If you’ve played the indie-hit video game FireWatch, by Campo Santo, then chances are that you fell in love with the idea of staying in a fire tower, just as I have.
According to Outside Online, the American novelist and poet, Jack Kerouac, famously spent the summer of 1956 manning a fire tower on Washington’s Desolation Peak, in the northern Cascades. Even though he was alone with pencil and paper by design, he didn’t get much writing done. I don’t blame him, the views from the tower are incredible and there’s plenty to fill an adventurer’s time for 63 days.
If the idea of a few days in the sky in a cool-looking fire tower is appealing, you’ll be pleased to know that you can actually rent one on a nightly or weekly basis.
Since Jack Kerouac’s stay in the 50s, new technologies have made fire lookouts mostly obsolete, some were even torn down. Others were left to rust and splinter, becoming squatter’s dens and canvases for high-altitude graffiti artists. But dozens around the US have survived and are available for rent, evolving into modest sources of revenue for the U.S. Forest Service’s depleted accounts. The Forest Fire Lookout Association maintains a list of available towers; many are available for as little as $20 a night.
We take a look at a few below:
Black Mountain Lookout, California
Black Mountain Lookout is located on the eastern edge of the Beckwourth Ranger District, 10 miles from Highway 395, near Milford, California.
The lookout was constructed in 1934 and is a great example of Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) architecture. The C-3-type lookout is situated on a single story 10 foot tower and is extremely well-preserved.
The one-room lookout cabin is set on a tower, rising 10 feet above the ground. It is furnished with two single beds with mattresses, but can accommodate up to four people. There is also space for tent camping adjacent to the lookout, for up to four visitors.
A closer look in pictures:
Hirz Mountain Lookout, California
This fire tower sits atop Hirz Mountain, California at an elevation of 3,540 feet, offering 360-degree views of Mt. Shasta’s snow-laced peak to the north.
The McCloud River Wintu tribe held Hirz Mountain in reverence and had a name for it in their own language. But it was a miner, Henry Hirz, who gave the mountain its modern name.
When the lookout was built, it was originally a structure that sat on the ground. The mountain was a strategic location for detecting fires because it had a direct view into the headwaters of the McCloud River and most of its tributaries. In 1937, the Forest Service and the Civilian Conservation Corps rebuilt the Hirz Mountain Lookout cabin and included a garage and outhouse. It was one of the last CCC-era lookouts to be built. In 1949, a steel tower was added, constructed of a steel K-brace tower that stands 20 feet above ground level.
A quick look inside the tower:
Hornet Lookout, Montana
The Hornet Lookout is as old school as it gets and features a two-story construction. The ground level provides a living space for two guests and the second story is a small loft used solely for full views of the region. The lookout’s rustic accommodations include a propane cook stove, propane lantern and a small wood stove for heat.
The lookout provides astounding 360-degree views of the surrounding terrain, including Glacier National Park and Kintla Lake on clear days. Apparently, on some nights, the Northern Lights may be seen from the lookout.
A ‘slightly’ more modern look:
Fall Mountain Lookout Cabin, Oregon
Fall Mountain Lookout Tower is situated about 20 miles from John Day, in central Oregon. It provides 360-degree views of the surrounding Strawberry Mountain Wildness, as well as the towns of Seneca and Mt. Vernon.
The tower was built in 1933 and sits at an elevation of 5,949 feet. Before satellite surveillance systems, lookout personnel monitored the forest from this 18-foot perch for signs of smoke, alerting fire guards when necessary. Today guests can watch the sun rise and set, spot wildlife from the catwalk and witness dramatic thunderstorms that traverse the territory during summer months.
The one-room, 14-by-14 cabin sits atop an 18-foot tower and sleeps two. The cabin is furnished with a futon bed and a table and chairs. It has electricity and in the kitchen area, an electric stove and refrigerator.
Here’s a few more snaps:
Indian Ridge Lookout, Oregon
The Indian Ridge Lookout sits at an elevation of 5,405 feet in the Willamette National Forest. Indian Ridge was named for the old Indian hunting trail that runs along the summit.
Built in 1958, the lookout was used for firefighting by Forest Service personnel until 1973 and is still staffed occasionally during emergencies.
A closer look inside the tower:
Little Guard Lookout, Idaho
The newest tower on this list, the Little Guard Lookout is located about 9 miles north of Shoshone Camp, was one of the last remaining fire lookouts used in the Coeur d’Alene River area and has only just recently become inactive.
The structure standing today on Little Guard Peak is the third in a series of lookout buildings that originated back to 1919. In October 1990, Little Guard Lookout was accepted for listing in the National Historic Lookout Register and the first for Idaho.
The fully furnished two-story fire lookout has dimensions of 14 x 14 feet, an external cat walk, and a gabled roof. It sleeps four guests, but space is tight. The kitchen is on the ground floor and is equipped with a small propane refrigerator, propane cook stove, table, chairs and basic cooking utensils.
A few more photos:
Spruce Mountain Fire Lookout Tower
Perched atop a forested mountain, Spruce Mountain Fire Lookout Tower offers panoramic views that include Medicine Bow Peak, Rob Roy Reservoir, Jelm Mountain and the southern end of the Snowy Range. After being occupied as a fire lookout, the 55-foot tall structure was renovated and opened to the public for overnight rental in 1977.
The lookout cabin is furnished with two single beds with mattresses and can accommodate up to four guests. Inside amenities include a table with chairs, cookware, dishes, utensils, cleaning supplies, a propane heater, propane cook stove and oven, propane refrigerator and propane lights.
For more information on renting one of these towers visit firelookout.org. But first, let me know which one is your favourite?
All photos: courtesy Recreation.gov