St. Johns Lookout Site

Oregon Lookouts

Location.

St. Johns District of Portland, OR

Status.

Maintained; Occupied by City of Portland Park Rangers

Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.

Within city limits

Date visited.

October 24, 2021

Elevation.

143′

National Historic Lookout Register.

No

Trip Report.

This is a building in the city of Portland that was used for fire detection in Forest Park. It’s located right next to the historic St Johns bridge and overlooks the Willamette River. The building is now used for the city Park Rangers office. My Partner and I decided to walk around the neighborhoods of North Portland and St Johns instead of driving directly to the site. I love looking at the different houses and architecture in this area. It was a rainy fall day but we got a break in the weather for our 6.5 mile walk. You are unable to access the building unless you have an appointment. I’m unsure if they’d grant access to the cupola though.

History.

This historical building was built in 1907 as the city hall for St Johns City. It was converted to a fire station in 1915. There was a fire in August 1951 that devastated Forest Park and lead to the construction of three emergency fire lookouts in the area. The fire burned 2,400 acres which was about 25 percent of the park. The Portland Parks Bureau with the assistance of Engine 32 of the Portland Fire Bureau erected the one in St Johns in 1952. They mounted a firefinder to the exterior wall from the second floor window. I couldn’t find confirmation on when the cupola tower was added. In 1959, it was noted by a survey crew that the original cupola and flagpole had been removed from the building. The building was later renovated in 1964 and 1996, but it’s unclear on which renovations lead to rebuilding the existing cupola.

Clatskanie Mountain L.O.

Oregon Lookouts

Location.

Hopkins Demonstration Forest

Status.

Refabricated & maintained for educational purposes

Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.

45 mins

Date visited.

October 23, 2021

Elevation.

2,081′ (original)

National Historic Lookout Register.

No

Trip Report.

My partner, his dad, and I decided to take a trip to Hopkins Demonstration Forest in Beavercreek. They had recently finished reconstruction of the Clatskanie Mountain L.O. in February 2021. The lookout is located right in the parking lot and easy to access. It was a really rainy fall day, so we were unable to climb the tower. I believe they will open this to the public on nicer days for tours. We checked out the adjacent Everett Hall, historic Molalla Log House, and hiking trails on the property as well. Hopkins Demonstration Forest offers learning opportunities about different sustainable forest management techniques over 140-acres and is operated by Forest Forever Inc. Places like this are important for preservation and education. Please donate if you are able or visit their website to learn more about getting involved!

History.

The Clatskanie Mountain L.O. is a 65′ Aermotor tower with 7×7 cab. it was originally built in 1954 and managed by the ODF in the coastal range near Astoria. It was constructed as a replacement for the Benson Lookout. In 1984, it was dismantled and moved to the Magness Tree Farm. Fun Fact: It was dismantled by the same person, Don Rust, that had originally assembled it. The World Forestry Center operated it there as an educational exhibit and historic display. They experienced issues with vandalism and the continued maintenance over the years. In 2008, they decided to refurbish and relocate the tower. It stood on the Hopkins property for 9 years before reconstruction started in 2019. Finding the proper components, knowledge, and skills needed took time. They were able to find a company to fabricate all the needed components to restore the structure to it’s original specifications. The company, Fire Tower Restoration, specializes in finding and saving Fire Lookouts before they are sold for scrap. The remaining work of replacing treads, railings, and safety fencing was completed by Hopkins volunteers over the last year. It is now open and ready for the public thanks to all their hard work!

The Hopkins Demonstration Forest is also currently working on restoring the Molalla Log House which will be completed in 2022. This historic log house is believed to be the oldest building in Oregon, if not the entire Pacific Northwest. It is made of Douglas Fir that had been hand hewn and held in place by tight half-dovetail notching. The origins of the log house are un-known even after extensive research, but believed to be built by fur hunters and trappers from Canada in the late 1790s. The building securely sat in the foothills of the cascades near Molalla for 200 years before it was dismantled in 2007. It was warehoused with plans for rehabilitation and preservation until it found it’s forever home in 2017. The building is a 18’x25′ log cabin with 1-1/2 stories. We will have to make a trip out to see it once completed!

