Renting Fire Lookouts in the Pacific Northwest

Considerations, Part I

Nothing beats a small house in the woods. Removing oneself from the demands of society and escaping to a secluded and pristine natural getaway is always on the top of almost everyone's list. As Thoreau put it in his book Walden,"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

In this guide to renting fire lookouts, guard stations, ranger cabins, warming shelters and bunkhouses in the National Forests of Oregon and Washington, there are things to consider. You should be aware of what to bring, safety, and of course responsible use before setting off for seclusion in the woods. Once you get the basics down, we have selected a few spots to tempt you — Acker Rock, located in Oregon's Umpqua National Forest; Five Mile Butte, in Mt. Hood National Forest; and Indian Ridge within Willamette National Forest.The lookouts can range from a luxurious cabin just off the road to a remote 60-foot high tower deep in the wilderness.

-- GORP Editors


We urge readers to use common sense when evaluating their hiking and skiing skills. If we say a hike is arduous, it may be impossible for some though easy for others. If we say the road is rough, leave the Maserati at home. Skiing to some of these places in a winter snowstorm might be thrilling for some but fatal for others. You will usually find at least one knowledgeable person at every Ranger District who will give you the information you need about weather, access, road conditions, snow depth, and difficulties you are likely to encounter at any particular time of year.

Always be well-prepared when entering the backcountry, especially in wintertime. Carry tire chains and a shovel. During a typical winter you may be traveling on skis or snowshoes for as much as ten miles or as little as a few hundred yards, depending on your particular destination. A longer trip can be extremely difficult in snow and could take an entire day. Plan accordingly and start early. Although there might be clear road access to the cabin or lookout on your way in, a heavy overnight snowfall could leave you stranded there, even in late fall or early spring. Be well-prepared. Carry extra clothing in waterproof containers. Be sure to notify someone of your destination, including departure and return dates.

If you intend bringing young children to a fire-lookout tower, please inquire from the managing Ranger District whether it is safe to do so. Some of the lookouts are ideal for children of any age, while others, because of their height, steep stairways, and precipitous, rocky surroundings are not.

Occasionally, during strong winds, lookout towers may sway slightly. Don't worry, they are built to do this. It is safer to remain in the tower than to attempt to descend the stairway during lightning or a wind storm. The lookout is well grounded ... you may not be.

Many of the lookouts and cabins are equipped with propane appliances-heating, cooking, lighting. Use caution when using these and please remember to turn them off completely when leaving.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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