Book a fire lookout rental for the weekend and you’ll enjoy exclusive accommodations with the best views in the forest.
In the 1930s, the government built a network of lookout cabins throughout the western United States to help the Forest Service spot wildfires. Most of them were decommissioned in the 1980s, though a few are still actively manned over summer.
Of course, we’re using the term “cabin” pretty loosely here. These aren’t luxury glamping accommodations — a fire lookout is just a 14’ x 14’ room with four walls and a roof. No running water, rarely electricity, basic (if any) heating, and a primitive toilet within walking distance. Not exactly the Four Seasons.
But here’s the thing — those four walls are covered in windows, and the cabin is on top of a mountain or ridge with 360-degree views extending for miles. For good measure, the cabin is often elevated one or more stories, amplifying the spectacular panoramic vistas.
During the day, you’ll enjoy sweeping views as far as the eye can see. By night, you’ll enjoy some of the best stargazing your city eyes have ever seen. And it doesn’t stop there — consider this your basecamp for adventure, as fire lookouts are often surrounded by epic hiking, fishing, snowshoeing, and cross country skiing.
When you’re ready for a truly unique overnight stay with breathtaking views, check out our list of the best fire lookout rentals across the country. Be sure to book your trip well in advance — these highly sought-after cabins sell out fast!
Clear Lake Cabin Lookout
Mt. Hood National Forest, Oregon
You’ll find the Clear Lake Cabin Lookout on the southern slope of Mt. Hood, the tallest of nine peaks in Oregon’s Cascade Mountain Range. Sitting atop 4,454-foot Clear Lake Butte, the lookout features sensational panoramic views of rugged Cascade peaks, alpine lakes, and snow-covered treetops.
Built in 1962, the Clear Lake Cabin Lookout is a 40-foot fire tower surrounded by a wooden catwalk. The 14’ x 14’ space is furnished with a small bed, a wood stove, and a table and chairs. The Forest Service is kind enough to provide firewood, which you’ll find stocked in the shed on-site. There’s a propane stove for cooking, solar powered lights, and an outhouse.
The Clear Lake Cabin Lookout is only accessible by snowshoeing, snowmobiling, or skiing up four miles from the parking area at Skyline Sno-Park, so you’ll enjoy complete isolation and privacy.
There’s plenty to do in the area, especially for winter sports enthusiasts. Consider booking a ski tour around the spring-fed Crater Lake, or bring your rod and reel for some mountain fishing (if you can find a lake or stream that isn’t frozen over).
Hager Mountain Lookout
Fremont-Winema National Forest, Oregon
One of the few fire lookouts that’s still actively staffed over summer, the Hager Mountain Lookout is available for rental during the off-season from November to May. It’s only accessible via a strenuous four-mile hike, so you’ll enjoy complete solitude in this rustic mountain retreat.
7,195-foot Hager Mountain is the product of dome-building volcanic eruptions about 8 million years ago. From its apex, you’ll enjoy jaw-dropping panoramic vistas of snow-capped peaks, wide open sage basins, and volcanic landslides. On a clear day, you can see as far as Mount Shasta and Mount Hood.
The Hager Mountain Lookout can accommodate four guests between three beds and mattresses. It’s equipped with a wood stove, countertop, and propane stove. Outside you’ll find a picnic table, firewood, and a pit toilet nearby.
Over the winter, Hager Mountain offers some of the best snowshoeing and cross country skiing in southern Oregon. In the spring, you’ll enjoy hiking and wildlife viewing. Stargazing is a year-round attraction, with the altitude and solitude combining to create a spectacular display of lights in the night sky.
Bald Knob Lookout
Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, Oregon
The Bald Knob Lookout sits 3,630 feet above the picturesque Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. From the top of Bald Knob, you’ll enjoy remarkable panoramic views of the Rogue River and Eden Valley.
The area features a particularly unique landscape that’s home to over 340,000 square miles of designated wilderness and 200 miles of streams and National Wild and Scenic Rivers.
