Jumpoff L.O.

Washington Lookouts

Location.

Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest; Administered by Wenatchee National Forest

Status.

Maintained by Volunteers; Currently standing

Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.

4 hours

Date visited.

August 21, 2022

Elevation.

5,670′

National Historic Lookout Register.

Yes

Trip Report.

I’ve come to the conclusion that August is my least favorite month. It has nice longer days, but that is about all it has going for it in my opinion. It is otherwise too hot and things are usually on fire by now. This tends to mean trail closures and lingering smoke as well. My partner often says he’ll fight anyone who prefers 90 to 100 degree temps. I’ll complain about the rain, but I eventually long for it. The smell before it rains. The cooler temperatures associated with it. The fresh air that comes with a well hydrated forest. But I absolutely, whole-heartedly, never long for 100 degree summer days. Maybe I’m being dramatic, but the heat really kicked my butt this weekend. It wasn’t even forecasted to be as hot as it has been the last few weeks. We had just emerged from a one-night backpacking trip with our friends in the William O. Douglas Wilderness. We had an extra day left over for the weekend due to our friends schedules not quite lining up. It was a pretty gradual 5-mile hike out (10-miles RT), but the heat had zapped all the energy from me. Our plan was to head over to Jumpoff L.O. for another night of backpacking without friends. Based on the description from the WTA site there was a nice dry camp 2-1/2 miles into the hike to Jumpoff from Long Lake. But, I vetoed this after getting back to the car and we opted to disperse camp for the night. I needed to recoup if I was going to make the 8-mile RT hike up with over 2,500′ of elevation gain. We would later agree that this was a good call for a multitude of reasons.

Start of NF-653
Pull out parking
Long Lake
Shelter at Long Lake

From HWY-12, we headed east towards Yakima. This was the farthest either of us had been on this highway. We turned right at the junction marked for Rimrock Lake Recreation Area. This is NF-12 on the map, but there were no signs noting that on the road. We followed this paved road until we reached Milk Creed Road, NF-570, off to the left. This is a well-graded gravel road that we took to reach NF-1201. I read online that the paved portion of NF-1201 is a terrible road and this was the better route to access Long or Lost Lake. We didn’t spend much time scoping out the best dispersed spots in the area and picked one in close proximity to where we wanted to be in the morning. Our alarm was set for 5AM with the intention of starting our hike early to avoid the heat. It was still dark when the alarm went off the next morning which prompted us to reset it for 6AM. We then proceed to hit snooze until a little after 6:30AM. We weren’t up and moving as quickly as we had hoped. We turned right onto NF-1201 to head towards Long Lake. You can start the hike at Lost Lake as well but it adds an extra mile both ways that felt unnecessary for this trip. The gravel portion of NF-1201 was well graded as well and only had a few minor bumps to avoid. We parked in a pull out at the junction with NF-653, off to the left, based on a recommendation from a trip report posted to WTA. This is where we would start our hike.

First steep section looking up (sorry bad lighting)
First steep section looking down
Second steep section looking up
Second steep section looking down
Third steep section looking up (bad lighting again)
Third steep section looking down

The morning temps were still cool and bearable as we started walking down NF-653. It appeared to be a crummy spur road from the junction, but quickly turned into more of an ATV track with roots and embedded large rocks. We quickly reached the north side of Long Lake, which was blanketed in a green algae, and the notable shelter that marks the start of the route. We were surprised to see a truck on this portion of road too. It’s amazing where people are willing to drive instead of walk. From the shelter, the road continues steeply up a small hill. I had a screenshot of the trail description from WTA since many have mentioned it can be a confusing maze of roads and trails to the summit. Although, I didn’t find the route finding as difficult as mentioned, it was helpful to have for some of the way points. We also had a ranger district map for reference as well. After heading up the road away from the shelter, we were met with an immediate fork. Both routes meet back up with each other a short distance later, but the left is easier on foot. The second fork we headed left again, or straight depending on how you want to look at it. The trail you are following is an OHV trail and has no directional markings for you to follow to the summit. I thought that meant it would be similar to a road walk with some steeper sections thrown in. But, boy was I wrong! In the more gradual sections it was basically a road walk, but the steep sections were no joke. Toss in my fear of heights for good measure and this was now a challenging route for me. There were three notably steep sections that were problematic. All are within the first mile and a half before you reach Louie Way Gap. In all three sections, the road heads up at a steep angle that would be difficult even in an ATV to traverse. It is also made up of loose, rocky, and slick dirt that can make it hard to find stable footings. Heading up wasn’t great, but I knew heading down would be much worse. I took pictures for reference, but you can never quite capture the depth of field in a picture. The second steep section is avoidable by hiking cross country on the slope next to it. The ground is much more stable there than on the road. After the last steep section, we reached Louie Way Gap. It is an open field with a four way junction. I thought the hard climbing was over from here and that we’d have a gradual few miles to the lookout. Wrong again!

