Few hikers have heard of Skagit Alpine Club member Fred Darvill. But trek to the cabin he saved, and you’ll never forget his name. Six decades ago, Darvill launched an effort to preserve this retired fire lookout from a flaming demise at the hands of the Forest Service. Thanks to him, you can now stay in the best lookout in the country, bar none. Perched on a granite boulder pile at 6,900 feet, the cabin takes in a 360-degree panorama of toothy North Cascades peaks, including 8,800-footers Eldorado, Forbidden, and Boston Peaks, distant volcanoes Glacier Peak, Mt. Baker, and Mt. Rainier, and the Olympic Mountains.
Maintained today by volunteers organized by Friends of Hidden Lake Lookout (they’re on Facebook), the roughly 10-by-15-foot structure is free and first-come, first-serve for overnight stays, with no amenities beyond a table, a platform with mats for two people, two more mats that fit on the floor, and a small library. There’s no porch, but lots of windows, and virtually always snowmelt nearby for water. On a clear night, lay out your bags on the big, flat rock just outside the lookout. The 4.5-mile Hidden Lake Trail begins in lush temperate rainforest, ascends through meadows of lupine, hellebores, and blueberries, and traverses slopes of heather before reaching its rocky terminus at the lookout. Pack an ice axe; you’ll cross a steep snow gully three miles up the trail.
Season Mid-August to mid-September is best, after summer’s mosquitoes have tapered off.
Map/guide BACKPACKER PRO Map Hidden Lake Lookout ($20; backpacker.com/promaps); Day Hiking North Cascades, by Craig Romano ($19; mountaineersbooks.org)
Get there The Hidden Lake Trail begins at the end of Sibley Creek Road 1540 (off Cascade River Road, east of Marblemount).
Cost/info There’s no fee or reservations, but go prepared to camp outside if it’s full (weekends are busier, naturally); (206) 470-4060; fs.usda.gov/mbs