Abandoned fire lookout stations are being repurposed as backcountry cabins, offering affordable rustic overnight retreats with stellar views
In the early 1900s, thousands of lookout stations were built across the Western U.S. to spot wildfires. The bare-bones dwellings atop mountains from Montana to California numbered around 5,000 by the 1930s. Over the years, modern fire surveillance technology rendered these cabins useless, and many of these mountain-top huts sat vacant, but now the U.S. Forest Service is offering these lookouts for overnight rental. (Many are even available midwinter.) Furnishings and provisions are minimal at best, so pack a sleeping bag, drinking water, and cooking supplies, and get ready to enjoy a backcountry hut with front row seats to stargazing, sunrises, and panoramic mountain views.
McCarthy Point Lookout, Lassen National Forest, California
Built in 1936 and used in World War II to monitor aircrafts, the McCarthy Point Lookout has views of the evergreens of northern California’s ruggedly remote Ishi Wildernesss. You can drive to this two-room cabin, which has a basic bedroom and kitchen and massive windows to take in the view, plus there’s hiking, fishing, and wildlife viewing right outside your door, with a chance to spot hawks, eagles, and wild hogs. Available June through October; $75 per night.
Fivemile Butte Lookout, Mt. Hood National Forest, Oregon
Mid-winter, you can ski or snowshoe three miles into Mt. Hood National Forest to reach the Fivemile Butte Lookout, a simple one-bedroom lodge outfitted with a wood stove and solar-powered lights. The stilted dwelling is surrounded by old-growth hemlock and ponderosa pine and has stellar views of Mount Hood, Mount Rainier, and Mount Adams. If you go in the summertime, you can drive rugged backroads all the way to the cabin. Open January through November; $50 per night.
Squaw Mountain Fire Lookout, Arapaho National Forest, Colorado
Built in the 1940s by the Civilian Conservation Corp, the Squaw Mountain Fire Lookout is located at 11,000 feet in Colorado’s Front Range. The one-room house has a granite base, plain furnishings, and spectacular views of Mount Evans, Pikes Peak, and Longs Peak. You access it from the town of Idaho Springs, off Interstate 70. In the summer, you can drive to within a mile of the lookout, then hike in for the final haul. In the winter, you’ll need to ski or snowshoe a couple of miles. Open year-round; $80 per night.
Calpine Fire Lookout, Tahoe National Forest, California
This three-story windmill-style lookout, built in 1935 and used until 1975, sits at nearly 6,000 feet in elevation in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada, about 40 miles from the town of Truckee. World-class mountain biking in the Downieville area is a short drive away, as is hiking along the Pacific Crest Trail. Plus, this spot is open all winter long, meaning you can ski or snowmobile directly to the lookout. Open year-round; $45 per night.
Webb Mountain Lookout, Kootenai National Forest, Montana
What the Webb Mountain Lookout lacks in size—the space is just 196 square feet—it more than makes up for with its view: sprawling vistas of Montana’s Koocanusa Reservoir and towering peaks surrounding it. A hike along the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail is accessible from the lookout tower, which was built in 1959. Amenities include a wood stove, an outhouse, and windows on all four sides. Open June through September; $35 a night.