Every hiking guide you pick up will tell you the same thing: Park Butte is the trail to hike on the southern flank of Mount Baker. Really, this hike has it all. Alpine meadows, boardwalks along rushing creeks, rocky moraines, glaciers that seem close enough to touch, and a 1930's fire lookout with a view. A perfect hike for backpacking not only because of the views that await upon opening a dewy tent flap, but also for the number of side trails and trips to venture out on. Devote a whole day (or two) to Park Butte and Baker's southern side.
Park Butte is located within the Mount Baker National Recreation Area, some 8000 acres of wilderness. The area is incredibly well maintained with trail signage, trash facilities at the trailhead parking lot, and trails that are easy for hiking. Starting out on the trail, cross a bridge over Sulphur Creek and into Schriebers Meadow. Sulphur creek smells like a mining camp—like damp rock and caverns—most likely from the heavy silt content of the water which turns the creek a milky grey.
Wind your way through Schriebers Meadow on wooden boardwalks, lined with mushrooms and mountain berry bushes in the fall. When the trees break off a little bit, you'll catch glimpses of Mount Baker—a great white cone of volcano. The meadows are broken up by fields of rocks and boulders, and walking up what seems to be a dry creek bed, a trickle of water will start flowing beneath bootprints. After winding through a forested patch, you'll come upon a view of a rushing creek, and a sign directing towards a temporary hiker bridge and horse crossing. The temporary bridge is put in place during the summer months. If the bridge isn't in place, I would say that the fast moving Rocky Creek is not one which can easily be forded.
The next section of trail is mostly switchbacks, gaining elevation over a hard mile. You'll know you've made it to the last of the switchbacks when you come across the connection to the Scott Paul Trail Loop. At the top of this last little bit, you'll find the first gorgeous view of Mount Baker from Morovitz Meadow. Now is when you'll have to make some choices. Heading right towards the majestic Baker, you can choose to climb up a stone staircase onto Railroad Grade trail—that is if gaining 1,000 feet in a mile doesn't scare you off. Railroad Grade trail leads to a climber camp at the base of Easton Glacier.
To continue on to Park Butte, head straight at the junction. Climb through rocky moraines, with views all around confirming that you are indeed surrounded by the Cascades. Here, in Upper Morovitz Meadow you'll find secluded campsites at Cathedral Camp, and plenty of crystal clear tarns. The Lookout, perched atop a ridge will come into view. I'm not going to lie—the last section of the trail is the most strenuous. A 500 foot hike up rocky pathways will all be worth it though.
Built in 1933, the fire lookout has been renovated and is available as lodging on a first-come-first-served basis. Maintenance of the lookout is performed by the wonderful Skagit Alpine Club. Even if you aren't planning to stay for the night, take a look inside it to fuel an explorer's thirst. A box spilling over with journals could alone occupy many peaceful hours. During our visit, we poked around to find a good humored bottle of Knob Creek whiskey in the first-aid box. The accommodations are far from five-star, and I wouldn't suggest cuddling up in the bed sheets, but the view of Mount Baker is breathtaking and the history of the space palpable.
With the seasons changing rapidly, I would suggest you take the next clear day as an opportunity to get out and enjoy the beautiful fall foliage and bumper crop of wild blueberries and huckleberries. If the lookout is free, you might even keep out the chill in air for a little longer.
For additional information on Park Butte, including more photos and detailed directions, check out the following:
Washington Trails Association (WTA):
US Forest Service: