Thursday, September 12, 2019

Staying at Red Top Lookout near Cle Elum, WA

Milky Way looking super fine above Red Top Lookout

A few weekends ago, Cody and I got to stay at Red Top Lookout near Cle Elum, WA! The most asked question I got about staying at this fire lookout was, "Is it open to the public and first come, fist serve to be able to stay in it?" Red Top Lookout is not open for the public to stay at. Cody and I found a volunteer opportunity with the forest service and were fortunate enough to be able to snag a weekend slot volunteering with the them, and being able to stay in the lookout!

Last summer, Sarina and I got a chance to volunteer with the Darrington Ranger Station, and stayed in the Green Mountain Fire Lookout (you can read about that here), and I loved it so much, I wondered if there were other similar opportunities out there. After some research online, I came across the volunteer page on the forest service site and saw they were looking for volunteers to stay at Red Top Lookout, which was exactly what I was looking for! I emailed the ranger in January to see what it entailed, and was told they sent out an email in May to people who were interested and that you had to attend a 4 hour training class at the Cle Elum Ranger Station beginning of June and that was it. (Green Mountain Lookout I think requires at least a CPR certification, but Red Top does not FYI.)

Anyways, onto our stay and experience at the lookout!

Friday's Sunset


Dates Stayed: Friday August 23- Sunday August 25, 2019
Location: Red Top Lookout near Cle Elum, WA
Miles: less than 2 miles R/T, can turn hike into a loop
Elevation Gained: 350 feet
Parking Pass: Northwest Forest Pass or the America the Beautiful Pass

Friday August 23, 2019

Cody and I wanted to avoid as much traffic as possible Friday, so we ended up working for a few hours at a McDonald's in North Bend before we made the rest of the drive out to Red Top Friday afternoon. Our start time on the itinerary was anytime after 5:00 PM. Our goal was to get out there before sunset, which was around 7:30 PM. As we headed out to the trailhead on the dirt road, we experienced a road block. We were about 1-2 miles away from the trailhead when we got stopped by a herd of sheep. There were 100s of them! We slowly maneuvered our way past them. We had Red Top typed into Google Maps btw, but those directions aren't 100% accurate, the directions take you close to the lookout, but keep going down the road past where Google takes you and follow the road signs and you will get to the parking lot that has a pit toilet.

We pulled in around 6:30 PM and were the only ones there. We quickly loaded up our packs, locked the car and were on our way to the lookout! This was both our first time to this lookout, so we didn't know what to expect. The hike was very short and we made it to the lookout within 30 minutes! Short hike with a big reward! Once at the lookout, we unlocked the doors and settled in. We had stopped at a Subway on the way and bought sandwiches for dinner that night, so we didn't have to cook. The views were amazing and we got the best sunset that night! We did get surprised by some late night hikers that sat at the bench near the lookout till almost 10:00 PM, but they were friendly enough. I think they ended up camping at the trailhead that night.
Road block!
 Trail sign
Almost there!
 One of the cleanest backcountry toilets I experience this summer!
Inside of the lookout

Saturday August 24, 2019

We woke up with the sun Saturday morning, it definitely gets very bright inside the lookout! Once awake, we checked in with the range station, walked over to the flag pole, put up the flag, and made breakfast. We got our first hikers around 9:00 AM, and there was a steady stream through out the day (we kept tally of all the hikers, and by the end of the day we counted 71 hikers!)

Red Top is definitely a kid friendly hike. We brought up a pack of cookies to share with visitors and it was hit amongst the kids.

Later in the afternoon, Cody and I locked up the lookout and wandered over to the agate beds. We noticed a good amount of people who skipped the lookout and were there for the agate beds mainly! Cody and I do not know how to rock hunt for geodes or agate, so we came up empty handed, but did talk to a few people who did find some cool geodes and agate! I definitely learned a lot about rocks this weekend.

Saturday night we saw wind was in the forecast, but didn't think too much into it until the winds hit 30 MPH and the whole lookout rattled lol. I attempted to take some astrophotos too, but after 15 minutes the wind got to me. The wind would pick up here and there, and Cody and I ended up not sleeping much that night, but we were in a fire lookout, so you can't complain too much.
Saturday Morning
Cody making breakfast
View of the fire lookout from the agate beds

Sunday August 25, 2019

Another slow morning. We woke up in a cloud with no views, but it cleared pretty fast. We checked in with the ranger station and headed down to the rocks to make breakfast again. Our first visitor of the day ended up being our friend Amy! Who was also sweet enough to bring us a box of donuts! (Thank Amy!)

She hung out for an hour or two, then her and I decided to head over to the agate beds while Cody manned the lookout. We also came up empty handed, but have since gotten some tips from avid rock hunters, so maybe we will find something next summer:)

The next group of volunteers showed up early and relieved Cody and me of our lookout duties around 2:45 PM. Which was fine by us since we had a long drive home and also wanted to stop by our favorite BBQ spot.

Overall, it was such an amazing experience staying at Red Top and telling visitors about the area! Hopefully we will be lucky enough to do it again next summer.

Until next time Red Top!

(Here is my trip report on WTA)

Views from the lookout
Red Top Lookout
The trail on the other side
Cody and me!
The end.

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