Somewhere between glamping and backcountry camping, there is a lesser known, but just-as-rewarding way to spend a night in the woods.
Fire towers were originally built in National Forests throughout the country as a way to locate, track, and combat wildfires. However, as fire detection methods improved, all but 900 fire towers were abandoned or dismantled.
Today, several hundred fire towers are still actively staffed during fire season, while others have been carefully refurbished, revived, and protected to allow visitors to experience what it’s like to sleep high above the treetops in some of the country’s most incredible wild places.
With a limited number of towers available for overnight use, we decided to put together five fire towers that can be reserved for your next summer vacation.
Evergreen Mountain Lookout, Washington
Situated in the Wild Sky Wilderness Area, the Evergreen Mountain Lookout is a primitive 14-by-14-foot cabin sitting 5,587 feet above pristine Washington wilderness.
During World War II, Evergreen Mountain Lookout served as an aircraft warning station, before becoming an active fire tower in the 1980s. In the 1990s, the fire tower was given a much-needed makeover and placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Today, in addition to its impressive history, the Evergreen Mountain Lookout offers visitors an opportunity to experience a weekend soaking up incredible panoramic views of iconic Washington peaks, like the beloved Mount Rainier, Glacier Peak, and Sloan Peak.
Adventure seekers will appreciate the moderate hike to the Evergreen Lookout, which climbs through dense old growth forest, traverses alpine meadows, and passes the old Evergreen Mountain Burn from 1967.
The Evergreen Mountain Lookout is one of few remaining lookouts that can be reserved in advance via Recreation.gov, so we recommend you plan ahead and make your reservations as soon as they are available—180 days in advance.
Keep in mind there is no water or heat at the site, and the lookout is outfitted with very few rustic amenities. You’ll be expected to pack in and pack out your daily essentials. Fortunately, what this historic fire tower lacks in facilities, it makes up for in incredible scenery, so don’t forget to pack a camera before you hit the trail. (Note: The season dates for 2019 are Aug. 16 through Sept. 30.)
Shorty Peak, Idaho
Imagine waking up in the morning to 360-degree, panoramic views of the lush Selkirk Mountains in Northern Idaho. Shorty Peak is a remote, rustic fire lookout—surrounded by expansive, unobstructed, incredible mountain scenery—located in the Lower Kootenai River Area of Idaho’s Panhandle.
Shorty Peak was constructed in 1927, and despite being restored in 2005, it has retained most of its original, modest character. In fact, at the center of the fire tower is an Osborne Fire Finder, a device that was once used to locate a plume of smoke from a forming fire. Today, visitors use the Osborne Fire Finder to identify and enjoy nearby peaks.
To access Shorty Peak, you’ll take a modest 2.5-mile trail that steadily climbs 1,300 feet. The lookout itself is a humble 15-by-15-foot area that can accommodate two guests and is equipped with a table, chairs, and two twin beds.
Resources are very limited and visitors are urged to bring plenty of water, cooking supplies, bedding, and food. However, there is a pit toilet and a natural spring close by. As with any popular fire tower, it’s recommended that you reserve Shorty Peak well in advance. (Note: The season dates for 2019 are June 28 through Sept. 23.)
Spruce Mountain Fire Lookout, Wyoming
You won’t be bothered to pitch a tent, sleeping 55 feet above the isolated Wyoming wilderness. The Spruce Mountain Fire Lookout was opened to the public in 1977 and offers visitors 360-degree, panoramic views of Medicine Bow National Forest.
Topping out at over 10,000 feet, the Spruce Mountain fire lookout is an ideal getaway for stargazers and adventurers looking for a low-key mountain retreat. Unlike other, more primitive lookouts, this cabin is furnished with two single beds, a propane heater, lights, basic cookware, a propane cook stove and an oven to cook your favorite gourmet camp meals.
If you’re a little uneasy about finding relief in the woods, rest assured knowing there’s a pit toilet nearby. The tower itself is easily accessible—simply pull up, park, and climb to the top. At only $40 a night, this unique bungalow in the woods won’t break the bank. Just don’t forget to book it well in advance!
Squaw Mountain, Colorado
Colorado is no stranger to swanky ski resorts and towering mountain peaks. But if you’re looking to escape the bustling mountain resorts and want to find solitude in the Rockies, Squaw Mountain Fire Tower is the perfect rustic retreat.
Sitting at 11,000-feet in elevation, Squaw Mountain Fire Tower brings new meaning to a room with a view. The entire structure is lined with windows and constructed of native granite, making it one of the most unique fire towers on this list.
You can sip on your favorite morning blend and watch the sun come up from the deck or hang a hammock from a nearby tree and soak up views of nearby snow-capped peaks.
Don’t worry though, you won’t be completely off the grid. Although Squaw Mountain does not offer access to water, it is equipped with an electric stove, refrigerator, beds, a table, chairs, cookware, and an exterior incinerating toilet.
Squaw Mountain is accessible year-round, but it’s recommended that visitors have a high-clearance vehicle to navigate the rough road to the top. (Note: The season dates for 2019 are May 1 through Oct. 31.)
Girard Ridge Lookout, California
One of the last standing fire towers in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest and the last of its kind in California, Girard Ridge Lookout sits at 4,089 feet above the Sacramento River Canyon.
Visitors to Girard Ridge Lookout will experience panoramic views of classic California icons like Mt. Shasta, the Castle Crags, and Lassen Peaks, in addition to being immersed in dense conifer forest. Girard Ridge is the epitome of mountain solitude and offers very few amenities and facilities.
There is no electricity, water, heat source or cooking appliances available, so you’ll want to treat a trip to Girard Ridge like a traditional camping trip and pack all of your essentials. Fortunately, you won’t have to sleep on the floor—the tower does offer two twin beds with mattresses. (Note: The season dates for 2019 are June 1 through Oct. 31.)
If you’re looking for a unique, rustic camping experience, fire tower lookouts offer fascinating history and incomparable panoramic views high above the treetops. Some towers are first come, first serve, while others can be reserved in advance.
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