I had a friend visiting from MN so I had to take him somewhere good but with...
Expect big views and big elevation gains on this popular hike that takes you from the shoulder of I-90 up to a fire lookout on the top of Granite Mountain.
Begin at the bustling Pratt Lake trailhead (signed with a dozen different hiking destinations) and follow a wide, nearly flat path under thick canopy to a junction at 1.1 miles. Take a right and immediately begin a steep, eastward ascent of the south face of the mountain. Serious switchbacks begin at about 1.5 miles as the trail flirts with the edge of an avalanche chute.
At 1.7 miles and 3,340', enter the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area. It's here that you'll begin zig-zagging in and out of the tree canopy as you again travel eastward, this time across the avalanche chute you've been hiking beside. Leave the trees (and shade) behind entirely at 4,000'. With nothing but rock, grass, and wildflowers (huckleberries in late summer!) from here on out, it's easy to see where the mountain got its name.
At about 3.0 miles, the trail swings back to the west and you'll get your first views of the lookout tower perched on the summit. Reach a small meadow and a potential rest stop at 3.2 miles and 4,900'. We call this, "Decision-making Plateau." Shortly after, the trail splits into two different routes to the top. Going left at the rock spine will lead to a series of scrambles through huge granite boulders in a direct path to the summit. Going right at the rock spine will take you to the backside of the mountain on a far easier (but a bit longer) route to the summit.
We recommend going right at the rock spine. This route wraps around to the backside of the mountain and through another small meadow before switchbacking up to the lookout. (Please note that snow conditions can vary this route in spring and early summer. Use your best judgement.)
Once at the summit – if the weather is clear – you'll be treated to spectacular 360-degree views. Look north at Crystal and Denny Lakes with Glacier Peak off in the distance, south to Mount Rainier, and west to Bandera Mountain. Enjoy; the view doesn't get much better than this on the I-90 corridor.
Permits & Tips
Northwest Forest Pass required. Keep dogs on leash. Bring plenty of water and sun protection for the fully exposed upper section of the trail. Use extreme caution in the spring and early summer as avalanches frequently occur on the upper slopes of the mountain. Trekking poles can be helpful.
How to get there
Head east on I-90 to exit 47.
Turn left (north) at the end of the off-ramp and drive back over the freeway 0.1 miles to a T in the road.
Turn left at the T (clearly signed) towards the Pratt Lake/Granite Mountain Trailhead.
Parking lot is 0.3 miles further. Additional parking is found along the side of the road as needed.