Every summer we pack our down jackets, cameras and mountain bikes and head off to stay for a long weekend at one of the many historic fire lookouts available for rent all across the US. These restored lookouts, with their 360-degree views of the surrounding area, rustic amenities and rather secluded environments provide an intimate and awe-inspiring alternative to other sheltered camping. A weekend at a lookout is a few days in which to seek adventure, reflection and the rewarding satisfaction of time spent with nature. Want to try it out? Read along for some tips.
1. Plan ahead. There are a plethora of fire lookouts to choose from all over the US and Canada (some in Australia too!). Not all are available for overnight stay, and ones that are fill up quickly! Make your summer or fall reservations early, and keep in mind that the rental window depends on the location of each lookout.
2. Pack a puffy. Although summer days up in a sunny fire lookout can get pretty hot, the nights can get wonderfully chilly. You may decide to take a night hike or ride, watch for shooting stars or take some long exposure shots of the night sky, so remember to pack appropriately. You will be happy to have your Nau M2 Beanie and Down Stole or Sweater when the temperature drops.
3. Remember water. Most fire lookouts are rustic to say the least. Accommodations can include electricity, beds/cots, wood burning stoves or ovens, but amenities depend on each lookout. Most do not have water nearby, so remember to pack as much water as you will need for the entire trip, including drinking water for people and dogs, as well as water for doing dishes and bathing.
4. Read up on fire lookout history. Most lookouts come with rich histories of their time as proud symbols of forest conservation. Spend some time looking at the log books, maps and reading materials in the lookout. Many lookouts still have Osborne Fire Finders that were used to estimate the location of a fire seen in the distance. Additionally, the Forest Fire Lookout Association has compiled a wonderful collection of books on the topic.
5. Enjoy! Fire lookouts are a unique way to enjoy the outdoors. The panoramic views from a lookout can be truly breathtaking. Depending on where you decide to visit, activities can include hiking, biking, berry picking, birding, star gazing and swimming. A visit to a lookout is unlike any other camping experience – unique in the fact that high above the ground, swaying ever so slightly, one can find a quiet solitude that is often missing in our daily lives.
Words by Epiphany Couch.