Louie Way Gap looking toward the road you came up
Louie Way Gap looking toward the road to Jumpoff
Louie Way Gap
Trail #1127 sign heading back down
It looked so far away from here

We turned left from Louie Way Gap on to NF-613. This is shown as trail #1127 on most maps, but it was once an old continuation of NF-613. It does eventually turn into a single track trail and is no longer drivable to any four wheeled vehicle. There were a few warning signs posted to trees about the upcoming side hill before the road deteriorated in case someone was to try it. The road from Louie Way Gap headed steeply up again. Nothing unmanageable, but it was starting to wear us down as the day was heating up. I thought this would be our final push to the gradual slopes of the Divide Ridge. but wrong, wrong, wrong I was! We found the aforementioned dry camp that had a nice view to the valley below. I would have struggled greatly with a loaded pack to make it here. I’m not sure if that is more a commentary on my fitness level or to the trail conditions. This marked that we were a little over half way there. The trail started to head down from here and the trees opened briefly to a view of our end goal. I stared on in confusion, the lookout appeared to be on a completely different ridge line from where we were. We both had the thought that we were somehow on the wrong trail, but that was impossible given that we followed all the directions. It just so happens that the trail heads down again to a saddle before the final climb. Something I completely missed when looking at the topo map. We could see where the trail crossed the exposed slope to the final ridge line, but it was a bit defeating to see. I already made it this far though, there was no turning back now. The WTA description describes the trail as Jekyll-and-Hyde conditions, which is accurate. Despite drinking water constantly, I could feel my body drying up on the final push, the actual final push, to the ridge. It stayed exposed the remainder of the way to the lookout, but was fairly flat from there. We crossed another four way junction where we headed straight. The NF-613, or Trail #1127, route eventually meets up with the drivable road NF-1302 to the summit.

I’ve read the NF-1302 road is 13 miles of rough and rocky conditions. But, they are in the process of building a communication tower on the summit which means improvements could be made. This was partially our motivation for making it up here sooner than later. We wanted to see the Fire Lookout before the area was obstructed by more communication buildings. The 100′ communication tower is already in process and the summit was littered with building equipment. We had the lookout to ourselves while we took pictures, signed the log book, and enjoyed a brief lunch. As we were finishing lunch, a couple drove up in their Jeep and greeted us on the catwalk. We asked about the road conditions and the guy said they had improved since the last time he was up there on his motorcycle. They joked that they took the easy way up in comparison. We only saw them and a group of three ATVs near the summit. We had the trail to ourselves the remainder of the time.

The hike back down was less grueling, but the heat was still giving me a hard time. I was dehydrated and dreaded descending the steep sections. The first one I ended up making it down by half sliding on my hip while I braced and stepped with my dominant foot. Mind you this is only a me problem between the two of us. My partner has little to no issues scrambling down these kinds of slopes. Yes, he’d agree it was steep and a bit sketchy, but he can at least descend while standing up. My main issue, besides just having the fear of heights, is that my center of gravity is in my ankles. It should be located somewhere like your core, but for me it’s not. Or at least I have that perception and my body acts accordingly to that perception. I typically use trekking poles to help stabilize my upper body. Anyway, this means that any time I feel unstable or like I’m going to fall I get low to find my stability. This leads to crab-walking, side-stepping, butt-scooting, or bear-crawling my way down steep loose slopes. I have no shame in getting dirty if I don’t feel safe. I’ve done it before and I will continue to do so in the future. Though I will note there have only been a few trails steep enough for me to roll around in the dirt like this. The second steep portion was once again easily avoided by cross country hiking the stable slope on the side of the road. I was already covered in dirt by the third steep section that I decided to take it low again. We made it back to the car in one piece, but not before this trail chewed me up and spit me out rotten. I conceded the car to my partner to drive us most of the way home.

History.

