Our Hiking Time: 2h
Total Ascent: 1100ft
Highest Point: 5400ft
Total Distance: 3.4 miles
Location: N 47° 10.1580, W 121° 29.4180
Required Permit: None
Finding ourselves a little short on time this week, we headed out to Kelly Butte for a quick hike to up to a restored fire lookout. We navigated our way through a maze of logging roads to find ourselves rapidly climbing through fields of wildflowers toward expansive views of Mt. Rainier and the Green River Valley.
The Kelly Butte Fire Lookout was originally built in 1926, though it was torn down and rebuilt in 1950. The lookout watched over the small Green River Valley communities that sprung up along the Northern Pacific Railway when it built a line over Stampede Pass. Towns like Lester and Nagrom that slowly shrank along with the railroad and timber industries. By 1980, when the towns were all but abandoned, the Forest Service stopped staffing the lookout and it fell into disrepair. Then, in 2006, with money from the Forest Fire Lookout Association and the Forest Service, work began on restoring the lookout. Work was completed in late 2011, and today the lookout is fully restored and it is possible for hikers and backpackers to rent the cabin for an overnight stay.
The trail begins steeply, climbing past the rocks and crags of the butte. There are two approaches. The old route starts at the end of the logging road, where ropes have been strung to help you up the steep scramble. The new route is much tamer, and begins a hundred yards from the road’s end. Either way, the trails quickly connect and switchback through logged meadows dotted with sun-bleached stumps and snags. In the summer the meadows are bursting with wildflowers, bear grass, mountain blueberry, and if you’re lucky, you may even come across a mountain goat or two. The views begin almost immediately and grow steadily larger as the trail flattens and you begin the short traverse to the lookout and the view. On a clear day you can’t miss Mt. Rainier, Glacier Peak, Mt. Baker and Mt. Stuart.
This is a fun little hike, quickly delivering a short workout and some views. Despite the steep start, this hike is approachable for almost every hiker. The most challenging part of this hike is actually finding it. There are quite a few unmarked logging roads to deal with, and it is fairly easy to get turned around. Once you find the road to the trailhead, we really encourage you to park at the makeshift lot near the Kelly Butte Trail sign. While you can probably make it down the somewhat overgrown road to the base of the butte, the road is extremely narrow and there are no pullouts, making it impossible for two cars to pass each other on it. If you happen to encounter another car going the opposite direction, one of you will have to reverse all the way to either end of the road to make room.
To get there, take I-5 south to Highway 18 Exit 142A. Follow Highway 18 into Auburn and take the SR 164 exit. Head left on SR 164 through Enumclaw to SR 410. Turn left onto SR 410 and drive about 20 miles through the town of Greenwater, past the fire station to FR 70 on the left. Follow FR 70 a little over eight miles to FR 7030. Take a left onto the gravel road and continue about four miles to a T-intersection. Take a left and continue a mile to the next intersection, again veering to the left. Continue for about a half-mile to another intersection, this time heading right. Find the signed trailhead on the left in about a mile. From here it’s possible for some vehicles to continue the last three-quarters of a mile to the base of Kelley Butte, but we recommend you park and walk it. -Nathan
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