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Backpacker Magazine – August 2008

Top 3 Fire Tower Hikes

Want a backcountry room with a view? Climb these lookouts from Vermont to Washington.

by: Abigail Sussman

McCart Mountain, MT (Photo by Gary Weber)
McCart Mountain, MT (Photo by Gary Weber)
Glastenbury Mountain, VT (Photo by Gary Paull)
Glastenbury Mountain, VT (Photo by Gary Paull)
Three Fingers, WA (Photo by Draper White)
Three Fingers, WA (Photo by Draper White)

Three Fingers, WA
Climb to Epic Views

The Three Fingers Lookout in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie Forest seems too good to be true. From its 6,850-foot apex, you can see arguably the state's best sunset (the orb sinking into Puget Sound) and best sunrise (up-close alpenglow on Mt. Baker). And it's free. The catch? A tough 8-mile hike–including a technical glacier crossing–to get there. From Saddle Lake trailhead, take Trail #641 to Saddle Lake and Goat Flats, an alpine meadow. Head right to Tin Pan Gap, where you'll put on crampons and ready the ice axe and rope for a half-mile glacier traverse before scrambling up three wooden ladders to the lookout's front door. It's first-come first-served, but the vast majority of climbers camp at Goat Flats. Best conditions are August to mid-October. (360) 436-1155

After The Fire
Head to Luca's in Lake Stevens for the Romano, a panini filled with prosciutto, fontina cheese, and artichoke pesto.

The Way
From Granite Falls, take the Mountain Loop Hwy. east 6.5 miles and turn left on FR 41. Go 18 miles and turn right to reach the trailhead.

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Reader Rating: -


Sep 11, 2012

3 fingers is the ultimate hike. It has a little of everything. 18 mile dirt road to trail head. Lush wet forests with patches of high humidity at the start. Old growth trees give way to sub alpine. Make camp at goat flats, a giant blueberry meadow with blueberry carpets and large and small bushes. Great in the morning with oatmeal. A small tarn here is the water supply. Dont wash your dishes in it. Hike further up to tin can gap. Its a very small spot that ends at the glacier. Dont slip over the edge or your dead. From here the trail disapears

Sep 11, 2012

Mar 23, 2011

I would advise "Not" going to Gastenbury mountain in Vermont.There is travel brochures that state that" It's not a good idea." Many people 8-74 yrs old, have dissapeared from this mountain with no trace (NONE) ..please research this mountain before possibly putting yourself in jeopardy. There is a vast history of this place and it is no good. Stay Away.(please)Stay away*

Friend of Scouting
Mar 19, 2011

The Washington fire lookouts have about twelve or more feet of snow covering them, so you will wait until very late this year before you go there. Just call the Ranger District Office in advance to check out accessibility or availability. And carry your own water, keep your program simple, and leave no trace! And you need not worry about the Teddy Bears or Pussy Cats when you are in the cabin-like enclosures! Have fun; be safe!

Mar 18, 2011

The Needles fire look out in the southern Sierras tops 'em all!

Mar 17, 2011

It seems like all fire lookouts are worth whatever climb it takes to get there. My favorite by a long shot is the lookout on top of the Sierra Buttes in N. California. Surounded by thousand foot or better cliffs, a freaky stairway just to get to the lookout, vista of lakes and Mt. Lassen, all in about half a day. An incredible place.

mio West
Mar 17, 2011

been to this lookout when we thru-hiked the AT. the view is phenomenal on a clear day. Especially off to the west into new york.

As for the NC/TN ones being accessible.. the less accessible the better! I'm also a fan of the lookout on Smart Mountain in new Hampshire. You can see the green mnt to the west really well and you can see Moosilauke (one of my favorites) and the whites to the east.

Though most eastern lookouts got nothing on what we have in Oregon and Washington.. some real beauties out here:

Mar 17, 2011

The fire tower on North Kearsage outside of North Conway has great views of Carter Notch and the rockpile--Mt. Washington --with its wild weather and great ravines.

Mar 17, 2011

Mmmm... the Green Mountains of VT that turn gray (or totally disappear) with the summer haze. Gile Mtn tower in Norwich is a nice hike, but I'll have to attempt this one.

Sep 11, 2008

All right these are good, but most firetowers in TN and NC which are still standing have much better views of the surrounding valleys. Plus most are very accessible. Especially the two on the Blue Ridge Parkway in NC. Though you are not allowed to camp in them you can camp at the bottom.


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