Jumpoff, often mistakenly labelled as Jumpoff Joe, was first established in 1923 with a D-6 cupola cabin. It was replaced by the existing R-6 flat cab sometime between 1958 and 1961. It was only sporadically staffed after the 1960s for emergencies. It fell into a state of disrepair with heavy vandalism and neglect. Starting in 2010, a group of volunteers decided to start restoring and maintaining it. Mike Hiller, who staffed the lookout during the summers of 1969 to 1973, was the driving force along with the “Friends of Jumpoff” volunteers. They completed a lot of their work by the summer of 2018. It is in better shape and still standing thanks to their efforts.

More Information.

Washington Trails Association

AllTrails

Willhite Web

TrailChick

Peakbagger

Burley Mountain L.O.

Washington Lookouts

Location.

Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Status.

Restoration in progress; Currently standing

Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.

3 hours

Date visited.

August 13, 2022

Elevation.

5,304′

National Historic Lookout Register.

Yes

Trip Report.

My partner and I weren’t as motivated to get up this morning. We planned to head to Burley Mountain as a day trip since I had family obligations on Sunday. This definitely would have been better for an overnight trip, but it’s doable as a really long day. We hit snooze a few times before grumbling out of bed around 8AM. After getting ourselves in order, we were able to get on the road before 9AM. We headed north on I-5 into Washington until it met up with HWY-12. The section of HWY-12 from I-5 to Packwood provides great access to different recreation opportunities in Central Washington. I’ve used this same highway to access Suntop Mountain L.O., Shriner Peak L.O., Crystal Lakes, Packwood Lake, and some other trips not mentioned on the blog. This time we stayed on HWY-12 until we reached the community of Randle. We turned right onto Cispus Road which also starts out as HWY-131. Shortly after crossing a bridge you will want to bear left to diverge from HWY-131 and stay on Cispus Road. We stayed on Cispus Road until we reached the Cispus Learning Center. There were a few needed turns to stay on the right road but all were marked with a sign. You can either park at the trailhead here for a 14 mile RT hike via the Covel Creek Trail or continue past to attempt a drive up. I’ve read the trail is riddled with dead fall that can be difficult to navigate. We opted to attempt a drive up to get as close as possible for a road walk. From the Cispus Learning Center the Cispus Road turns into NF-76. There are two different access routes from here. You can either turn left onto NF-77 or NF-7605. I read that NF-7605 is a rough high clearance only route, so we opted for NF-77 that is partially paved. There is a sign for Burley Mountain at the NF-77 junction that notes it at 16 miles away. I zeroed my odometer here.

Sign at NF-77 and NF-76 Junction
Sign at NF-7605 and NF-77 Junction
Landslide over NF-77
NF-086 sign
Sign at NF-086 and NF-7605 Junction

The NF-77 road might be paved, but it is not a good road. My partner and I have found that paved roads in the forest tend to be worse than gravel. Any deterioration, pothole, or washout becomes significantly more treacherous with broken pavement. They just don’t see the maintenance needed to stay in decent condition. We were on pavement until the road reached a junction with NF-7708. After NF-7708, the NF-77 road turns to gravel and the conditions improve significantly. There were still a few potholes to avoid and a section that was covered by a landslide, but it all felt like gliding over silk in comparison. Eventually, we came to a four way junction that was signed. The sign noted Burley Mountain was only a mile away. Not only is this sign incorrect on mileage, but if you’re not paying attention you could head down the wrong road. We took a left onto NF-7605 at the junction, which is marked by a road sign. I was worried about the conditions along NF-7605 and that we’d get stuck in a tricky situation. While my partner was worried about not having enough time for a long road walk and getting back late. But, I was motivated to get in some hiking miles since we seem to be doing more driving than walking these days. I pulled us over in a pull out shortly after heading up NF-7605 and we started our road walk. My odometer read that we drove 14 miles. We walked along NF-7605 for at least a mile or mile and a half until we reached the junction with NF-086. There is another sign here for Burley Mountain that says it’s only a mile away. Deja vu! This time it was accurate. After walking along NF-7605, we realized the Civic could have made it to the junction with NF-086. I wouldn’t drive a low clearance vehicle on NF-086 though.

