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Gobbler’s Knob Offers a Great Look at Rainier

Mount Rainier, viewed from the Gobbler’s Knob fire lookout on Tuesday morning in Mt. Rainier National Park. The fire lookout is at the end of a 5.5-mile hike from the Dry Creek roadblock on Westside Road, just past the park’s Nisqually entrance.

Gobbler’s Knob Offers a Great Look at Rainier

By Aaron VanTuyl

Mount Rainier is enormous. It’s supposed to be; it’s a mountain, and that’s basically it’s defining characteristic.

But still, each time you see it up close, it’s stunning in its size and scope. It’s so big that even when seen from seems like a relatively close distance — say, within the boundaries of its eponymous national park — it’s got a washed-out look, a real-life Instagram filter reminder that it’s so big you only think you’re close.

It’s laughably big, distractingly big, so big you can imagine a bored dad dragging his kids out of the minivan on a trip through the Park just to point, whistle, and lean back with his hands on hips.

“Boy, wouldja look at the size of that thing!” he’d say. “Now THAT’s a mountain!”

Even with all that size, though, it has a way of sneaking up on you, and that’s part of the fun of Gobbler’s Knob.
The Knob is a fire lookout in the southwest corner of Mount Rainier National Park, and fire lookouts, like treehouses, are cool. The Gobbler’s Knob lookout was built in the 1930s, which means at some point someone had to drag a bunch of equipment up the trail and build a tiny cabin with windows on all four sides that could survive the elements for 80 years and counting. (Fire lookout jobs are still out there, by the way; North Cascades National Park was hiring this winter, for $14.80 an hour. Like writing for a living, however, I bet the novelty wears off after a few months.)

The Gobbler’s Knob fire lookout is at the end of a 5.5-mile hike from the Dry Creek roadblock on Westside Road, just past the Nisqually entrance to Mount Rainier National Park.

Getting to the lookout isn’t all that much trouble. The hike starts on Westside Road, which is blocked off at Dry Creek. The first chunk of the hike follows the old gravel road for 4 miles; an early section runs along the rushing, cloudy Tahoma Creek and offers a first look at Mount Rainier. Beyond that (and a roadside garbage can specifically marked for human waste only) there’s not much to see until the road widens at Round Pass, after a gradual, but consistent, uphill walk.

There’s a small parking area for park crews at Round Pass, and the Goat Lake Trailhead. The trail shoots off into the forest, still climbing moderately, and heading away from the mountain. About a half-mile in, the trail emerges and, to the left, Rainier pops into view, looming over everything else.

About 3/4 of a mile in the trail meets up with Lake George, a large, clear blue sub-alpine lake, surrounded on all sides by forest. The south end of the lake butts up against the north foothills of Mount Wow.

There’s a wilderness patrol cabin, a log-cabin style open shelter, a handful of campsites and one toilet, making for an excellent pit stop (and begging the question of how often the aforementioned poop garbage can is used and emptied).

From Lake George it’s another mile, mostly uphill, to the Gobbler’s Knob trail, crossing part of a tarn and a few melting patches of snow. The trailhead junction is marked by a sign, listing the remaining distance to Gobbler’s Knob at .4 miles. The trail gains about 800 feet of elevation in that span, switchbacking most of the way up and emerging from the forest for the last three cutbacks.

At this point Mount Rainier again pops up, just as you get your first glimpse of the fire lookout. It’s perched so high atop a rocky peak there’s hardly a chance to see it until the last few yards of the trail, but it’s a welcoming site — even if it’s locked, as it was Tuesday.

The two-story lookout’s top floor is above any trees and gives an in-your-face look at the mountain and it’s glaciers from about 7 miles away, with panoramic views of everything else you could hope to see. Lake George is also easy to see, if you feel like looking down; given the precarious position of the lookout, though, that might not be the best idea.

Once you’ve had your fill of the mountain, head back down, but consider a side trip to Goat Lake, just over a mile beyond the junction with the Gobbler’s Knob trail. It’s a smaller, quieter version of Lake George, but with no shelters or vault toilets.

The hike back to the Dry Creek roadblock is a bit mundane once you leave the Goat Lake Trail, and the 4 miles of service road get a bit repetitive until the last mile, when Mount Wow’s eastern face shows up on the right. Though less than half as high as Rainier, it’s picturesque with it’s bare stone bluffs and waterfalls.

Mostly, though, that 4-mile service-road walk back to the car is a chance to think back on the up-close look at Rainier, and the comparison with Mount Wow adds to that. Wow is impressive and all, but Rainier? Now THAT’s a mountain.
If You Go

What: Gobbler’s Knob

Where: Mt. Rainier National Park

Directions: From Elbe, head east on state Route 706 through Ashford to the Nisqually entrance to MRNP. Just under a mile from the gate take a left on Westside Road and drive less than 4 miles to the roadblock.

The Hike: Westside Road to Round Pass (3.8 miles); Goat Lake Trail to the Gobbler’s Knob trail (1.7 miles); continue up for .4 miles to the lookout. (Continue past the Gobbler’s Knob trail 1.1 miles to reach Goat Lake.)

Details: 11 miles round-trip to Gobbler’s Knob, with 2,565 feet of elevation gain

Is It Cool: It’s not NOT cool

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