A beautiful location to visit if you’re anywhere near the Mt. Baker Highway is the Twin Lakes, located near the town of Glacier. The turquoise lakes surrounded by high mountain walls are quite the destination unto themselves, whether for a picnic lunch, a time of relaxation (not that many people come up here, although it’s not deserted), or a great place to camp in the various campsites (free) that are around the lakes. However, the lakes’ charm is truly realized only when seen from above. A great place to do this from is Winchester Fire Lookout, a 1.75 mile (one way) hike from the Twin Lakes.
To get to the Twin Lakes, take the Mt. Baker Highway (Hwy 542) approximately 45 miles east of Bellingham, Washington to Twin Lakes Road. The road is on the left just after the highway maintenance sheds, about 12 miles east of the town of Glacier. Glacier has a visitor center in it, where you can stop for water and/or information on road conditions. Twin Lakes Road is called “National Forest Develop Rd 3065” on Google Maps. Travel up this dirt road for about 7 miles, and you will be at the Twin Lakes. The road itself is ok, but I wouldn’t call it great. It twist and turns its way up the mountainside, encountering a few hairpin turns that you may have to be resourceful to actually make the turn (you’ll be able to see why you had to gain so much elevation when you get to the fire tower). Also, although a low-clearance vehicle could probably do it, I wouldn’t personally recommend driving the road without high clearance, and 4×4 may be necessary at some times of the year.
When you reach the lakes, there will be a primitive outhouse on your right. If you want great vistas and/or to hike up to the fire lookout, keep driving along the side of the lower lake, and then turn left to park on the ground that separates the two lakes. There are a few picnic tables here, and the views are spectacular. If you go almost to the far side of the lake and then down to the lake’s edge, you can also get some pretty great views of Mt. Baker. In the early morning, you can get some very nice pictures of Mt. Baker over the lake.
The trail to Winchester Fire Lookout starts from the other side of the lakes. I believe there is a sign, but if not, a trail begins to ascend the side of the mountain in long switchbacks. Part way up, the trail goes through some huckleberry bushes, which had an abundance of huckleberries in late August.
The higher you climb, the better the views become, especially of the Twin Lakes far below. It’s amazing how much elevation you can gain so quickly. Eventually, you will come to the very edge of the mountain, and look down a precipice. This is an awesome view, especially of Mt. Baker across the valley. While we were here, a sightseeing helicopter was circling us, and we were taking pictures of the helicopter, and the people in the helicopter were taking pictures of us. That was fun!
The switchbacks continue to climb upward, but are shorter and steeper and are away from the side of the valley that has the Twin Lakes in it. From here, you can look towards the north and see British Columbia, Canada.
Finally, the trail reaches the ridgeline, and for the first time in the hike, the trail isn’t too steep. Actually, the trail’s not that bad, but the incline is relentless, so it seems steeper after you’ve hiked a mile or so. Not long after this you will come to the Winchester Fire Lookout. The lookout is no longer in use as a fire lookout, but people still camp there. Inside, we found a guestbook, books, maps, a cot, and a broken guitar, among other things. We all had fun with the guitar, even though at least one string was broken and it was horribly out of tune.
Once you’ve rested in the lookout, go outside to admire the scenery. The views outside are stunning, with incredible alpine vistas in every direction. You can see the lakes, although the views are better from lower down on the trail, as well as mountain peaks in two countries. It is such a top-of-the-world feeling, even though you can see higher mountains around you. The pictures just don’t do it justice!
Return by the way you came. We camped right in the parking lot, and no one seemed to mind. When you’re used to camping in the wilderness, it’s such a luxury to have picnic tables right there to use for breakfast the next morning 🙂