By design, all fire lookouts share the same feature: a 360-degree forest view that stretches for miles. But now that the smoke watchers who staff the aeries are aided by video cameras and surveillance flights, hundreds of the structures have found new lives as hideaways for rent through the U.S. Forest Service for about $40 a night. To book a stay, visit nhlr.org or recreation.gov, or call (877) 444-6777. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
- Boot up Some cabins—such as California's Hirz Mountain Lookout—can only be reached on foot.
- Don't count on running water You may have to carry in your own supply.
- Pack a lantern Only a few cabins have electricity—Oregon's Fall Mountain Lookout, for one. Speaking of electricity, lookouts are typically protected by lightning rods, but all the same, it's probably wise not to touch exposed metal during a thunderstorm.
- Embrace simplicity You'll find a mattress for your sleeping bag and a propane or wood-burning stove.
- Take some pictures and relax Unlike the fire spotters of old, you're not on the job.
Illustration by Michael Klein
This article was first published in July 2009. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.