More Information.

Hopkins Demonstration Forest

Fivemile Butte L.O.

Oregon Lookouts

Location.

Mount Hood National Forest

Status.

Rental program; Currently standing

Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.

2 hours

Date visited.

October 16, 2021

Elevation.

4,627′

National Historic Lookout Register.

Yes

Trip Report.

My partner already visited Fivemile Butte L.O. earlier this year with his dad. We decided to come back for the weekend since I still needed to check it off my list. We also wanted to see if we could locate some of the crow’s nests in the area. The best access for passenger vehicles is to take NF-44 to NF-4430 until you reach the gate on NF-122. Reminder to not block the gate and park near the road junction instead. From the gate, it is a short 1/2 mile road walk. The road is drivable but requires caution on some of the more rutted out portions. It can also be accessed via hiking trails if you are not comfortable driving. In the winter, you can access it via the Billy Bob Sno-Park. This lookout is part of the rental program and can be booked year-round. Fivemile Butte L.O. is very popular due to its easy access and proximity. There were renters there when we checked it out which was expected but a bit awkward. Make sure to respect their space and do not climb the stairs. We didn’t stay long except to take a few pictures before heading back to my car for lunch. We were surprised to find no other visitors on the summit since we had passed a full trailhead. I think I would have a hard time staying here with all the day hikers and traffic. I assume you would get less visitation in the winter months though.

History.

The current lookout on Fivemile Butte was built in 1957 as a 14×14 R-6 flat roof cab atop a 40′ treated timber tower. It is furnished with a small bed, wood stove, propane cooking stove, table, chairs, and solar-powered lights. There is a vault toilet, storage shed full of firewood, picnic table, and fire ring on the summit as well. Everything else is on a pack it in, pack it out basis. The original lookout for this site was built in the 1920s. It was a 30′ pole tower with a small cab. It was replaced in 1932 by another 30′ tower with standard L-4 cab. This was later destroyed by heavy snow in 1942. The L-4 tower that replaced it untraditionally had a trap door inside the cab. I couldn’t find any information on when this lookout stopped being staffed and became part of the rental program.

Bonus pictures of our camp spot because we had a view of Flag Point L.O. on the ridgeline.

More Information.

US Forest Service

Recreation.gov

Lava Butte L.O.

Oregon Lookouts

Location.

Newberry National Volcanic Monument; Deschutes National Forest

Status.

Active; Currently standing

Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.

3 hours

Date visited.

October 10, 2021

Elevation.

5,016′

National Historic Lookout Register.

Yes

Looking at Lava Butte From Black Rock Trail
Looking at Lava Butte From Black Rock Trail

Trip Report.

Lava Butte L.O. is one of the easiest accessed active fire lookouts in Oregon and, no doubt, the most visited. We decided to stop here on our way back to Portland since it is only a short paved drive to the top. The lookout is within the Newberry National Volcanic Monument near the Lava Lands Visitor Center. You will need to have a Northwest Forest Pass, National Parks Pass, or pay an entry fee to access. Due to the limited parking at the top of the cinder cone, you need to have a time access permit. These are free to visitors and are handed out at the entry kiosk. We did not know this at the time of our visit and were told we’d have to wait an hour to gain access. Driving to the top of the cinder cone is only permitted from late May to mid-October. We just happened to be here on the last day it was open for the season. Hiking up the road to the top is permitted year-round and is an alternative option if you do not want to wait for a time permit. We figured by the time we hiked to the top and back it’d be our time to drive anyway. We decided to wait and check out the Black Rock trail on the other side of the parking lot in the mean time. Once on the summit it is a short paved walk to the base of the lookout. The top is actively staffed and inaccessible to the public. The base of the lookout acts as a visitor center that has informative signs to help locate the surrounding landmarks. There is also a short un-paved trail that hikes away from the lookout around the cone. The time permit for the top only allows for 30-minutes, but we found this was plenty of time to check it out and take some pictures.

History.

