The Cougar Peak Lookout offers guests an opportunity to experience an old-time Forest Service lookout. The tower commands an impressive view of the river valley, the surrounding Cabinet Mountains and the opposing Coeur d'Alene Mountains. The structure is small and is not elevated like many other lookouts, and is available for rent from June 20 to September 18 each year. The lookout can be accessed by vehicle, although late spring snow drifts may compromise parts of the road, requiring visitors to hike a short distance. Guests are responsible for their own travel arrangements and safety, and must bring several of their own amenities.
The 14-by-14 structure is small, but can accommodate up to four people. There is a full bed for two with a mattress pad, a table with two chairs, and a wood stove. No other furnishings are provided. A rustic outhouse with a vault toilet is available about 200 feet from the lookout, at the parking area. Guests will need to bring water for drinking, cooking and cleaning purposes, as well as their own bedding and cots for additional sleeping options, cooking and eating equipment and fuel, cooking and eating utensils, flashlights, matches and toilet paper, among other necessities. There is no water available at the site. There is room for a small tent outside the tower. Guests should be prepared for cold and often wet or damp weather, even if the weather in the valley is warm and dry. Food, garbage and other waste needs to be put away at all times to avoid attracting bears. Firewood may be collected locally for the wood stove.
A new rental facility is now available on the Plains/Thompson Falls Ranger District. Big Hole Lookout is now open to the public to rent from June 17 to October 7.
Maximum stay limit is 3 nights per reservation.
The tower is situated in the Clark Fork River drainage, at an elevation of 6,694 feet, in the Cabinet Mountains of western Montana. It was built in 1952 to replace an existing, older structure dating back to the 1930s. The lookout was part of the old Cabinet National Forest, which was divided by the Forest Service in 1954 to become the Lolo National Forest.
The 2 million-acre forest includes four wilderness areas and a wide variety of trees, plants and wildlife. The area is home to mountain goats, bighorn sheep, elk, moose, deer and grizzly and black bears (learn more about bear safety). Both the bald and golden eagle reside in the forest, along with trumpeter swan, herons and dozens of varieties of ducks.
A variety of trails and points of exploration are accessible from the lookout. The Cougar Peak Trail follows the ridge below the lookout and travels towards Vermillion Pass to the northeast. The Clark Fork River is dammed twice within an hour drive of the lookout. The Noxon Rapids and the Cabinet Gorge dams create reservoirs that have become popular spots for boating and fishing for large and smallmouth bass, as well as northern pike.
408 CLAYTON, PO BOX 429 PLAINS MT 59859
For campground inquiries, please call: 406-826-3821
From Thompson Falls, Montana, travel west on Highway 200 for about a mile. Before crossing the Clark Fork River bridge, turn right onto Blue Slide Road and continue about 8 miles, to the junction with Forest Road 403. Turn right and travel about 14 miles to the lookout. Maps are available online or for purchase by calling the Plains/Thompson Falls Ranger District.