Many of the alpine recreation trails that we enjoy today were originally constructed by the Conservation Construction Corps to lead to sites where they built fire lookouts. At the height of their time in the 1930's there were over 8000 lookouts completed across the United States, between 700-800 of which were located in Washington.
The vast majority of these structures have since been removed or destroyed. Many of them were burned by lightning strikes. It was often decided that the cost of preserving these structures would far exceed their historic value. A few have been protected and in many cases these last remaining lookouts have been adopted by an outside party or individual who takes the responsibility for repairs and structural safety. A fraction of the remaining lookouts are still used for fire observation during the summer.
The Osborne Fire Finder
The alidade tool which was used to identify the exact location of fires as they were spotted was called the Osborne Fire Finder, invented by a Forest Service employee named William Osborne. The Fire Finder represents the historic apogee of fire-suppression scientific method. These devices were in production in the 1920's and early 1930's. Very few of these original instruments are still located inside remaining structures. If you ever get to see one, consider yourself lucky.
This list will include the last remaining fire lookouts in Washington State still at locations of official firewatching use. Those who have visited the peaks which have these structures on or near their summits understand the extra reward. If you know of any change to the status of an existing fire lookout location, please send me a private message.
High Rock Lookout
Special thanks to Northwest lookout experts Rex Kamstra (www.firelookout.com), Redwic, Eric Noel, and Steph Abegg, each of whom provided research which was very helpful for the creation and updates of this page.
Another notable character in the ongoing saga of WA fire lookout historic research is Eric Willhite. His current project includes personally visiting every WA location including those where no structure remains. His site is very informative and worth the visit. Also see his photos of the original black and white Osborne Survey panoramas from the Seattle National Archive.
For another list of the remaining WA lookouts, please see Greg Slayden's list on Peakbagger.com.
Three Fingers Lookout
Lookout Mountain Lookout
Cascade Lookouts Map
Recently Removed Lookouts
To help illustrate the rate at which these structures are going away, this section will keep track of the lookouts that have been destroyed or removed from the list of standing lookouts since this page was created in 2009.
A Lookout Burning
DESTROYED, DISMANTLED, AND/OR COLLAPSED:
Lone Mountain Lookout was torn down by the Quinault Indian Reservation (Q.I.R.) early in 2012 to try to make money from selling the tower for scrap metal. With the costs incurred during the process, the Q.I.R. barely broke-even with that venture.
Lakeview Mountain Lookout has been reported as collapsed and confirmed via photo verification.
Kloshe Nanitch Lookout was removed by the Forest Service in 2012 after being defaced by vandals. Read more about it.
Sopelia Lookout burned down during the Satus Pass wildfire of Summer 2013.
The tower of Flagstaff Mountain Lookout was dismantled and removed by contractors in July 2013, to make room for a Homeland Security communications site to be constructed on the summit. The cab was moved to the nearby town of Northport, and has a tribute to long-time DNR Flagstaff Mountain lookout Gayle Kaste, as well as her daughter who had died in a Heartflite medical helicopter crash. An old newspaper article examined Gayle Kaste's 25+ years as the Flagstaff Mountain lookout as well as the status of lookouts in general at the time the article was written (2002).
Spokane Mountain Lookout burned down in a wildfire during Summer 2015.
OTHER REMOVALS FROM LIST:
The Kalispell Rock Lookout was removed from this list of standing fire lookouts on June 9, 2014. The reason is because the actual lookout building has not been standing for many years. The summit of Kalispell Rock is a massive boulder outcrop atop which a small 5'x5' lookout shack was used from 1927-1934. The bouldertop lookout shack has long since been removed and the only remnants are a few nails, snags, and wire nearby, as well as a cement circle embedded in the summit which held the original firefinder in place. The only standing lookout-related structure at the Kalispell Rock summit area is a small log cabin below the summit boulder outcrop. The log cabin still stands but is missing its roof and door. The log cabin was constructed between two large boulder outcrops and would have ever had very limited views at best, so its status as a lookout structure was questioned. If the log cabin had been used as an actual lookout/fire-watching structure, then it would perhaps still be worthy of appearing on this list. However, it has been verified that the log cabin was only ever used by the US Forest Service as living quarters and not as a fire-watching location.
Fire lookout structures can disappear at any time, for a variety of reasons. The following fire lookouts are currently still standing but are known to be threatened for either demolition or removal in the near future.
Sooes Peak Lookout Collapse
North Mountain Lookout was scheduled to be removed by the Darrington Ranger District in 2009. Fortunately, local efforts saved the lookout by making repairs and getting it incorporated into the new Mountain Bike Trail system.
The tower of Big Butte Lookout was severely damaged during Winter 2010/2011 when a tree fell across a guy wire, breaking several beams and planks. The tower was dismantled during late 2013 but the USFS put the cab on ground level and the building is still standing at the site. The USFS has plans to repair the tower damage but this was yet to be done as of Summer 2014.
The Tonasket Ranger District began proposing to remove the Cornell Butte Lookout during 2012, due to heavy vandalism and lack of official usage. The removal efforts have temporarily been put on hold ever since, while the Forest Fire Lookout Association (FFLA) is in negotiations to move the tower to another location.
