The dry season is hopefully slowing down across the West — a reminder of how important it is to be vigilant about forest fires. There are many former fire lookouts across the country, many of which sit unused thanks to the way we now scan for fire, using satellites and radar.
They were all sited for their expansive views, and even if the job no longer exists, many of the towers still stand — and some of them are open to the public. Here are some of the most scenic fire lookouts that you can visit and spend the night in.
Park Butte, Washington
Waterfalls, wildflowers, unobstructed views of Mount Baker: The 7.5-mile hike into Park Butte is full of highlights, which is why the Park Butte Lookout is one of the most popular fire towers to visit. Try to head in early, or on a weekday, to snag a spot in the tower. If you do, you’ll be rewarded with 360-degree views of some of the North Cascades’ most dramatic peaks. Bonus: Check out the poetry register in the tower.
Garver Mountain, Montana
The remote Yaak Mountains in Montana’s Kootenai National Forest are some of the most rugged and beautiful in the country. Access and amenities are limited, and you might see more grizzlies than you do people, but the Garver Mountain Lookout puts you smack in the middle of prime hiking and trout-fishing terrain.
One of California’s three remaining windmill-style lookouts, which were built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, Calpine sits at nearly 6,000 feet, 40 miles outside of Truckee. You can rent out the top floor, which has beds and a kitchen and gets you immediate access to biking and hiking trails, including the nearby Pacific Crest Trail.
Desolation Peak, Washington
Most famous for being the lookout where Jack Kerouac spent the summer of 1956, the 3,500-foot climb up to the Desolation Peak Lookout will give you more than some Beat Generation history. The views of the North Cascades peaks, like Hozomeen, and the glacial green Ross Lake are worth the ascent.
Bald Knob, Oregon
Southwestern Oregon’s Bald Knob Lookout, which sits adjacent to both the Wild Rogue Wilderness and the Eden Valley, gets you access to hiking and biking trails, and some of the darkest skies in the country. It’s prime stargazing country, and you can reserve the flat-topped cabin ahead of time.
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