Spotlight: Experience the Forest from a Fire Lookout
Expansive views, solitude, and heritage perched on higher grounds as you overnight in a fire lookout tower!
“I came to a point where I needed solitude and just stop the machine of 'thinking' and 'enjoying' what they call 'living,' I just wanted to lie in the grass and look at the clouds." -Jack Kerouac
What You’ll Find
These peak-top cabins offer the best views in the forest sitting high atop the mountains with a 360 degree bank of windows and observation deck to experience the entire landscape all at once.
Lookouts are remnants of an early wildfire detection system; some of which are still used to spot fires today. Towers were built on mountain tops high above the trees and provide the people who serve as lookouts the ability to spot smoke and alert firefighting forces on the ground. The towers are equipped with comfortable living space and provide a unique experience for those who seek amazing views.
There are dozens of reservable lookouts located across the country available through Recreation.gov. Here are just a few examples from California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Wyoming.
- Girard Ridge Lookout, Shasta-Trinity National Forest, California — This restored lookout is the oldest of its kind in California and offers incredible views of Mount Shasta, Castle Crags and Lassen Peak.
- Deadwood Lookout Recreation Cabin, Boise National Forest, Idaho — Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1934, this unique location is the most popular rental cabin in Idaho.
- Up Up Lookout, Lolo National Forest, Montana — This 40-foot-tall tower sits at an elevation of 5,900 feet and offers an expansive view of the St. Regis River drainage and the surrounding high-alpine country.
- Fall Mountain Lookout Cabin, Malheur National Forest, Oregon — This cabin accommodates two people, is equipped with electricity, and offers stunning views of the Strawberry Wilderness in central Oregon.
- Spruce Mountain Fire Lookout Tower, Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest and Thunder Basin National Grassland, Wyoming — At more than 10,000 feet in elevation, this tower provides the birds-eye-view of surrounding peaks and the southern end of the Snowy Range.
Make Sure You
Bring your binoculars, spotting scopes and cameras. The views from these unique structures provide an experience like no other. Most lookouts are situated above treeline and offer opportunities to view wildlife, enjoy wildflowers and soak up solitude.
Visit the U.S. Forest Service History site to learn more about the origins of fire lookouts; the tools of the trade, like the Osborne fire finder; and the people who chose a life of solitude in these rugged, secluded and beautiful places.
Lookouts are not generally stocked with water, bedding, cooking supplies, toilet paper, etc. Visitors are expected to bring supplies and to pack out what they bring, as well as their trash. Read carefully the description of the lookout in which you are reserving to make sure you come prepared with the necessities; they are often isolated without easy access to services.
Lookout towers are generally at high-elevation, which can also cause illness. Please read our Avoiding Altitude Sickness article for details to detect symptoms and take action.
To reserve a lookout, simply search on Recreation.gov using the place you will be visiting for lookouts under the camping and lodging option. Reserving a lookout is extremely popular in many areas and may require several weeks or even months’ advanced reservations.
Did You Know?
During the summer of 1956, the famous author Jack Kerouac spent 63 days as a fire lookout at Desolation Peak within the Ross Lake National Recreation Area in the North Cascade Mountains of Washington State.
Early fire detection became a top priority for the U.S. Forest Service following a series of devastating wildfires in 1910 when more than three million acres burned across Washington, Idaho and Montana; known as the Big Blowup. In response, fire lookout towers were built in forests across the country. By the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps joined the effort to build lookouts; many of which still stand today.