The final mile to Burley Mountain was hot, dusty, and exposed. It’s a narrow road with steep drop offs and is fairly busy to vehicle traffic. I would proceed with caution if you decide to drive the road. There is no where to pass on certain sections if you meet oncoming traffic. There was a dirt bike and truck heading down as we were walking up. The only people on the summit when we arrived was an older couple from Nevada that had parked in a lower pull out. We briefly spoke to them because they had initially been trying to find the alternate trail to Angel Falls. This is a hike that starts at the trailhead by the Cispus Learning Center. They had heard the bridges were washed out and wanted to try from the Burley Trailhead. Instead, they had accidentally ended up all the way up here after following their GPS. I’m not sure if by Burley Trailhead they meant where the trail meets up with NF-7605. But, if they did, it would have been a long and steep hike down to the waterfall. I asked if it wasn’t a ford-able creek, but it sounded like they only read online about the bridge washouts and didn’t check it out for themselves. We couldn’t offer them much more information than that since we walked the road instead of the trail. We wished them luck as they headed back to their truck and we continued to check out the lookout.

As far as I had known, Burley Mountain was still available for overnight stays on a first-come first-serve basis. We had even talked about potentially doing that, but we were dissuaded by the popularity of this area. We had read of reports from people driving up at all hours of the night which would, personally, freak me out. But, after seeing the condition of the lookout it is obvious that this is no longer an option. There were signs posted on it from the Forest Service stating it was currently under restoration work and being proposed for the rental program. You can tell it was recent work too. The windows were gone on one side and it looked like there were new wall supports added. The stairs had been removed and it looked like there was work being down on the foundation as well. Inside the lookout there is still a logbook to sign and a hand written note stating that the USFS is planning restoration work for the Summers of 2022 and 2023. We had the summit to ourselves after the couple from Nevada left and enjoyed a late lunch at the picnic table. It seemed we were getting lucky on our timing visiting some of these busier Fire Lookouts. We didn’t see anyone else until we started to head back down the road. A truck, 4-runner, and two dirt bikes proceeded to pass us all within our walk back down NF-086. We didn’t get back to the car until close to 4PM and home until around 7PM. It was a long day.

If you have any questions about the Burley Mountain project, you can e-mail matthew.mawhirter@usda.gov or call the Randle ranger station.

History.

Burley Mountain started as a fire camp in the 1930s back when the forest was known as the Rainier National Forest. In 1934, a 14’x14′ L-4 ground cab was built on the summit and still stands today. It offers views to Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, Mount Saint Helens, and even Mount Hood. It was actively staffed every summer until 1974 when it was subsequently abandoned. It had been vandalized and neglected over the years, but was updated in 1984 by a group of Volunteers and Forest Service employees. The most recent restoration work was completed in 2009 by FFLA member Dick Morrison and volunteers. For a long time, it has been open to the public for first-come first-serve overnight stays. But, it seems even with the love of the community this Fire Lookout has fallen into bad shape once again. Possibly due to the popularity of the area and the ability to drive up. The Forest Service has taken restoration work into their hands once again to potentially add this on to their rental program. We will see if their venture is successful. I’d personally recommend adding a gate.

More Information.

US Forest Service

Washington Trails Association

AllTrails

Backpacking: Packwood Lake

Backpacking

Location.

Gifford Pinchot National Forest; Goat Rocks Wilderness

Trail(s).

Packwood Lake Trail #78

Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.

3 hours

Date(s).

August 21-23, 2020

Mileage.

10 miles RT

Elevation gain/loss.

700′

Trip Report.

I’ll set the scene for this one. The year was 2020 and we were at least 5 months into a world wide pandemic. Portland was in the height of their Black Lives Matter movement. The overall status of our world was not great. The summer provided a sense of false hope as cases lowered and more people were outside. But, as we know now, things came crashing down again in fall. I clung to that glimpse of hope and decided to plan a backpacking trip with my friend, Anjelica, and her roommate. It felt safe since we were outside, I was only meeting up with people from one other household, we drove separate, and I brought my own tent. I won’t dive into the deep end of how the pandemic effected us or the mental gymnastics that came with it to get here. The last time I had a chance to see my friend was in 2019, pre-pandemic.