Lava Butte has been a site used for fire detection since 1913 and has had four different types of lookout structures. In 1913, they only had a telephone line to the summit and were expected to camp near the base. The fire attendants during this time were staffed by the Deschutes Valley Fire Patrol Association. It wasn’t adopted as a fire lookout by the Forest Service until 1924. The first lookout structure was built in 1931 as a 14×14 L-4 hip-roof house. It was one of the three first lookouts established in the Deschutes NF and was considered one of the most visited lookouts even then. The other two were Odell Butte L.O. and Black Butte L.O. The second structure built on Lava Butte was a 2-story R-6 flat cab in 1957 to replace the existing. In 1960, the first floor was expanded to include a visitor center. It was later dismantled in 1997 to start construction on the current lookout. In 1998, they completed a 2-story replica of a gable-roofed L-4 cab with a 1st floor visitor center. Despite the easy access to this lookout and proximity to Bend, it plays a pivotal role and is noted as reporting more fires first than any other lookout on the Deschutes NF.

More Information.

US Forest Service

AllTrails

Henkle Butte L.O.

Oregon Lookouts

Location.

Deschutes County

Status.

Fire Detection Camera; Currently standing

Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.

3 hours

Date visited.

October 9, 2021

Elevation.

3,412′

National Historic Lookout Register.

Yes

Henkle Butte is a lookout ran by the Oregon Department of Forestry and staffed every summer. It sits on top of a butte that overlooks expensive neighborhoods in Deschutes County. The tower isn’t accessible to the public but can be viewed from the road. It’s listed on geocache and peak bagger sites, but it’s unclear if the summit is accessible to the public. Be aware a lot of this area is private property and posted signs should be respected.

History.

Henkle Butte got it’s name from a competition. The commander stationed at Camp Polk offered a prize to the soldier that could make the quickest trek to and from the butte. It was around two miles northeast from the camp. The butte was named after the winner, Jeremiah F. Henkle. He was stationed at Camp Polk during the winter of 1865-1866. It is commonly mislabeled as Hinkle Butte. The first live-in fire tower wasn’t built until 1943. It was constructed from recycled material by the CCC as a 42′ tower with a 14×14 L-4 cab. The current structure was built in 1961 as a 3-story enclosed ODF cab.

Trout Creek Butte L.O.

Oregon Lookouts

Location.

Deschutes National Forest

Status.

Abandoned; Currently standing

Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.

3-1/2 hours

Date visited.

October 9, 2021

Elevation.

5,546′

National Historic Lookout Register.

Yes

Trip Report.

My partner and I decided to make a quick one-night trip down to the Deschutes National Forest area for the weekend. We wanted to try and see Henkle Butte, Trout Creek Butte, and Lava Butte lookouts. Trout Creek Butte L.O. is an easy drive outside of Sisters. To get there you will take the Mackenzie HWY-242 to signed NF-15. NF-15 starts out paved and eventually turns to well-maintained gravel. After 5 miles it will fork to become NF-1524 and NF-1522. You will keep right to stay on NF-1524. Eventually it will fork again with NF-1524 continuing to the left and NF-1018 to the right. You will stay right at this junction as well. Continue on NF-1018 until you find spur NF-800 on the right. It is a pretty notable road since it is still red rock instead of fresh gravel. FS-800 will take you the remaining way to the summit. All roads were in decent condition and are manageable in a passenger vehicle. There are a few bumps on NF-800 but you’ll make it with caution. We decided not to drive to the summit and parked in a pull out near the old gate. The gate is still there but no longer blocks the road. It’s about a 1/2 mile to the summit from this point in the road. Walking up the road to the summit, we became worried that the tower might have fallen or already been removed. The area was burned in the 2017 Milli Fire but there are still a lot of tall trees on the summit obscuring the view. We weren’t able to see the tower until we were almost to the base of it. It was like playing Where’s Waldo? with a lookout. Scroll down if you want to try and spot it in my pictures. The first three levels of stairs are removed due to safety concerns and to help deter vandalism. The tower is in terrible condition. The cab on top is missing its floor, window glass, and part of the roof. Although there is not much of a view from the summit, the views from the road before the summit are worth the stop alone. We drove back down NF-800 to the junction with NF-1018. Instead of heading back out the way we came, we turned to take NF-1018 in the other direction. If you stay on NF-1018, it will eventually take you all the way back to HWY-242. But it will pass Whispering Pine C.G. beforehand. We were running out of day light so we decided to camp there for the night.

