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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)

Once the domain of solitary smoke spotters–and, famously, authors such as Ed Abbey–many fire towers are now open to the public. There are 557 on the National Historic Lookout Register. Climb to one of these three for panoramic vistas and plenty of writerly inspiration.

McCart Mountain, MT
Make it a first date

Nothing says romance like a cozy wilderness cabin on stilts with a wraparound catwalk, views of the sprawling Bitterroot Range, and a front-row seat for August's blazing Perseid meteor shower. You'll have someone special seeing stars at the McCart Mountain Lookout. Perched at 7,115 feet, it's furnished with a propane stove, dishes, a wood stove, bed for two, and an outhouse. Best of all, the walk up Johnson Peak Trail, two hours south of Missoula, is an easy 1.5 miles, which means there's no excuse not to pack in wine and treats. Open from mid-May to October; make reservations up to six months in advance ($30; recreation.gov). Call the Sula Ranger District a week before your trip for the lock combo. (406) 821-3201

After the Fire
Hoist a crisp Sawtooth blonde ale and a few Alaskan halibut tacos at Bitterroot Brewing in Hamilton. bitterrootbrewing.com

The Way
From Missoula, go south on US 93 for 69 miles to Sula. Drive 17 miles east on East Fork Rd. to Johnson Peak Rd. and go 5.5 miles south to Johnson Peak trailhead.




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READERS COMMENTS

jarathehut
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

jarathehut
Sep 11, 2012

VT.
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!

Kim
Mar 18, 2011

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

Rod
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:
http://www.fs.fed.us/r6/recreation/rentals/des-green-ridge-lo-pictures.shtml

Mainehiker
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.

Kerrie
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.

UT_Dutchman
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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