Camping with a view in obsolete fire towers

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of April 30-May 6, 1998
Skiing in Austria: finding Europe’s Vail
Camping with a view in obsolete fire towers
Biking in Glacier: road or mountain?
Hiking around Scotland’s Loch Ness

Camping with a view in obsolete fire towers
Question: Some time ago I read (I think it was in Outside but I’m not sure) that certain areas in the Western United States were experimenting with offering obsolete fire towers as back country campsites. I don’t remember whether it was at the local, state, or federal level. Do you have any information about this?

Doug Colonna
Fremont, California

Obsolete fire towers are open to
campers in the Rocky Mountains

Adventure Adviser: Outside’s May 1997 Destinations article “Sleeping Beauties” is the missing link. According to the article, there are 28 lookouts open to campers in the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains. Even with that seemingly large number, however, the Forest Service is having a hard time keeping up with the demand for these rustic rooms with a view. In some of the highly peopled areas such as Northern California it’s not uncommon to have to make reservations months in advance. But if you’re willing to head back East to the less populated but equally scenic states of Montana and Idaho, you’ll find some 1940s-era gems that don’t require a waiting list. McCart Lookout is one such jewel. In Montana’s Bitterroot National Forest, the lookout stands on 20-foot stilts — high enough to provide wraparound views of the surrounding Sapphire Mountain Range. An added bonus: It’s very close to some stellar hiking trails that will take you to the top of Johnson Peak, where the trees fall away to endless vistas. The McCart Lookout rents for approximately $25 per night. Call 406-821-3201 for more details. If you curdle at the thought of climbing a rickety ladder to bunk down for the night, the appropriately named Shorty Peak lookout in northern Idaho may be more your style. Only five feet off the ground, the lookout still offers views clear into British Columbia. The one bummer: you’re smack in the middle of grizzly country so take the shrill lecture from the ranger quite seriously. The Shorty Peak lookout is available for approximately $20 per night. Call 208-267-5561 for more details. For information on the remaining 26 towers in the Forest Service system, call their public affairs line at 202-205-1760.
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