At 16’ x 16’, the Bald Knob Lookout is actually a bit larger than the average fire lookout. The cabin is furnished with a single bed, a refrigerator, and a table and chairs. There’s a propane stove to cook your meals, a heater, and propane lighting (though you’re encouraged to bring additional lighting). Outside the cabin there’s a campfire ring, picnic table, and vault toilet.
The area has a rich wildlife population with sandhill cranes, spotted owls, bull elk, and colorful salamanders, so birding and wildlife viewing are popular activities. There’s also great hiking nearby, with the Panther Ridge Trail and Coquille River Falls Trail both within walking distance.
Black Mountain Lookout
Plumas National Forest, California
Plumas National Forest is known for its beautiful weather and distinctive land features, and the best way to experience the park is booking a stay at the Black Mountain Lookout. Originally built in 1934 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the well-preserved fire lookout offers stunning views of Last Chance Creek to the south and Honey Lake to the north.
Located on the eastern edge of the Beckwourth Ranger District near Milford, the Black Mountain Lookout features two single beds with mattresses, a refrigerator, a small stove, a heater, and a table and chairs.
There’s also a picnic table and vault toilet on site. The small cabin has enough space for four guests, and the adjacent camping area can hold four more campers.
When you’re not kicking back appreciating the views, there’s plenty to explore around Plumas National Forest. The area is filled with lofty peaks, mountain meadows and valleys, deep canyons, and pristine lakes and streams. Frenchman Lake, a popular spot for swimming and watersports, is about 30 minutes from the fire lookout.
Tahoe National Forest, California
Originally constructed in 1934, the Calpine Lookout is one of only three remaining enclosed windmill-style lookouts in California. You’ll find this lookout high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains at 5,980 feet, offering an incredible view of the surrounding Tahoe National Forest. From the lookout, you’ll enjoy views of the Sierra Valley, Haskell Peak, and Lassen Peak in the distance.
The Calpine Lookout sits on a three-story tower, with the height amplifying the already spectacular views. Inside you’ll find two twin beds, a propane oven/stove, a propane heater, three propane lights, a dry sink, and a table and chairs. The cabin has its own propane tank, so no need to bring your own. There’s a limited assortment of pots, pans, and cooking utensils, but you’d be wise to bring your own.
Outside, there’s a picnic table, fire ring, and vault toilet. You’ll have to forage for your own firewood, and keep in mind that fires are prohibited over summer when fire restrictions are in place.
You can drive to the base of the Calpine Lookout over summer, but the road is closed over winter. If you plan to stay here when there’s snow and ice, be prepared to travel by snowmobile, cross country skis, or snowshoes.
There’s plenty to do in the area, and even more within driving distance. The Lakes Basin Area, Sardine Lakes, and Sand Pond are all within a half hour’s drive. There are hiking and mountain biking trails within 15 miles of the lookout, and the Pacific Crest Trail is 20 miles away.
Girard Ridge Lookout
Shasta-Trinity National Forest, California
Originally constructed in 1931, the Girard Ridge Lookout saw active service as a fire lookout for 50 years until 1981. It’s one of the few remaining historic lookouts in Shasta-Trinity National Forest, and the oldest of its design in the entire state of California. It was restored to its original glory in 1997, so you can appreciate the historic beauty of the structure while experiencing an unforgettable stay.
The Girard Ridge Lookout is perched above the Sacramento River Canyon at 4,809 feet. The lookout offers incredible views of Mount Shasta to the north, while the gray spires of the Castle Crags frame most of the western view. On a clear day you can even see the distant silhouette of Lassen Peak to the southeast.
Inside the 14’ x 14’ cabin you’ll have access to two twin beds with mattresses, cabinets for storage, and a table. There’s a vault toilet about 30 feet away. The cabin doesn’t have electricity or a stove, so be sure to bring your own lighting, heating, and cooking stove.