Packwood lake was a place I had wanted to hike or backpack to since a previous girls cabin trip to the area in April 2019. We weren’t able to round up everyone for a hike at the time but it stayed on my radar. My partner wasn’t interested in going here either due to the popularity of the area. I left pre-dawn on Friday morning to get to the trailhead as early as possible. I knew it was busy and I was worried about finding a camp spot. I reached the trailhead around 8AM before my friend and her roommate got there. It was an almost full parking lot but there were still a few spots left. It is an easily accessible trailhead off a paved road, NF-1260, that leaves directly from the east side of Packwood. You will need a NW Forest Pass or equivalent to park here. My friends rolled in about 30 mins after me. The excitement that comes with seeing someone you haven’t seen in a long time and doing something you love that you haven’t been doing as much of because of a pandemic is unmeasured. We headed out on the trail shortly after they arrived. The trail is fairly straight forward and undulated gradually through a forest setting for 4 miles. You don’t enter the Goat Rocks wilderness until you are directly at the edge of the lake. There are self issue permits here for when you do enter the wilderness, please make sure to fill one out. As we started to hike around the lake the closest spots were already taken. The first open spot we came upon was on a slope, but we were worried that if we continued on we wouldn’t find anything better. Anjelica decided to run on ahead to check out other options without her pack on. Her roommate and I occupied the spot in fear of losing it during further exploration. She came back a short while after saying there were better options farther down. We continued on to a flatter spot with a private beach to access the lake. I’m glad we didn’t settle!

It was overcast and muggy when we got there. After setting up camp, the first thing I wanted to do was jump in the lake to cool off. I brought a swimsuit with me, but I couldn’t be bothered to change. I striped down to my sports bra and boy shorts for a quick dip (both cover more than a standard swimsuit anyway). The water was too cold for Anjelica, but her roommate followed me in fully clothed. I had lugged 3 liters of bagged wine in for us to enjoy. I figured we could sip on it all weekend, but it was gone before the first day was over. Oops! Throughout the day, more people had started to trickle in and even our secluded spot ended up having close neighbors. I’m not sure if this area is as crowded during a normal year or if everyone was desperate to get outside because of the pandemic. But, we would have been hard pressed to find a spot if we had come in on the Saturday instead. This was a trip dedicated to relaxing, which meant most of Saturday was spent in camp. We were either reading, swimming, or playing cards in the sun. I discovered my air mattress doubles as a decent floaty too. We decided to take a walk to the main view point for lunch and check out the old ranger station. Nothing like a quick leg stretch to prepare you for more lizard time (aka lazying around in the sun). Near dusk we walked to the other end of the lake where the trail starts to head steeply up into the wilderness. There is a view of Mount Rainier from this end of the lake, but it can be hard to see due to brush. We also would have had to walk through someones camp if we wanted to get a better view. It should also be noted that Washington was in a burn ban during this time, but tons of people were still having fires. I wish I would have had more confidence to say something, but there were too many of them. We would jokingly talk about the ban and emphasize the word BURN-BAN as we walked by some camps, but we knew it wasn’t going to stop anyone. A guy who was even cutting up a downed log asked if we needed fire wood. No sir, we do not. Please always check your states current rules and regulations on fires if you’re going to recreate outside. Even when you think you’re being safe things could easily go wrong and quickly get out of hand.

We had a slow morning on our last day trying to soak up as much scenery as possible. Instant coffee never tasted better than in the backcountry. None of us wanted to go back to reality. It was the closest thing to normalcy we had felt in a long time. We passed a lot of day hikers on our way out and the trailhead was overflowing with cars. It’s not a trail to find solitude, but it was sure fun. The good-bye was extra long as well since we didn’t know when we’d be able to see each other next.

More Information.

Washington Trails Association

US Forest Service

AllTrails

Green Point L.O.

Former Lookouts, Oregon Lookouts

Location.

Siuslaw National Forest; Cascade Head Experimental Forest

Status.

Abandoned; Partially standing

Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.

2 hours

Date visited.

April 23, 2022

Elevation.

1,303′

National Historic Lookout Register.

No

Trip Report.

Green Point, not to be confused with Green Mountain, Green Butte, Green Peter, or Green Ridge, is a crows nest located outside the community of Otis within the Oregon coastal range. You can access the community of Otis via HWY-101 or HWY-18. From Otis, you will want to follow the Old Scenic Highway towards the Cascade Experimental Forest Headquarters. Continue on past the headquarters until you reach a four way junction. Turn right here onto NF-1861 until you reach the road with a gate off to the left. Park here. All roads were in good condition for driving a low clearance vehicle.

