Southern Cascades | Mount Rainier Area
Summit Elevation: 480′
Lookout Type: 100′ wooden tower with 8×8′ cab
Site Established: 1955
Current Structure Built: 1955
Date Visited: 08/27/18
Goodman Hill, on the Joint Base Lewis-McChord military base southwest of Tacoma, is the lowest elevation standing fire lookout in Washington State. It is accessible to the public when the training area is open but requires a bit of planning and good timing to visit.
Photos from 2018 visit.
I have found little to no information about the history of Goodman Hill, so if anyone has information, please share! I’d love to find out more.
The good news is that Goodman Hill isn’t quite as impossible to access as it first seems. The fire lookout is located in an area of the Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) that is periodically open for recreation. Gaining access to the lookout requires good timing and jumping through a few hoops to get a recreational access permit.
- First, check if the area is open. Goodman Hill is located in Training Area 4 (TA4) and the JBLM publishes their recreational access schedule here. Check the Range Control website or call them at (253) 967-6371 for more details.
- Go to the main gate (I-5 exit 120) and then to the visitor’s center to get a day pass, which requires a driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance for your vehicle.
- With a day pass, visit the Range Control office in building 4074 at the intersection of Stryker and Kaufman Avenues to get a recreational access permit, which is valid for 2 years. Range Control will ask what training area you’re interested in visiting, confirm the area is open, and provide a map if you don’t already have one.
Once you have a recreational permit and have verified TA4 is open, you’re good to go! You’ll want to follow Range Control rules, outlined in their brochure, and be sure to call their automated number to leave details on where, when, and for how long you’re visiting.
Now the next hurdle is getting there. It looks like roads connect through to Goodman Hill from Range Control but they do not. There are military gates and checkpoints in the way. When I visited I was also unable to drive through the base out the east gate because the Perimeter Road is often closed during active base hours.
The best access to Goodman is from the east gate. From Spanaway, drive WA 507 south and turn right onto E Gate Road. In 4.2 miles, you’ll see an old airplane hull on the right. Turn left there onto a paved road.
Follow this main road across the base, with an artillery zone on the left, approximately 6.5 miles until the road comes to a T. Turn right, then in another half mile, take another right. In a little over 2.5 miles you’ll be near Goodman Hill lookout. When the road starts to bend around to the right, find a place to park and look for the lookout in the trees.
It really helps to study maps and orient yourself before visiting Goodman Hill. Roads on the base aren’t well marked and Google Maps will send you on a wild goose chase on roads you can’t access or drive through.
I would NOT recommend visiting this lookout without all the required permits. Trespassing on a military base is a very bad idea.
Most mapping software will send you on a wild goose chase all over restricted roads, so I highlighted my driving route from the East Gate Road below.
The Goodman Hill experience.
When I visited Goodman Hill it took me some effort to figure out how to actually get to the fire lookout since there was little information online from anyone else who had visited. When I received my recreational access permit from Range Control, not a single person in the office even knew there was a fire lookout on base. They told me there were “some roads around the base” that went to Training Area 4 (TA4), where Goodman Hill is located.
Base maps and Google Maps don’t really show you restricted roads or military checkpoints so I drove aimlessly around the base for over an hour dead-ending at a lot of military checkpoints and secure areas. Eventually, sort of by accident, a random MP who I flagged down suggested that I drive around to the East Gate Road and that I could probably connect through from there and he was right.
Once I turned off the East Gate Road though, I found myself driving across the base, with artillery fields on either side. It was a wee bit unnerving.
Should I even be here? Are those things in use?
Range Control had told me the training area was open and I figure military bases are pretty clear about telling you where you should not be. I hoped for the best. I wasn’t at all confident about where I was going and getting blown up wasn’t on my agenda. I tried to pretend I was in stealth mode, driving quietly and silently. About a quarter mile from the lookout I was stopped by a Military Police patrol. I won’t lie, my heart was racing. Was I going to jail?
The friendly MP only wanted to verify I had a range access card and asked where I was headed. I told him I was trying to visit the Goodman Hill fire lookout and he looked perplexed. “A fire lookout?” he asked.
I explained to him that Goodman Hill is indeed a standing Washington State fire lookout. Dubious, he asked to accompany me to check this out himself. I drove the rest of the way to the lookout, the MP behind me, and sure enough, there it was, barely peeking out of the trees. The MP was in disbelief. He said he had been on base for a few years and had no idea it was even there. As we exchanged small talk, I asked if the route I drove in was indeed ok or if there was a better route to exit the base.
“No way.” he said, shaking his head. “You can’t be driving through the artillery fields.”
A knot formed in my throat. “Oh shit”, I said.
He must have sensed my panic and broke out in laughter. “I’m totally joking! You’re ok! Have a good drive out!”
A little MP humor I suppose. Phew! Not funny!
No doubt that Goodman Hill was one of the more exhilarating fire lookouts I’ve visited but I’m not sure I want to go fire lookout rambling on an active military base ever again. Visiting the recreational areas of the JBLM though is a unique experience. There are beautiful habitats that are home for many bird species and endangered butterflies, juxtaposed with huge scorched military artillery fields—an interesting contrast. There are also some big beautiful views of the Mountain.
If you have an interest in visiting all of Washington’s lookouts, definitely prioritize Goodman Hill when the opportunity is available. Access to this one isn’t guaranteed.