National Forest Foundation

Fire Lookouts in Oregon + a Few Tips on Booking Your Own

Adventures, Cabins and Lookout Towers

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We asked experienced lookout user, Kat Dierickx, Marketing Director for Outdoor Project, for some insight into one of the best outdoor experiences available. Explore some of her favorite lookouts in Oregon and start planning your trip today.

The cold wind whistles outside, a cracking fire warms the air, and the stillness of the surroundings puts your soul at ease. It doesn't matter how you get there, an overnight stay at a fire lookout is an adventure I highly recommend. Your adventure to the lookout will be filled with skiing, snowshoeing, or hiking through the National Forest, followed by a 360-degree sunset view as you prepare your evening feast. When the sky darkens, grab your nightcap and step outside for some of the best stargazing you'll ever get.

Early fire detection became a priority for the Forest Service after the devastating fires of 1910. Fire lookouts soon appeared in National Forests all over the country to help aid detection. Lookout operators reported fires using telephones, carrier pigeons, and heliographs. While the Forest Service carrier pigeons have all retired, a number of the fire lookouts are still in working order and are manned during fire season. Once the fire season dies down, the lookouts become available to the public for overnight stays. There are 20 such lookouts in Oregon alone.

Booking a fire lookout can be a tedious task as they are growing in popularity and the experience is high in demand. All lookouts can be booked online at recreation.gov. Here are a few tips to help the search and score yourself a night, or two, in a 40-foot-tall historic lookout.

  • Be flexible. Take one of those unused vacation days and head out during the week.
  • Lookouts can be reserved up to six months in advance, so set a reminder on your calendar to look earlier in the year and early in the day.
  • If you want to go for the weekend, look on a Thursday. The reservations open by day, and if you book on the last open Thursday, you can book through the weekend even if it's not actually available yet.
  • Check in often because people often cancel their reservations at the last minute. You may be able to nab a reservation just as it opens up.

Here are a few of my favorite lookouts in Oregon.

Flag Point: This lookout located in the Mount Hood National Forest is my absolutely favorite so far. The hike in is riddled with one view after another until to reach the lookout, which has the best view of them all. Mount Hood is front and center outside the front door. The wood shed is fully stocked, and the stove and propane lights make for a wonderful ambiance for relaxing the night away.

Photo by Kat Dierickx, Outdoor Project.

Flag Point Lookout in the Mt. Hood National Forest.

Clear Lake Butte : This is another gem in the Mount Hood National Forest. Again, boasting beautiful views of Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson and Timothy Lake. The trek to the tower is short, but steep enough to encourage a light load.

Photo by Halvor Tweto, Outdoor Project.

Clear Lake Lookout in the Mount Hood National Forest.

Pickett Butte: I was able to drive right up to this lookout when I visited the end of November. Even though Pickett Butte is fairly accessible by vehicle, the stairs are quite steep making it a bit more difficult for kids or pets. I actually had to have my dog sleep in the car.

Photo by Kat Dierickx, Outdoor Project.

Pickett Butte Lookout in the Umpqua National Forest.

Photo by Kat Dierickx, Outdoor Project.

Pickett Butte Lookout in the Umpqua National Forest.

Fivemile Butte : Fivemile is available all year long and beautiful all year long. Though the mountain views aren’t quite the same as at other lookouts, the tower stands even with the trees around it giving a different sense of seclusion. Seeing as it doesn’t still function as an operated lookout, the trees have not been trimmed to maintain a further line of sight.

Photo by Eric Guth, Outdoor Project.

Fivemile Butte Lookout in the Mount Hood National Forest.

Warner Mountain: The trek to Warner Mountain is a nice 12-mile trail primed for skiing and snowshoeing making this feel like one of the most remote lookouts in Oregon. The trip in is most certainly worth it as the views from the 40-foot tower will take your breath away.

Photo by Jessica Beauchemin, Outdoor Project.

Warner Mountain Fire Lookout in the Willamette National Forest.

Pack up your gear, leave your gadgets, and head to one of these unique escapes on top of the world (or what feels like it, anyway). You won't be disappointed.


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