The above map shows our rudimentary route. The black dots indicate our driving route with the larger dots representing Otis, Green Point, Cascade Experimental Forest Headquarters, and our parked car. The purple indicates our hiking route. We parked the car in a pull out across from an old road with a gate. You could potentially park at the gate, but someone was already parked here during our visit. I’m not sure what they were doing since they were just sitting in their car, but I’m sure they thought the same about us. Especially, after we headed uphill into the brush. We had drove to the junction past this gated road initially because there was supposed to be another road off to the left that headed closer to the summit. We weren’t able to find any indication of an old road along this section. We hiked a bit up the gated road, but it just followed around the point. It was also significantly overgrown and brushed over by prickly berry bushes. It seemed easier to head cross-country to the summit instead. We started up at an angle from the junction towards the high point. It was fairly easy and open walking for a while, but as we grew closer to the summit we were met with downed trees and thicker brush. I didn’t expect it to be a walk in the park, it is the coast range after all, but this section made me want to turn around. My partner encouraged me to continue on and we eventually broke through into another open area. We followed some game trails until we reached the plateau that is Green Point. It is fairly flat on the summit with a nice park-like stand of trees. We searched around for a while until we found the correct tree. It was on the more northern side of the summit right before it slopes down again.

Heading back down, it was much easier to find a more open route that avoided most of the brush. We were even able to find the old road bed. It was only visible due to the cut bank, otherwise completely overgrown. It was virtually invisible from the main road and un-walkable. Actually, the whole area was overgrown near the main road. We had to push through a dense thicket to get back on the road to our car. There were two bikers stopped and talking on the road where we were headed out. I’m sure they were caught off guard when we emerged out of the brush for no apparent reason. We tried to act casual and headed back to the car. The only marker to identify where to start is a paper plate nailed to a tree with a 3 spray painted on it. This is the better route even if it might not look like it from the road.

History.

Green Point used to have a 53′ pole lookout tower with L-4 cab and garage built by the CCC in 1939. It was used for aircraft surveillance in 1942 and later destroyed in a windstorm during 1951. The crows nest pre-dates the tower and was added to the summit in 1933. I’d say this one doubles as a former fire lookout site and existing lookout.

Suntop Mountain L.O.

Washington Lookouts

Location.

Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Status.

Staffed by Volunteers; Currently standing

Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.

4 hours

Date visited.

August 6, 2022

Elevation.

5,280′

National Historic Lookout Register.

Yes

Trip Report.

Every year I like to plan a camping trip for my friends and I, or at least for the ones that are interested in camping. It started as a tradition with my friend, Anjelica, at South Beach State Park in 2016. It was the first time we came to the realization that we could plan a camping trip without our parents. It was just us and her boyfriend at the time. In 2017, it really took on its true form as a girls trip when two more friends joined us. During that trip, on a hike, there was a trail sign that someone had carved in the words “Lost Boys” and the year they were there. We joked that we were now considered the Lost Girls. Since then our little group of four has managed to go camping every year (minus a year for the Pandemic) and we still jokingly refer to ourselves as the Lost Girls. I always try and pick somewhere new for us to explore when planning. It generally ends up being in central or northern portions of Washington since we are split between Portland and Seattle. This year was a bit different since we had two more friends and three dogs joining us. The campground I picked this year, Silver Springs, was in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie NF and close to plenty of recreation opportunities. I didn’t expect to explore as much as we usually do just based on the logistics of getting us all around. Traveling with dogs immediately cuts out any trail options in the National Park too. Out of curiosity, I decided to look at the potential Fire Lookouts in the area. I saw we were really close to Suntop, which is just outside of the National Park with a great view of Mount Rainier. I recommended it to my friends who all seemed to be down. Step one in slowly tricking my friends into going to Fire Lookouts. I was still skeptical we’d be able to round up everyone for the caravan and short hike though. But, even after we all made it to camp they seemed motivated to make it happen. Not that any of them read this blog, but thanks friends!

