At 2.282m (7,488ft) above the sea level, in the North Cascade Mountains of Washington, USA, sits the Slate Peak fire lookout tower. The road to Hart's Pass and on to Slate Peak is the highest maintained road in Washington State. During the Cold War, Slate Peak’s summit was leveled (reducing its height by 41 feet) for construction of an Air Force radar station. The station was never built but the road to the summit remains.
Located in Okanogan County, this gravel road is winding, in some places only wide enough for one vehicle, and in many places bordered by a drop of many hundreds of feet unprotected by guardrails. Once intended as an Air Force radar station site, the leveled summit now hosts a fire lookout tower. The top of the peak was leveled off to accommodate the radar site, but then the site was never built. All that remains is a large concrete slab. The road was constructed during the 1950's as part of a defense project for the "Cold War". It’s one of the highest mountain roads of Washington.
A sudden drop in the temperature, even in summer, can trigger winter-like conditions. The road to the top—a white-knuckle driving experience open from about early July to early October. This road is not passable for trailers. The road narrows at times following a scree cliff. At Hart's Pass turn right past the ranger station building and continue up Slate Peak to the roads end and parking trailhead. The last 0.3-mile to 7,488-foot Slate Peak is narrow and steep, averaging 16.5 percent! It has stretches to 27 percent! The mountaintop provides 360-degree views of the Cascade Mountains and features a fire lookout tower. The peak is snow-covered much of the year and the road closed between October and June.
Don’t forget your camera! This drive up the mountain is totally worth it. Once you get to the top of Slate Peak the panoramic views are quite spectacular. There aren't many places in the state you can see views like these without a long hike. From the lookout you have a 360 degree amazing view of all the great peaks of the Cascades. Go on a clear day, you won't regret it. Once you get to Hart's Pass, you really must travel the remaining 1.8 miles to Slate Peak. The road is gated at the base of Slate Peak. Walk the remaining 1/4 mile to the top, elevation 7488', and enjoy the stunning views. Signs around the top of Slate Peak show the skyline and the names of the major visible peaks.
Located in the Pasayten Wilderness of the Okanogan National Forest, it’s a real challenging road and a true test of your vehicle and your stamina because the road abounds in twists and turns with wheels sometimes hanging above the precipice. Much of it is a single lane with pullouts, so you won't be racing up it and passing cars along the way. But it's in good shape and can be traveled by any highway vehicle with reasonable clearance. At Hart's Pass, turn right onto Slate Peak Road, shown as Forest Service Road #5400. Continue for the remaining 3 miles past Slate Pass at 6,900 feet to the locked gate just below the summit. There's a section of gravel road that's one lane, without guardrails, and there is a few hundred foot drop off the shoulder. It's straight down and pretty scary.
Pic: Patrick McManus