Where there's a view of smoke, there's a fire lookout.

Image: Craig Romano

Difficulty: Moderate • Distance: 5 miles round trip

The crown jewel of Kachess Ridge is the 5,854-foot Thorp Mountain, graced with a still-in-use historic fire tower built in 1931 that hovers high above Kachess Lake. In summer the mountain’s summit is carpeted with brilliant wildflowers, and in autumn it’s draped in succulent berries. Thanks to its location on the east side of the Cascade crest, the sun shines often on this peak, and the sweeping views from the summit are grand any time of year.

There are several ways to get to Thorp Mountain, but the Knox Creek Trail is the shortest. This trail starts high in an open bowl of ferns and flowers and provides nonstop viewing. The way starts off gently with a few long switchbacks before heading up a steep incline to a small gap on Kachess Ridge. Here, among hemlocks and huckleberry bushes, head right on the Kachess Ridge Trail, dropping about 100 feet before heading up again.

Next, traverse a high meadow that has excellent views of Kachess Lake more than 3,000 feet below and of Mount Rainier on the southern horizon. Look west for lumpy ridges and craggy Cascade peaks. At about 2.0 miles, reach a junction with a trail coming up from Thorp Lake—it's a worthy side trip.

Turn left and climb up open meadows and around small ledges to reach Thorp’s summit. If the fire lookout is open, share conversation with one of its friendly keeps. Then take in the spectacular views north of glacier-covered Mount Daniel and the prominent Three Queens, Lemah Mountain, and Chikamin Peak. Consider a return trip in September for huckleberry harvesting.

Watch For: Thorp Lake in an emerald basin 1,000 feet below the summit.

Getting there: From Seattle follow I-90 east to Cle Elum. Then follow SR 903 (which becomes Salmon La Sac Road) north for 15.5 miles, turning left onto Forest Service Road 4308, just past the Cle Elum River Campground. Follow it for 4.8 miles before turning right onto Forest Service Road 4308-120. Follow this rough road for 2.0 miles to the Knox Creek Trailhead. Note: Forest Service Road 4308-120 is rough and brushy in spots.

Craig Romano is the author and co-author of 12 Washington state hiking books including the newly released Backpacking Washington.

Updated 8/12/2014. The original text incorrectly listed I-5 in the "Getting there" directions instead of I-90.

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