As winter slowly turns to spring, many south and west facing slopes are beginning to melt free of snow. For the first time in months I’ve been leaving the skis behind and grabbing the hiking boots again to do some cross country rambling.
This past weekend I drove an hour from the Methow and visited Chiliwist Butte, a former fire lookout site near Malott. Its lower 3,078′ elevation makes it a great early season destination. As an added bonus, the Chilowist area has some really neat history.
The Chilowist Trail
The Chilowist Trail was one of the earliest 19th century routes into the Methow from the Okanogan Valley, used by native Methow people. The route traveled from Chilowist Creek over Three Devils Mountains, eventually dropping down into the Benson Creek drainage. Most traveled by foot or horseback. Later, white settlers would use the route, dismantling their wagons for an arduous several day trek. Eventually a wagon road was built from Brewster in 1891.
This excellent article in the now retired Methow Grist talks about the history of the Methow people and mentions the Chilowist Trail as well.
Chiliwist Butte Fire Lookout
The former Chiliwist Butte fire lookout site is not actually on the high point of Chiliwist Butte nor is it at the location of the USGS benchmark placed over a half mile away. Many have visited Chiliwist Butte and reported no former fire lookout artifacts but they most certainly visited the wrong location.
The actual location of the former fire lookout is on a knoll between Chiliwist Butte and the benchmark site. The site still has old concrete lookout footings, anchors, some rusty artifacts, and a geocache hidden into the summit rocks with a fun collection of knickknacks.
The Chiliwist Butte lookout site was established in 1934 as a Crows Nest tree lookout with L-5 cab. In 1939 a 30′ L-4 was built and the L-5 was moved over to Jackass Butte east of Okanogan. In 1954, the L-4 cab from Chiliwist was moved over to the new tower on Leecher Mountain where it remains today.
The best way to access the fire lookout site is from a parking area at the Chiliwist Wildlife Area off Chiliwist Road, just south of Malott on Highway 97. From January until May the road is gated at the parking area to reduce vehicular stress on wintering mule deer. Outside that time it’s possible to drive to a higher parking area but the conditions can be rough and may require a high-clearance 4×4.
The hike to the lookout site is roughly 3 miles one way and a dirt road will get you most of the way there. With snow still present in some low lying areas, I opted to follow the road about 2 miles before venturing cross country to the summit.
If you do visit in winter months when the gate is closed, give wildlife lots of space and if you bring a dog, make sure they are well-behaved and don’t chase wildlife. Mule deer who have survived a long, harsh winter are especially susceptible to stress.
Date Climbed: 3/8/21
Distance (RT): 6.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,653′
Summit Elevation: 3,078′