When RV camping gets a little too routine, consider adding some variety to your adventures with fire tower lookout rentals in the west. It’s not as luxurious as sleeping in your rig, but these antique relics of a bygone era are a best-kept-secret for travel memories of a lifetime.
Tall Sentinels Watching Over America’s Forests
America’s forests have always been vulnerable to fires. In 1910, a devastating fire that burned three million acres and killed 85 people in Washington, Montana, and Idaho prompted the construction of over 5,000 high rise fire tower lookouts across the U.S., 600 of which were built by President Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps (the CCC) in the 1930s.
Situated in some of America’s most remote areas, fire tower lookout accommodations were made as crude shelters, with no running water or electricity. Early technology in these towers was bare bones, with “smoke chaser” staff using mirrors to send out Morse Code signals when a fire broke out.
Later the “Osborne Fire Finder” device was invented, which made pinpointing fires much easier.
Telephone service was gradually brought in to fire tower lookouts, and fire spotting technology later developed to the point that it was no longer cost-effective to pay people to stay in these lookouts.
Over time, America’s fire tower lookouts faded into obscurity, with less than 250 in use by 1964. Although some fire towers are still in use and staffed by dedicated (and hearty) volunteers, the forest service only uses the system to enhance their high tech fire fighting strategies.
Today, that loss is your gain. As you travel across the west in your RV, consider taking a break from the road by renting a fire tower lookout.
Fire Tower Lookout Rental Facts
If you aren’t afraid of heights and don’t mind bare bones accommodations without electricity or running water, a fire tower lookout rental is an unforgettable experience.
You’ll find fire tower lookout rentals in Idaho, California, Colorado Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming. Each rental is available to reserve via the Recreation.gov website. Some lookouts are so popular you’ll need to enter a lottery system to compete for a stay.
Before making a reservation, it’s a good idea to thoroughly check out the information at Recreation.gov. You may also want to speak with local representatives to get a first-hand account of what to expect. For instance:
- Access can be tough. Fire tower lookouts require a long, remote drive or hike into the back country.
- You’ll need to haul gear up to the top. Only people in good shape should consider this as a getaway.
- Amenities can be as sparse as a room with a cot or fully equipped with a stove and lantern.
- Drinking water must be hauled in or filtered at a nearby spring.
- Vault toilets are the norm.
- You must pack out what you bring in.
- Kids under 12 are strongly discouraged from these stays due to the rough access, accommodations, and safety hazards.
A fire tower lookout is like camping on top of the world. You’ll see vistas of 20 or 30 miles vistas in every direction, something you just can’t get from the comfort of your RV. No matter where you stay, fire tower lookout rentals are an experience that stays with you forever.
All images: LiveWorkDream.comResearch Campgrounds, Plan RV Safe Routes & Turn your phone into an RV GPS.
Try the RV LIFE Pro Bundle FREE for 7 days
Rene Agredano and her husband, Jim Nelson, became full-time RVers in 2007 and have been touring the country ever since. In her blog, Rene chronicles the ins and outs of the full-timing life and brings readers along to meet the fascinating people and amazing places they visit on the road. Her road trip adventures are chronicled in her blog at LiveWorkDream.com.