Devastating fires, such as the Yacolt Burn of 1902, inspired the construction of a vast National network of fire lookout stations in the 1920s. The job of a lookout was to spot and report fires by telephone or radio so crews could be dispatched quickly. At the system’s peak, there were 5,000 lookouts nationwide—including 685 overlooking the extensive forests of Washington. The highest lookout was at 12,276 feet on Mount Adams, but it was used for only three seasons, then abandoned to the year-round ice. The most difficult to reach was Three Fingers; the approach was (and still is) a series of ladders spiked into a 100-foot rock wall.
By the mid-1970s, most lookouts had been abandoned as fire-detection began to rely more on technology and aerial reconnaissance. Some lookout structures were deconstructed by government agencies worried about liability, some have been left to rot, and some have been restored and are maintained by hikers. As of 2013, Washington has 87* fire lookout structures still standing in their original locations, with less than 30 of those still actively used for firefighting. In addition, there are some old lookouts that have been moved to museums. Most—though not all—of the standing lookouts in Washington are listed in the National Historic Lookout Register.
Many are the remaining fire lookouts in Washington are located on rugged summits overlooking the forests of the Cascade Range. Several more are located in the northeastern reaches of the state, and a handful continue to stand above the forests of the Olympic Range and the southeast corner of the state. Each one of these lookouts is a unique hiking destination. Not only are the lookout sites a unique part of Washington’s history, but they also all have spectacular views. Some of the standing lookouts even have beds and stoves for a first-come, first-serve overnight stay.
(*Update Jan 2013: The original 2010 edition of this poster displayed 92 standing lookouts. Between 2010 and 2012, at least three lookouts—Kloshe Nanitch and Lone Mountain on the Olympic Peninsula and Pine Mountain near Yakima—became "standing no more." The poster has been updated to remove these three lookouts.)
(*Update Oct 2013: In the summer of 2013, the Sopelia lookout on the Yakama Reservation burned down and the Flagstaff lookout from the Colville/Kaniksu NF was moved to the town park at Northport. The poster has been updated to remove these two lookouts.)
As the years progress, more lookouts will inevitably fall into unrecoverable disrepair. Also, it is likely there are a few obscure standing lookouts that are not identified here. I try to keep my fire lookout records as accurate as possible, so I would appreciate being notified if/when any more of the remaining 87 fire lookouts are no longer standing.
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