Which mountain has the highest road in Washington State as well as the highest elevation fire lookout tower? Answer: Slate Peak. The road was constructed during the 1950's as part of a defense project for the "Cold War", even though the Pacific Crest Trail passes near the summit. So why the tower on top? The original lookout hut was placed on the ground and anyone who has been to Slate Peak can testify that the view on the ground is good enough without any nearby tree cover. The answer is related to aforementioned abandoned defense project. Along with the construction of the road, 41 feet was blasted off the summit of Slate to make a wide, flat platform for a radar installation. The height of the current lookout was built to 41 feet in 1956 to restore the original view.
In many ways it is unfortunate that military project substantially changed the nature of Slate Peak. Besides reducing it's height by 41 feet, road access all the way to the summit has lowered it's perceived stature as a mountaineering goal by leaps and bounds. These facts set aside, it is still a very high peak by Washington standards and will be a noteworthy destination for any fire lookout enthusiast, or folks who wish to have an excellent view of Pasayten Wilderness peaks. On any given year, outside of August and September perhaps, some hiking may still be required to reach the summit. This was the case when I visited Slate. Above 7400 feet, snow lingers for some time and can return early in the fall season.
Perhaps you're planning an epic off-season outing and plan to snowshoe to the summit. For those who are determined to visit Slate Peak and expend a tremendous amount of energy in the process, there are several major trails that pass near the summit. The first is the Pacific Crest Trail but then there is also the Robinson Creek trail to the southeast, the Middle Fork Pasayten River trail to the northeast, and lastly the West Fork Pasayten River trail to the northwest.
The lookout building is locked closed as is the railing that surrounds it. When I was there in October 2011, the lock on the bottom of the hatch was broken so access to the railing was possible. But this is likely to be repaired soon so don't count on any access to the lookout itself beyond the stairs.
Getting There / Driving Directions
11 miles west of the town of Winthrop on Highway 20 is smaller town called Mazama. Don't blink because you might miss it. One mile from the highway in Mazama, turn left at the junction for Hart's Pass. This should be signed but on some maps it might appear as Lost Lake Road or Forest Service Road #5400. Continue on this road for 19 miles. The pavement ends after 7 miles but usually the road is kept in good condition. At Hart's Pass, turn right onto Slate Peak Road, shown as Forest Service Road #5400-5600 on some maps. Continue for the remaining 3 miles past Slate Pass at 6900 feet to the locked gate just below the summit.