When you’re not enjoying the grand views from atop Girard Ridge, head out for a hike to appreciate the scenery up close. The Pacific Crest Trail is about three miles away, accessible by the adjacent Forest Road. You’ll find excellent fishing nearby, and the area is popular for hunting.
Squaw Mountain Fire Lookout
Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forests, Colorado
For those seeking Rocky Mountain highs, you can’t beat a stay in the Squaw Mountain Fire Lookout. Clocking an elevation of over 11,000 feet, the fire lookout at the summit of Squaw Mountain offers staggering views of Denver, the Great Plains, Longs Peak, Pikes Peak, Mount Evans, and many more snow-capped peaks across Colorado’s Front Range.
Built in the 1940s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Squaw Mountain Fire Lookout sits on a single-story stone base made with native granite. The 14’ x 14’ cabin is surprisingly well-furnished, featuring beds, a refrigerator, an electric stove, cookware, dishes, a table and chairs, heating, and an exterior incinerating toilet.
The space can accommodate up to four guests, and you’ll enjoy stellar views from dawn to dusk thanks to windows in every direction and a wraparound catwalk.
Clear Creek County is a popular destination for hiking and recreational shooting from spring to fall, and snowshoeing and cross country skiing in the winter.
Big Creek Baldy Lookout
Kootenai National Forest, Montana
Located in the Purcell Range of Montana’s Rocky Mountains, the Big Creek Baldy Lookout sits at the crest of its namesake peak at 5,780 feet. The lookout affords incredible views of the densely forested peaks of Kootenai National Forest, Lake Koocanusa, and the Yaak River valley.
The Big Creek Baldy Lookout stands 52 feet tall, offering 225 square feet of interior space surrounded by a wraparound catwalk. The cabin sleeps four, with a double bed and a twin bed.
You’ll have access to propane lights (propane included), a double-burner cooktop, cooking utensils, heating, and a table and chairs. There’s a campfire ring and an outhouse with a vault toilet outside, though you’ll have to supply your own firewood.
The rustic mountain retreat is surrounded by over 400 miles of summer use trails, so be sure to bring your hiking boots. The area has a rich wildlife population, so keep your eyes peeled for moose, elk, deer, mountain lions, wolves, black bears, and grizzly bears.
Weather permitting, you’ll also enjoy an unparalleled stargazing experience from the top of Big Creek Baldy Mountain.
Deer Ridge Lookout
Idaho Panhandle National Forests, Idaho
For spectacular hiking, scenery, and wildlife watching, head to the Deer Ridge Lookout in Idaho’s Panhandle National Forests. Situated at 4,755 feet atop a 40-foot timber frame, the fire lookout offers incredible views of Moyie Springs, the Moyie River Valley, and the rugged Purcell mountain ranges of Northern Idaho, Montana, and Canada.
“This place is a combination of your wilderness glamping fantasy and Rapunzel’s tower and the night we spent there last summer was so magical,” says photographer and blogger Kellie Arndt.
The Deer Ridge Lookout is accessible by car via a well-maintained gravel road. The cabin is furnished with two twin beds, two chairs, a table, and a dresser. There’s also a pit toilet 50 yards away. Unfortunately, there’s no cooking allowed in the cabin — you’ll have to do that outside at ground level.
From the fire lookout’s wraparound catwalk, you’ll enjoy some great wildlife viewing with chances to spot deer, elk, and black bears in the area. The nearby hiking trails follow along Deer Ridge and Ruby Ridge, and there’s world-class mountaineering nearby if you’re up for a challenge trying to summit a glacial peak.
Anglers will enjoy fly fishing for rainbow and brook trout in the Moyie River. Time your trip during August and September and you can pick fresh huckleberries nearby.
Evergreen Mountain Lookout
Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington
The Evergreen Mountain Lookout towers above the Wild Sky Wilderness at 5,587 feet. It’s only accessible via a steep, scenic hike along the Evergreen Lookout Trail, so you’ll need to bust out your backpack for this one.
