Hiking Winchester Mountain & Twin Lakes

I have been debating whether or not to post this trip summary because I’d rather keep this location as much a secret as possible. But, alas, here I am, adding to the internet search results for the majestically scenic Winchester Mountain, atop which lies Winchester Lookout, and at its base, Twin Lakes. For merely the cost of a daily or annual Northwest Forest Pass, hikers can enjoy one of the most idyllic campgrounds I’ve ever been to, or stay a night in a restored fire lookout and wake up to stunning views of the North Cascades. Plus, enjoy the myriad hiking trails that originate from trailheads along the forest road.

An hour’s drive down Highway 542, followed by a bumpy uphill climb along FR 3065, brings one to the parking area for the popular Tomyhoi/Yellow Aster Butte trails. (For proper directions, see the WTA website.)

Parking at Yellow Aster Butte

The next two miles of road are unmaintained by the Forest Service – they were built for accessing Lone Jack Mine, which brought out about $300,000 worth of gold in its early 20th century hey-day. Now, with the mine long abandoned, the road’s many potholes and washouts are infrequently fixed. My 2WD sedan would not have made it, so we grabbed our bags and started the steep two mile climb to the Twin Lakes trailhead and campground.

Hike to Twin Lakes

Fortunately, high-clearance 4WD vehicles have no problem driving to the top and we saved some energy by hitching a ride in the back of someone’s truck. 10 minutes later:

Twin Lakes trailhead

There were about 8 campsites, all equipped with picnic tables, fire pits, and a designated sand-filled square for a tent (plus another unequipped space about .5 miles up the lookout trail).

Twin Lakes campsite

We were there on a Wednesday around 3 PM and there were only two other campers set up. We picked a spot right on the lakeshore.

Twin Lakes campsite

Twin Lakes

Then we explored the overgrown but still slightly passable trail around the perimeter of the lakes and found a good reading spot.

Twin Lakes

Twin Lakes

Hard to believe this is not just a landscape painting:

Mt Baker and Twin Lakes

And considering her overwhelming cuteness, I still can’t believe this is a real dog (SHESOHAPPYTOBECAMPING):

Aoife is the best

Once the weather had cooled down a bit, we headed up to the lookout. The trail is a short but steep two mile climb with constant views.

Winchester Mountain trailhead

Winchester Mountain trails

Winchester Lookout trail

Winchester Lookout trail

Including that of our campsite down below:

Twin Lakes

At the end of the trail sits one of the world’s most delightful little fire lookouts.

Winchester Lookout

It was built in 1935 and staffed until 1966. In the ’30s, a lookout could be built and staffed for a season for only about $1500 (likely with labor from the Civilian Conservation Corps). By the ’70s, the cost was closer to $12,000. As costs increased, so too did aerial and satellite surveillance and manned lookouts on the ground became an outdated technology. By 1982, Winchester had fallen into disrepair and the Forest Service did not want to be liable for any injuries that might befall hikers exploring the place, so it was slated for demolition. Thankfully, the Mt. Baker Hiking Club stepped in and volunteered to renovate the building. Today, the club maintains the building with two work parties a year and the lookout has earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

Winchester Lookout interior

Winchester Lookout interior

Hikers can stay there on a first-come, first-served basis and it’s quite roomy: furnished with two mattresses, a table, and a little cooking area. There are maps and diagrams showing the names of all the peaks and mountain ranges that surround you (fun fact: the lookout is only about three miles from the Canadian border!). Plus a charming old guestbook!

Winchester Lookout guestbook

Winchester Lookout interior

And of course, outside the door lies 360 degree scenic vistas, including Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan.

Taylor and Aoife

Winchester Lookout views

Taylor and Seth

Lookout history, pictures, and videos here.


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