SunTop Lookout - Enjoyable day trip with spectacular views
July 16, 2015
Suntop Lookout is a National Forest Service fire lookout and research location. Located near the popular Crystal Mountain Ski Resort, and the town of Greenwater, many people drive right by without knowing the superb views that are available at one of the most easily accessible fire lookouts. On a clear day you have a view of Mt. Rainier only 15 miles to the south, the central Cascades, Olympic Mountains, and Mt. Baker 150 miles to the north. A breathtaking 3,000-foot drop leads down to the White River on the east with Huckleberry Creek on the west.
Built in 1932, it is one of only two L-4 ground house structures remaining on the old Snoqualmie National Forest. L-4 comes from the building description "Lookout model 4" and was by far the most popular live-in lookout. The Suntop Lookout was used as an Aircraft Warning site in World War II and the only access was a 6-mile trail from the White River. In 1956 the road was completed to the summit, allowing everyone easy access to the great views at the top. Suntop was restored in the 1980s, entering the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.
The lookout is a popular tourist destination and is staffed by volunteers during the summer. From July to September/October you can drive right to the top assuming you don’t mind a narrow dirt road. During the rest of the year there are fewer people but it can be a challenge to get to. It is not advised to travel to Suntop Lookout between November and June. The area gets heavy snow during the winters making the roads extremely dangerous. With the use of an extremely well equipped 4x4 vehicle we have made the trip in late November and early spring. If you can get to the last gate, you can park and hike to the top.
Once at the top you will find the NFS fire lookout, a few picnic tables, a brand new outhouse built by volunteers and 360 degree views. The lookout is staffed during the summer by volunteers so if you arrive and the lookout is locked, it probably won’t be long before a volunteer shows up to unlock it.
We like to visit Suntop for early morning sunrises and late evening sunsets, but on a nice day you’ll have amazing views all day long and will enjoy your time at over 5,000 feet. It is our responsibility to preserve these locations so make sure you pack out anything you bring to Suntop as well as stay on the trails.
As we mentioned, the lookout is staffed by volunteers. Staying in a lookout that is mostly windows and experiencing a dark night with stars or a bright moon over Mt Rainier is a great experience, not to mention you’re helping out our National Forest Service. If you have an interest in volunteering you can contact the Snoqualmie Ranger District, Enumclaw Office at 450 Roosevelt Avenue E, Enumclaw, WA 98022 - (360) 825-6585. You’ll want to get your name on the volunteer list by May of each year as you must attend the volunteer meeting the first part of June. A drawing is done to determine the order and you can select up to two 24 hours periods. Because it is a very popular lookout all the dates will go and the 2015 season is already booked. The Enumclaw office is also responsible for the Kelly Butte Lookout which will have dates available, but the 1.2 mile hike to get to the lookout climbs over 1000 feet in elevation so isn’t accessible for everyone.
View from inside the Lookout
DIRECTIONS: From Enumclaw, travel east on SR410 for 18 miles through Greenwater, continue another 6.5 miles and once you pass the Scenic Viewpoint, turn right on Forest Road (FR73). Follow FR73 for 1.3 and turn left on FR7315. Follow for about 5 miles and if the last gate is open, you can continue up another mile to the summit parking lot just below the lookout. The gate is usually open starting the end of June for the summer. If the gate is closed there is a place to park at the bottom of the road and hike up to the top. There is a .5 mile trail on the left or you can walk up the road which is 1 mile. FS7315 is not paved and cars with low ground clearance and/or low profile tires are not recommended. A valid recreation pass is required for Sun Top.
(Left Photo) Left turn onto FR7315 - (Right Photo) View after 5 miles, right turn takes you to the last gate. If the gate is locked you can park here.
(Left Photo) The last gate to SunTop - (Right Photo) Trail head to SunTop at the last gate