Fire lookouts became a familiar icon across the American West in the early 1900s, many built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) formed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt amidst the Great Depression. In World War II, lookouts were used to spot enemy aircraft and 10 years later Beatnik poets Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder famously wrote novels while spending summers at Desolation Peak and Sourdough Mountain here in Washington State.
After the 1950s, the use of lookouts declined as fire technology improved. Many were abandoned and destroyed by vandalism, neglect, weather, and fire. Of the roughly 750 that were built here in Washington, only 93 remain standing in their original locations as of 2019.
In an effort to see and photograph these remaining pieces of history, I started a project to visit all of Washington State’s remaining fire lookouts. On July 1, 2019, I finally completed this several year journey, climbing the ladder to the summit of Mount Pilchuck, my 93rd fire lookout. I’m only the 3rd person, and 1st woman, to visit all 93.
|Hike/Bike Distance||596.3 miles|
|Driving Distance||18,581 miles|
|Elevation Gained||137,687 feet|
|Lookouts Completed Solo||70|
For me, this project hasn’t been about simply checking off a list, it’s been about understanding a piece of history and taking a snapshot of time. I’ve met some amazing people along the way with fantastic stories and ties to the surrounding lands.
My only rule during the course of the journey was to visit these lookouts on clear weather days, so I could truly enjoy their lofty vantage points and take memorable photos. This incredible project has taken me all over Washington State to remote areas that few people go. My main goal throughout was to raise awareness for these historical structures and inspire others to respect them, as well as our amazing Pacific Northwest wilderness.
Consider joining the Forest Fire Lookout Association or donating on their page. They can help the funds reach a specific state or lookout and can also make a donation in someone’s honor.
🐾During the course of this project, my best adventure Jake dog accompanied me to 51 lookouts before he passed away at the ripe old age of 13 in January 2019. 🐾
Why the 93*? Well, it’s a fluid number that could change. Many have visited lookouts that no longer exist and lookouts that exist now could quite possibly be lost in the future. There are also some on the “list” that aren’t without controversy, but overall, this is a pretty complete inventory of remaining structures at original locations.