The astounding views from the summit of the Granite Mountain trail come at a price. A nearly-1000-feet-of-elevation-gain-per-mile price. But views of pointed Kaleetan Peak, deep blue Crystal Lake, the climber-dotted Tooth, and Mount Rainier dominating the skyline to the south make it all worth it.
Note that while Granite Mountain is a popular summer route, in winter the way to the summit is considerably more dangerous. Have avalanche awareness training and proper gear for a winter outing here.
Begin at the Pratt Lake trailhead in cool, mossy forest, where you hike along a wide, moderately-graded tread. On the way to the junction for Granite Mountain Trail, a large switchback offers views straight up a steep, debris-filled avalanche chute. This is evidence of a real danger in the winter and early spring; hikers without avalanche gear are better off waiting until the snow has melted down before tackling Granite.
After 1.2 miles, arrive at the junction. Here the Pratt Lake trail continues on a moderate grade via the left fork, but your vertical adventure is just beginning. Granite Mountain Trail heads off to the right.
After the junction, the trail narrows and becomes rockier, so watch your step as you continue hiking through quiet forest. While it may be shady, it's unlikely you'll be chilly. The steep grade will keep you warm as you follow narrow switchbacks up, up, up.
Just under a mile from the junction, cross the avalanche chute you peered up near the beginning of the trail. A seasonal stream runs down the chute and early in the season you can replenish your water supply from it, but don't forget to filter! Continue past the chute and traverse eastward, up onto the shoulder of Granite Mountain. When you break into high meadows, the steep grade lessens. Catch your breath and scan the horizon. How many of the summits can you identify?
After orienting yourself, press on. The trail becomes increasingly rock-laden, slowing your pace as you clamber up and around large boulders. It's here that you realize just how appropriate Granite Mountain's name is. Fortunately, the views are gorgeous and huckleberry bushes line the trail. In late summer, the berries provide a rejuvenating snack. A switchback in the trail reveals the lookout that is your destination, but don't be fooled. From your first sighting of the structure it's still a mile to the summit.
The trail progresses north, with the lookout on your left. Leave the fields of huckleberries and follow the narrow, rocky trail through the bottom of a basin. Enjoy the easiest part of this hike, a jaunt through a green alpine meadow bordered by a talus slope to the south. The final push is a grunt, but the views! Break out above treeline onto a talus field, and marvel at the lookout perched on the rocks. Further afield, Mount Stuart and the Teanaway are visible to the east, Rainier commands your view to the south, and if it's a clear day, you can make out Baker floating on the northern horizon.
WTA Pro Tip: The Granite Mountain Lookout can accommodate a relatively small number of people. During the summer and especially on weekends, Granite Mountain can have as many as 100 hikers at its summit, so please be courteous to fellow hikers and limit your time spent exploring the lookout if there is a ranger at the summit who has opened it to the public. If there is no ranger or volunteer to staff it, the lookout is closed to the public.