History.

This 75′ steel Aermotor tower with 7×7 cab is the original built by the CCC in 1933. Some sources note this as a 86′ tower instead, but I believe this is counting the concrete poured for the tower. The tower was last used for emergencies up until the 1970s. There used to be a T-1E 16×18 garage and 14×16 wood living cabin on the summit as well. Both were built a year after the tower in 1934, but I couldn’t confirm any information on what happened to these structures. The outhouse was relocated to Sand Mountain L.O. as part of a restoration project in 1992. The tower is the only remaining structure on the summit and is slated to be decommissioned by the Deschutes NF.

Can you spot the lookout?

Pull the slider to the left to see where the lookout is located in the below pictures.

Shriner Peak L.O.

Washington Lookouts

Location.

Mount Rainier National Park

Status.

Maintained; Currently standing

Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.

2-1/2 hours

Date visited.

October 3, 2021

Elevation.

5,846′

National Historic Lookout Register.

US 207; WA 26

Trip Report.

Fall has arrived! And with it brings the hunting season and potential for snow. My partner and I decided to enjoy a weekend at home for a change despite the gorgeous weather forecast. We still planned on hiking to a lookout in the area as a day trip though. We debated between seeing Clear Lake, Shriner Peak, Gobblers Knob, or Burley Mountain. But, Shriner Peak had been calling my name for a while now, even with the daunting elevation and drive time. We compared the distance and elevation to other challenging hikes we’ve done and decided to go for it. The trailhead is easily accessible off of HWY-123 between the Ohanapecosh Campground and the White River Park Entrance. AllTrails noted the trail as 7.5 miles round trip with 3,356′ elevation gain, while the National Park noted the trail as 8 miles round trip and 3,434′ elevation gain. My phone tracked it closer to 8.5 miles round trip. It is described as difficult and strenuous, but we found it to be more of a moderate hike. It is a continuous up hill climb but nothing in comparison to other hikes we’ve done. If you’ve done Devil’s Peak via Cool Creek Trail then this one will be a breeze in comparison. You will still want to bring a lot of water and lunch for the summit. Despite not feeling like a strenuous hike, I experienced 3 Charlie Horses in one of my calves. I repeat bring lots of water. I’d also recommend this as a late season hike, the cooler temperatures and breeze make a difference. The park notes this as one of their loneliest trails, if you’re looking for a less crowded place to hike. We still saw about 12 groups of people on this hike though. But, in comparison to other trails in the park it is definitely less visited. Some of the groups only hiked to the false summit, 2.5 miles in, which offers a great view of the mountain and below valley. By the time we reached the summit we had it to ourselves. The summit also has two backcountry camp spots only a short hike from the lookout. You need permits to backpack in this area and there is no reliable water source.

I love being able to meet the people that are knowledgeable of these places. We had the pleasure of meeting Ranger Pete from the National Park service while on the summit. He had hiked up when we were enjoying lunch on the catwalk of the lookout. He was staying there for the evening and going to be boarding up the windows in preparation for the winter season. He was kind enough to answer our questions about the area and lookout to the best of his knowledge. He used to work in Glacier National Park and mentioned they actually have active lookouts in the park still. The ones in Mount Rainier National Park function mostly as standing exhibits but are still used by staff and volunteers.

History.

Shriner Peak L.O. was built in 1932 by the National Park Branch of Plans and Designs. It’s the standard 2-story frame cab used by the National Park service that features a ground floor storage room and upper live-in space. It is one of the four remaining lookouts within the Mount Rainier National Park. It was actively staffed until the 1980’s and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. I just need Gobblers Knob to finish visiting all the lookouts within this National Park.

Fly Amanita on the trail
Fly Amanita on the trail

More Information.

Washington Trails Association

National Park Service

AllTrails