three Fingers Lookout maps
All the tracks can be found in Gaia GPS Three Fingers Lookout folder.
- Biking forest road to trailhead
- Hiking trailhead to lookout
- Hiking lookout to trailhead
- Biking trailhead to car
Suggested gear list
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- Mountain bike (preferably one with beefy tires and suspension)
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- Tent (optional in case the lookout is full)
- Hiking shoes, preferably ones with GoreTex
- Microspikes (optional depending on conditions)
- Ice axe (optional depending on conditions)
- Helmet (optional)
- Hiking clothes
- Extra pair of socks
- Stove + fuel
- Water filter