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Mount Pilchuck Hike – The Hardest Trail in Washington?

Mount Pilchuck hike

Hiking Lenght: 5.2 miles

Elevation Gain: 2120 feet

Hiking Time: 3:30 hours


With its mountainous peaks and lush landscapes, the Seattle area has many exciting and beautiful trails to explore. We believe that many of the hiking trails do not require special equipment or skills.

Mount Pilchuck in the Cascade Mountains is one of these trails that are quite beautiful and also quite popular (seeing over 28,000 visitors a year).

Due to its intermediate difficulty level, Mount Pilchuck Hike is definitely not a trail for everyone. But if you feel you can handle the challenge, you’ll be rewarded with 360-degree views that include Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, and the Olympic Mountains. 

Keep reading to find everything you need to know about hiking Mount Pilchuck.

Trailhead (Starting Point)

Mount Pilchuck trailhead
Courtesy of Jessie Hey @ Flickr

The starting point for the Mount Pilchuck hike begins at 3100 feet above sea level on forest service land at Mount Pilchuck State Park in Granite Falls.

The park is a 1,903-acre day park with various activities, but the main attraction is the trail that leads up to Mt Pilchuck’s summit.

How to Get to the Starting Point 

Mount Pilchuck Trail Map
Courtesy of Alltrails.com

Once you arrive in Granite Falls, head east on Quarry Road, continue on Quarry Road through the roundabout until you reach Mountain Loop Highway, and turn left there.

Head about 11 miles on that road until you reach Mount Pilchuck Road. Turn right on Mt Pilchuck Road and continue for about 7 miles to the Mount Pilchuck trailhead parking lot.

if you are coming from Seattle, that’s only a 90 minutes drive.

One of the challenging hikes I have attempted so far. Last one mile of the hike is most challenging especially due to knee depth snow. If planning, go with proper gear and the right group of friends.

Shashank Shandilya – Professional Hiker

Mount Pilchuck Trail Description

Mount Pilchuck hike trail
Courtesy of Jessie Hey

Mount Pilchuck trail is probably one of the most difficult hikes near Seattle.

Although this trail can get quite busy on the weekends, it does not mean that everyone should attempt it.

It is a steep climb, and during the 2.7-mile hike up to the summit, you will reach over 2,100 feet in elevation and traverse over rocks, boulders, and uneven surfaces.

After taking in the views at the top, you will have to return back down the mountain the same way you came, making the round trip hike approximately 6 miles long. For most people, the hike takes about 4 hours to complete. 

 

Although you can complete the hike during most of the summer months without any special gear, snow will sometimes remain on the mountains into the early summer months, and you may require proper snow hiking gear and shoes during these times. 

The hike is dog-friendly, but you must keep your dogs on a leash for the entire duration. You may be able to do it with children, but keep in mind that younger children may grow tired or not be able to traverse over the boulders.

hiking Mount Pilchuck
Courtesy of Paul & Hien Brown @ Flickr

One of the main draws of this hike is the old fire lookout constructed in 1918 that sits on the mountain’s summit, which is one of only a handful of these structures remaining in Washington state.

You begin your hike to the summit in an old-growth forest that provides decent cover and shade. It will continue that way for the first couple of miles.

You will know that you are heading in the right direction by watching for the orange markers on the path that are spaced out about every 100 meters or so, but keep in mind that due to the terrain, it can be easy to lose track of the trail if you are not careful.

Mount Pilchuck viewpoint
Courtesy of Jessie Hey @ Flickr

When you reach the first rocky ridge, look for the orange marker that will direct you over the boulders and help you get to the trail. Here it starts to get more challenging as the trail grows rockier and rocker. 

When you reach the last part of the hike, you must make a final scramble over a long craggy stretch beneath the ridgeline up to the Mount Pilchuck lookout tower.

The tower itself has rocks surrounding it and a ladder you will need to climb to reach the top. 

Mount Pilchuck lookout tower
Mount Pilchuck Lookout Tower. Courtesy of Jessie Hey @ Flickr

Once you’ve reached the tower and climbed to the top, you will see some fantastic 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains (Mount Rainer, Mount Baker, and the Olympics) and Puget Sound.

Take a few minutes to read the five plaques on the lookout walls, as they tell you the peaks you are viewing and a little bit about the history. Rest for a little while, and then prepare for the descent back down to the parking lot. 

More hiking trails near Seattle:

Hiking Tips

Mount Pilchuck hiking trail
Courtesy of Jessie Hey @ Flickr

Although the hike is challenging, it can get quite busy.

If you prefer to hike when crowds are smaller, try to visit first thing in the morning or on a weekday.

Another thing to consider is what to eat before hiking. It’s not an easy hike and you need food that contains lean proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates.

Because the peak is so high, you will often find snow towards the top well into summer, and the Mount Pilchuck weather can be unpredictable.

Make sure you are prepared for this possibility and wear suitable hiking boots so that you will not slip on the snowy rocks.

Since is a very steep climb, use knee braces for hiking to protect the muscles and the cartilage, and give extra stability.

Use the restroom at the trailhead before you start the hike, and remember to pack ample water for the journey, as it can be pretty tiring, and it is essential to stay hydrated.

Best Time to Hike Mount Pilchuck

hike Mount Pilchuck
Courtesy of Jessie Hey @ Flickr

Mount Pilchuck State Park and its trails are only opened to the public from April 1st to September 30th, so you cannot make this trail in the winter months.

The best months for hiking to the summit are from June to October, as the trail can be snowy outside of those times.  

Is it important to use hiking microspikes to prevent slipping, especially when there is still snow on the rocks.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Does It Take To Hike Mount Pilchuck?

Most people can hike up and back from Mount Pilchuck in approximately 4 hours, including a 20 or 30-minute rest at the summit. Keep in mind that busy days may make the hike a bit longer, and plan accordingly for the amount of time you will need.

How Hard Is the Mount Pilchuck Hike?

The hike up to Mount Pilchuck is one of the most challenging hikes near Seattle and is considered strenuous. The majority of the hike is over rocks and other types of uneven terrain, so proper hiking boots are a must, especially when there is snow on the mountain.

Where is Mount Pilchuck?

Mount Pilchuck resides in the Cascade Mountain range in the Snohomish County of Washington State. It is 37 miles northeast of the large city of Seattle. The trailhead begins in Mount Pilchuck State Park but officially falls within the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

Is the Mount Pilchuck Trailhead Open?

The Mount Pilchuck Trailhead is open to the public from April to September. There is no entry fee to the trailhead. However, parking in the lot does require the purchase of a Discover Pass, which you can purchase ahead of time online or at various local retailers.

How Was Mount Pilchuck Formed?

The North Cascade Mountains, where Mount Pilchuck is found, were formed from a diverse mixture that included ocean sediments, portions of old continents, and parts of the sub-crustal mantle deep within the earth.

Mount Pilchuck is geographically notable because it is made of shale rock, a sedimentary rock with many thin layers. 

Can You Drive Up to Mount Pilchuck?

You cannot drive up to the summit of Mount Pilchuck, as it is only accessible by hiking. Cars are only allowed as far up as the trailhead’s parking lot, which is at 3,100 feet above sea level. The drive there requires a stretch of rough gravel road.