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.
The challenge: visiting all of Washington’s fire lookout.
I first hatched the idea of trying to visit and photograph all of Washington’s last standing fire lookouts back in 2014, then read an article about an Everett man, Craig Willis, who was the 1st to do so. He helped create a peakbagger list that has since been lovingly referred to as the SLOW (Standing Lookouts of Washington) list.
Though I visited a few fire lookouts in 2014 I didn’t start this project in earnest until July 2017. I spent the next two years visiting 81 lookouts across the state. On July 1, 2019, I climbed the ladder to the summit of Mount Pilchuck, officially completing the journey and becoming only the 3rd person, and 1st woman, to visit all 93, a majority of which I did solo.
This incredible project has taken me all over Washington State and has been about so much more than simply checking off a list, it’s been about understanding and capturing an incredible piece of history and meeting some fantastic people along the way.
Fun stats from my multi-year adventure.
During the course of this project, my best adventure buddy Jake dog accompanied me to 51 lookouts before he passed away at the ripe old age of 13 in January 2019. 🐾
Wildlife seen along the way.
Support fire lookouts.
My goal throughout this journey was to raise awareness for these historical structures and inspire others to respect them, help maintain them, and preserve our fantastic 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.
Why the 93*? There is a lot of debate about what constitutes an actual standing fire lookout. This is the generally accepted peakbagger list that contains original fire lookouts still standing at their original locations. If you spend any time with members of the fire lookout community you’ll learn quickly how hotly contested this “list” is. I’m a peakbagger at heart and simply enjoyed visiting these structures, photographing them, and learning about their history. I continue to visit former fire lookout sites and relocated sites and would encourage anyone with a love for lookouts to visit as many as you can, whether they’re “officially” on the list or not! Have fun!