Peak Living: The World of Forest Fire Lookout Towers

When considering holidays of relaxation, what most often comes to mind is white sandy beaches, balconies nestled on coastline, and (if you’re lucky) a secluded island in the Maldives. However, getting away from it all and relaxing peacefully is not a travel area held by the tropics and Mediterranean alone.

For those looking for a good dose of solitude without maybe the heat and traditional humidity of the tropics, decommissioned fire lookouts can offer an alternative way of experiencing nature while taking in breath-taking views of the United States wilderness. Due to the advancements in technology and remote forest fire detection, most of the original 10,000 lookout positions have been closed down, with a few hundred remaining staffed by official US Forest Service lookouts, and others rented out for holiday makers wanting a more alternative experience of solitude and nature than perhaps a beach in the south of France can provide. For anyone with a keen interest in the American Pacific Northwest or potentially starting up an amateur production of the Revenant, renting out a Lookout tower is definitely a worthwhile consideration.

Hirz Mountain Lookout, California

However, what cannot be understated in the context of Lookouts is that the isolation will be more apparent than perhaps a conventional getaway. There is no television or internet in the wilderness, with very few enmities and the nearest town often a few hours’ drive away. It would be better to consider this as more of a camping trip than renting out a place to stay, as most of the gear will have to be brought with you, and a 15ft by 15ft tower cabin does not exactly match a hotel room (some cabins may not even have running water or electricity). Although with the isolation comes with what is often described as a spiritual and soulful experience that only true separation can provide. Lookouts employed by the Forest Service often describe the job as requiring an acceptance of the rhythm of nature rather than trying to fill your time with activities. Serving as a lookout or renting out a tower has also been used by many as a writing retreat, with authors such as Philip Connors writing about his experiences as a lookout in New Mexico over 14 summers in the early 2000s. The towers have also been touted as an ideal location for relationship building among couples, with the confined space allowing individuals to really get to know each other among the disconnectedness from the outside world. Just be mindful about the length of time you may want to spend in isolation as cabin fever may become a possibility depending on who you take with you. The areas around the towers also host a wealth of different wildlife, ranging from deer and goats to grizzly bears. This will offer appeal to any nature fans and will allow ample opportunity to explore outside the confines of the tower itself.

Deer Ridge Lookout, Idaho

In terms of the practicalities of renting, most of the available towers are managed through the US Forest Service and promoted by the Forest Fire Lookout Association (FFLA). Founded in 1990, the FFLA concerns itself with the protection and continued use of defunct Lookout posts across the US with an aim to encourage restoration of Lookout sites and increase awareness of their history and preservation. Most available cabins focus mainly around the Pacific Northwest and Rocky mountain states including Idaho, Montana and Oregon, although California has its own selection of towers available for rent.

One final note that may deter some, the weather may offer snags to your picturesque summer break in the American wilderness. Winter is obviously out of bounds for cabin rental, given the propensity of snow to diffuse a fire risk while rendering most mountain areas impassable. However, the summer can offer its own share of weather phenomena, mainly in the form of thunderstorms. Lookouts have described lightning storms as shaking tower windows and feeling like a miniature earthquake. The risk of direct lightning strikes is also a possibility, although most towers are equipped with grounding cables and lightning rods to deter any danger to occupants.

The Pacific Northwest is perhaps the last untouched wilderness of the continental United States, and for those who may want to experience the isolation and natural beauty in a more intimate fashion, renting a Lookout tower is an appealing prospect. If you can stomach the potential lightning storms and the disconnected environment, these relics of forest fire observation have the potential to offer an incredibly refreshing alternative to the more traditional havens of relaxation, and perhaps you might have some spiritual awakening along the way.

Traveler Photo — View from the top

More information on the remaining Lookouts can be found in this article. Link

Forest Fire Lookout Association (FFLA) website. Link

United States Forest Service page on cabin rentals Link