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Five Fire Lookout Cabins With Amazing Views

Abandoned fire lookout stations are being repurposed as backcountry cabins, offering affordable rustic overnight retreats with stellar views

Fire lookout at Park Butte, near Mt. Baker, WA. (Nick J Kelly/iStockphoto)
North Cascades National Park

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.

Filed To: Lodging / Travel
Nicolas Henderson/Creative Commons )

San Marcos, Texas

Billed as the world’s toughest canoe race, the Texas Water Safari, held each June, is a four-day, 260-mile jaunt from the headwaters of the San Marcos River northeast of San Antonio to the small shrimping town of Seadrift on the Gulf Coast. There’s no prize money—just bragging rights for the winner. Any boat without a motor is allowed, and you’ll have to carry your own equipment and overnight gear. Food and water are provided at aid stations along the way. Entry fees start at $175 and increase as race day approaches.

The Ring

(Courtesy Quatro Hubbard)

Strasburg, Virginia

The Ring is a 71-mile trail running race in early September along the entire length of Virginia’s rough and rocky Massanutten Trail loop. To qualify, you need to have run a 50- or 100-mile race before the event and win a spot through the lottery system. Entry is free. Complete the run and you’ll become part of the tight-knit Fellowship of the Ring and be eligible for the Reverse Ring, which entails running the trail backwards in the middle of winter.


(David Silver)

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Each spring, competitors gather in Santa Fe’s historic plaza with a simple goal: be the first to reach 12,308-foot Deception Peak, 17 miles and 5,000 feet of elevation gain away. Competitors run or bike the first 15 miles to the local ski area before transitioning to their waiting ski-touring setups for the final push to the top. Time stops only when they’ve skied back down to the tailgate in the resort’s parking lot, which is funded by the modest entry fee of around $25. To add to the sufferfest, some participants sign up for the Expedition category, in which they strap their skis, skins, boots, and poles to their bikes for the long ride up. Start dates vary depending on snow conditions, but look for the event page to be posted on Facebook in late March or early April.