The Evergreen Mountain Lookout has a particularly interesting history dating back to its construction in 1935. In addition to serving as an active firetower for over 50 years, it served as an aircraft warning station during World War II.
The cabin is large enough to accommodate up to four guests, with one twin bed and three extra mattresses. Amenities include two battery-powered lanterns, a propane stove, a cooking pot, dishes, and a coffee pot.
When nature calls, you’ll find a vault toilet a few hundred feet down the ridge. There’s no heat, so be sure to wear layers and pack a warm sleeping bag.
Hiking is the predominant outdoor activity in the area, but you may be too distracted by the views to hit the trails. On a clear day you should be able to spot Mount Rainier, Columbia Glacier, Keyes Peak, Mount Daniels, Glacier Peak, and parts of the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness.
There’s plenty to see up close, too, with the area being home to elk, bobcats, black bears, and bald eagles.
Winchester Mountain Lookout
Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington
The Winchester Mountain Lookout is one of the most popular fire lookout towers in the country, but you can’t rent this cabin — it’s first come, first served. The fire lookout is maintained by the Baker Mountain Club, so it’s quite well preserved. It’s closed over the winter and spring, so consider this a potential basecamp for summer and fall backpacking expeditions.
Getting to the Winchester Mountain Lookout can be a challenge, as there’s steep snowfields on the Winchester Mountain Trail well into July. Cross these steep snow slopes with caution, and bring an ice axe. When you reach the WInchester Mountain Lookout, you’ll enjoy magnificent views of the Northern Picket Range and Canadian Peaks.
Sheep Mountain Fire Lookout
Bighorn National Forest, Wyoming
The Sheep Mountain Fire Lookout offers a commanding view of the Wyoming wilderness from 9,600 feet. From the top of Sheep Mountain, you’ll see everything from the lower quadrant of the Bighorn Mountains to the forests of South Dakota. Views of the Cloud Peak Wilderness extend out to Powder River Basin, and on a clear day you can see all the way out to Devil’s Tower National Monument.
Fire lookouts are always fairly primitive cabins, and the Sheep Mountain Fire Lookout is as simple as it gets. Don’t expect anything more than four walls, a sturdy roof, a pair of bunk beds, and a single vault toilet nearby. It’s pretty basic, but then again you’re here for the killer views, not room service.
Sheep Mountain is a popular destination for fishing, hunting, mountain biking, and off-roading, so expect some company when you head out for daily adventures here. After a day of exploring wildflower-filled meadows and mountain streams, kick back on the catwalk and enjoy stargazing that’s out of this world.
Preparing To Stay In A Fire Lookout Rental
Preparation is key to a great experience when you book a night in a fire lookout rental. As long as you bring the right gear and supplies, you’ll have an incredible weekend. To ensure the best experience, we recommend bringing the following:
- Water — for drinking, cooking, and cleaning
- Bedding — a sleeping bag is perfectly acceptable
- Cooking gear — pots, pans, cooking utensils, plates, mugs, etc.
- Trash bags — be prepared to pack out everything you pack in
- Lanterns — some fire lookout rentals have electricity, but even then lighting will be scant.
- Propane — many fire lookout rentals offer a propane stove, and there may or may not be propane for you to use. Play it safe and bring your own. Even better, bring your own cooking stove just in case the one at the rental is out of commission
- Toiletries — most fire lookout rentals have an outhouse, but you’ll need to bring your own toilet paper
- Cleaning supplies — aim to leave the place better than you found it
- First aid kit — this should be a given for any camping adventure
- Matches — your rental may provide a propane stove, wood stove, or firewood, but don’t expect to find any matches on site
Another important preparation point is to call ahead before you head out for your trip. Severe weather, especially in the winter, can sometimes lead to unexpected closures.
More cabins and unique accommodations
If you’re looking for more modern comforts than a primitive fire lookout can offer, check out our favorite secluded cabins in Colorado, along with the best cabins in Denver, Estes Park, and the Oregon Coast.
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