A Montana-based group called "Wilderness Watch" attempted to have the Green Mountain Lookout removed, using the judicial system and lengthy legal battle to try to do so. Ultimately, the lookout was saved when the Green Mountain Lookout Heritage Protection Act was created, passing unanimously in both chambers of Congress, and signed into law by President Barack Obama on April 16, 2014.
The Knowlton Knob Lookout was damaged during the "Carlton Complex" wildfire of 2014. It was feared that the fire damage might cause government agencies to consider completely removing the tower, but recent updates indicate that it has been completely repaired.
During the historically dry and hot year 2015, multiple fire lookout towers in Washington were greatly threatened. Some of the wildfires came dangerously close to destroying some towers such as Buck Mountain Lookout, Moses Mountain Lookout, Armstrong Mountain Lookout, and South Baldy Lookout. Unfortunately, Spokane Mountain Lookout burned down during a wildfire on the Spokane Indian Reservation.
Recently Added Lookouts
Kitsap Lookout: Built during the 1940s by the Washington State Division of Forestry (SDF) and abandoned during the 1950s, this tall lookout tower was thought by many people to no longer exist due to high trees obstructing its view and nearby watershed access restrictions limiting visits. The tower was confirmed to be still standing during the 2000s.
Despite appearing in Ray Kresek's famous book about fire lookouts, some people expressed speculation that the tower might have only been used for naval purposes and not fire watching. However, a combination of research and firsthand accounts during January 2017 confirmed that the tower was used as a fire lookout for at least several years during the 1940s. In addition to being a fire lookout, the local naval base also used the tower; large vertical planks on one of the high sides of the tower were reference points for aligning large naval guns on battleships.
Special access permission might be required to visit Kitsap Lookout but public access is generally not granted due to its location on a watershed.
There are currently 93* Washington fire lookouts still standing at their officially used locations.
Rooftop Lookout Platform Built 1932; Building Still There
-> Whitmore Mountain and Mount Leecher each have two lookout sites appearing on this list. The reason is because both peaks have two lookout sites at distinctly different locations which cannot be seen from ground level between one lookout site to the other. Hence, in each such case both distinct lookout sites must be visited.
-> Individual locations which have more than one standing lookout structure near each other (such as Mount Bonaparte, North Twentymile Mountain, Funk Mountain, Monument 83, etc.) are each shown on this list as a single lookout site.
-> The Okanogan Post Office and Darrington Ranger Station lookout sites are included on this list because despite the rooftop firewatching platforms no longer being present the lookout buildings are still standing and intact. These two lookout sites appear in the "Fire Lookouts of the Northwest" book, and as such are generally accepted by many lookout enthusiasts, and are considered the simplest visits of lookout sites on the entire list.
-> The Lorena Butte Lookout, despite being located on private land and moved from its original location, is still officially used for emergency purposes. Such official usage has included the Satus Pass wildfire of 2013 among other incidents.
This list is complete and not missing any items, according to Ray Kresek of the Fire Lookout Museum (and author of the "Fire Lookouts of the Northwest" book) during the Summer of 2014. As stated in Vol. 25 No. 3 (Fall 2014) of the quarterly publication "Lookout Network" the list was verified by several lookout experts, including Kresek and Dave Bula.
*UPDATE, January 5, 2017: Kitsap Lookout added to list. This increases list from 93 to 94. Spokane Mountain Lookout has not yet been verified if burned down during 2015 fires or if still standing.
UPDATE, June 10, 2017: Spokane Mountain Lookout removed from list, after onsite visit confirmed speculation of structure burning down during a wildfire in Summer 2015. This decreases list from 94 to 93.
Completers and Near-Completers
Craig Willis became the first person to finish the Washington Lookouts list, on August 3, 2014 at Three Fingers Lookout. At the time of his completion, there were 93 Washington fire lookouts still standing at their officially used locations.
Paul Michelson became the second person to finish the Washington Lookouts list, on June 13, 2015 at Miners Ridge Lookout. At the time of his completion, there were 93 Washington fire lookouts still standing at their officially used locations.
UPDATE: On January 5, 2017, research confirmed that the Kitsap Lookout is a standing tower that had been used for fire watching, and added to the list. Both Craig Willis and Paul Michelson had previously visited the tower.
Craig and Paul celebrating Paul's completion
The list shown above is the established list of Washington lookouts still standing at their officially used locations. The following sites have since been verified and are considered supplemental sites but do not require visitation to complete the established list:
House Rock Lookout: Built during 1935 by the U.S. Forest Service, this is an Adirondack three-sided fire lookout shelter at the summit plateau of House Rock, located southeast of Mount Saint Helens. This lookout was eventually abandoned. During April 2015, Ray Kresek of the FFLA speculated that an Osborne firefinder was positioned on a stump in front of the shelter and firewatching did not happen from within the structure. However, no written record or evidence has been provided to support those theories, and fire-watching was almost certainly done from the open-sided shelter at least on an occasional basis.