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 95 remain standing in their original locations as of 2019.
*See, that asterisk on the 93 was good because as of the end of 2019, two more standing lookouts were confirmed and there are now 95 fire lookouts still standing in Washington State.
I first hatched the idea of trying to visit and photograph all of Washington’s 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 and 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. My goal throughout was to raise awareness for these historical structures and inspire others to respect them, help maintain them, and preserve our fantastic Pacific Northwest wilderness.
Fun, final stats.
|Hike/Bike Distance||596.3 miles|
|Driving Distance||18,581 miles|
|Elevation Gained||137,687 feet|
|Lookouts Completed Solo||70|
🐾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. 🐾
Support fire lookouts.
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.
The Fire Lookouts of Washington Facebook page also shares work parties, photos, and great historical information.
Why the 93*? Well, it’s a fluid number that could change and indeed, as of the end of 2019, there are now 95 standing fire lookouts in Washington. 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.
A big thank you to Craig Willis for paving the way and to Eric Willhite, who is a master researcher and maintains an excellent website of fire lookout history.