In 1956, Jack Kerouac spent 63 days as a U.S. Forest Service fire lookout atop 6,102-foot Desolation Peak – escaping friends and drugs, and getting material for The Dharma Bums. The view is still soul-cleansing and surreal. Wind-twisted pines look like Dr. Seuss sentinels – below, Ross Lake meanders like a fjord, and the white peaks of 100 Cascade mountains can be seen for miles. It's a heavy trip – 16 miles from the Ross Lake Dam, and another hot and steep 4,400-foot hike to the summit – so learn from Kerouac and stay a while.
Getting there: From the Bellingham airport, drive two hours on Highway 20, leave your car at the trailhead by mile marker 138, and then hike north along the East Bank Trail for 16 miles to the Lightning Creek Camp trailhead. Or rent a canoe from the Ross Lake Resort near mile marker 134 and boat across the 12 miles of Ross Lake to Lightning Creek Camp. Seven miles and 4,500 feet of elevation gain are between you and the summit. You can't camp in the ranger station, but there are five campsites at the Lightning Creek Camp.