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Buck Mountain

North Cascades | Okanogan Range

Washington State Department of Natural Resources

Location: 48.4366035, -119.82616
Summit Elevation: 6,135′
Lookout Type: 14’x14′ DNR cab
Site Established: 1919
Current Structure Built: 1961
Date Visited: 1/17/14

The Buck Mountain fire lookout was nearly lost in the Beaver Lake fire in 2015, which was part of the massive Okanogan Complex fire, the largest in Washington State history. The fire came so close it scorched the legs of the lookout but fire crews were able to save the structure.

Photos from 2014, 2020 and 2021.


History.

Buck Mountain Lookout was developed in 1919 by the state as a crow’s nest. A log cabin was built nearby for workers to shelter during periods of high fire danger. In 1934, the crow’s nest and log cabin were removed and replaced with a 20′ pole L-4 tower. In 1961 that tower was replaced with the present 14′ x 14′ flat-gable Washington Department of Natural Resources live-in cab with catwalk on a 20′ timber tower.

The lookout construction work was performed by the Department’s own carpentry crew, who spent two years completing 9 lookouts at a cost averaging $8,000 apiece.1 It is maintained by the DNR for emergency use and sometimes still used after major lightning storms. It was registered on the National Historic Lookout Register on November 20, 1999.

13rd Biennial Report Washington Department of Natural Resources.


The route.

Distance (RT): 3.9 miles*
*It is possible to drive to the summit with a high clearance 4×4 but I much prefer to park below the worst part of the road and enjoy he hike.
Elevation Gain: 1,165′
Summit Elevation: 6,135′

It is possible to drive all the way to Buck’s summit but the road is very rocky and rough about two miles below. I much prefer to park and walk up. I’ve also visited often in winter and it’s possible to either ski or snowshoe about 5 miles or so up from Highway 20, or during low snow years, it’s possible to drive up a little ways, park, and ski.

The catwalk is usually locked but from the summit, the views stretch across the entire Okanogan Valley.


Before and after the Okanogan Complex Fire.

I first visited Buck Mountain with Jake dog in the winter of 2014 when I was living in the Methow Valley. Due to a scant snow pack, ski conditions weren’t ideal, so I pulled out some maps and started looking at interesting high points. That’s when I first realized how many fire lookouts were across the Okanogan and that in fact, the Okanogan has the highest number of fire lookouts still remaining today.

That winter I parked about 3 miles below the lookout and enjoyed a nice road walk up. In 2014 before the fires, the road ascended through beautiful thick forest that obscured the lookout until the very top of the summit. Fires in 2015 drastically changed the landscape.

I recently returned to Buck Mountain in June 2020 and it’s hard to believe it’s the same mountain. The Okanogan Complex fire charred much of the area and only a ghostly matchstick forest remains. I’m really glad I was able to visit this lookout prior to the fires to enjoy its forested beauty. I created a few before/after photos to capture the stark change.


Securing Buck for winter.

In early December 2021 I paid Buck Mountain another visit to check on the condition of the lookout since I had seen photos online on some fire lookout groups with the lookout open and unshuttered and very much unsecured for winter. I reached out to some contacts and thanks to my friend Ray Kresek, I was contacted by the South Okanogan DNR AFMO. On December 14th I ventured back up to Buck Mountain with some DNR fire crews as well as my friend Michael Liu, the retired Methow Valley District Ranger, to get Buck shuttered for winter. Mike is always willing to lend a hand when it comes to fire lookouts and it was great to meet some of our Okanogan DNR teams who have a strong interest in keeping our lookouts maintained!

Mike and I enjoyed some fun ski touring and snowshoeing while DNR took up a load of supplies on sleds. After breaking trail through a lot of fresh, deep snow we didn’t at all complain that they came back to give us a ride up on snowmobiles. We were able to shutter and secure Buck for winter and it was a great day to meet some good local fire crews and do some fire lookout good! Thanks South Okanogan DNR!


Directions.

From Twisp, take Highway 20 over Loup Loup Pass approximately 15 miles to a left turn on Buck Lookout Rd (FS 1100), which is a bit hidden and comes up fast. Depending on conditions, the road is driveable 5.75 miles to the lookout summit or you can park below and hike, ski, or snowshoe up. The road can be rough, so high clearance 4×4 recommended.