We left camp around late-morning on Saturday with a two car caravan. I made the mistake of not bringing a map or doing much research on the route needed to get there. That’s on me, but I truly didn’t think it was going to happen. Luckily, I had a vague idea on where we needed to turn from looking at the route prior to the trip and guessed correctly. From HWY-410, we headed north and turned left onto NF-73. There wasn’t a sign for this road, so it would have most likely been a guessing game regardless. We were able to get service here and confirmed the remainder of the route. We stayed on NF-73 for a little over a mile before we turned left onto NF-7315 which was signed. You will stay on NF-7315 for around 5 miles until you reach the trailhead or summit. There is a gate just past the trailhead that might be open depending on when you visit. We were able to continue past the gate since it was open and I have the luxury of friends with high-clearance vehicles. The road getting there was rough and would need caution in a low-clearance vehicle just to reach the trailhead. Past the gate the road is significantly worse, but we were able to roll around the large embedded rocks with no issues in a Toyota RAV4 and Subaru Outback. There was a sedan that had made it to the summit too, but it didn’t look like it would have been worth it. We also passed a large RV broken down in a pull out along NF-7315 which is a skinny and steep mostly single track road. A reminder that just because someone has done it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea. My partner and I always joke about meeting something like that on these back roads, but I never thought I’d actually ever see one.

From the parking area on the summit, which has room for 10 to 15 vehicles, it was a short easy walk to the lookout. I was hoping to at least do a little portion of the hike, but I can’t complain about being chauffeured to the summit. The Fire Lookout can also be reached via the Suntop Trail #1183. If you park at the trailhead along NF-7315 it is only a half of a mile to the summit. But, if you are looking for more of an adventure you can start at the Suntop trailhead, which is accessed from a different road, and hike the 16 miles round trip. When we approached the Fire Lookout we were greeted by the friendly attendant on duty. I didn’t catch his name or ask as many questions as I wanted to because of all the people. But, he did mention he was staffing it through a volunteer partnership with the Forest Service. He was also only staffing it for two or three days before someone else would come up to volunteer and rotate service. We didn’t stay for long after taking pictures since we left our lunch at camp. I ended up driving my friend’s RAV4 back to camp since she wasn’t keen on the steep drop offs along the road. She also has a fear of heights like me, but I’m more used to driving on these kinds of roads. It was helpful for me to see the road conditions from the drivers seat for when I inevitably come back with my partner.

History.

Suntop was built in 1933 as a 14’x14′ L-4 ground cab. It is one of two remaining lookouts of its kind on the Snoqualmie NF. It was used for the Aircraft Warning Service from 1942 to 1943 during World War II. An access road wasn’t built to the summit until 1956. Although the same structure still stands today, it was refurbished in 1989. It is still staffed on a volunteer basis through the Forest Service.

More Information.

AllTrails

US Forest Service

Washington Trails Association

The Watchman L.O.

Oregon Lookouts

Location.

Crater Lake National Park

Status.

Educational; Currently standing

Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.

4 hours

Date visited.

July 31, 2021

Elevation.

8,056

National Historic Lookout Register.

Yes

Trip Report.

Our alarms were set for 5:30AM in an attempt to get an early start. We were both pretty grumbly this morning and hit snooze until a little past 6AM. I let my partner get up first to start making breakfast while I sleepily packed our tent. We weren’t moving very fast this morning. By the time we were done eating, packed up, and on the road to the Northern entrance of Crater Lake NP it was already 8AM. The kiosk was not opened yet, but we already have a National Parks pass for the season and let ourselves in to the park. We kept right once we reached the rim road to stay on the western side of the crater. It didn’t take very long for us to reach the parking area for The Watchman. It is painfully obvious where you need to park. Not only is it well signed, but the lookout is visible from the road. It is one of the busiest trails in the park and we assumed we would see a lot of people here. There were only a few spots left in the main parking area which has enough room for at least 20 to 30 cars. We parked and headed up the well graded trail. It’s a short 0.8 miles with 400′ in elevation gain to the summit. There were these neat blooms along the beginning of the trail that resembled something out of a Dr. Seuss novel. I know I over-use that reference, but these truly do look like miniature Truffula Trees from The Lorax. I later found out they are known as the Western Pasqueflower, or Anemone Occidentalis. I want to try and get better at identifying wildflowers in Oregon. I always ask my partner if he knows what the flowers are called, but he’s better at identifying the types of trees and birds. We passed a large group and a few other people on our way up that were heading down to the parking lot. The trail was still mostly shaded this morning which made for a really nice temperature. My partner reached the summit before me, per usual, as the last few people were leaving. We were shocked to have the summit briefly to ourselves. The lookout was blocked to public use but you still get a great view from the base. A couple joined us shortly after, but they didn’t stay long. We soaked in our time at the summit waiting to see when the next person would arrive. We stayed up there for at least 15 to 20 minutes without anyone else before deciding to head back down. We were up there fairly early, but it was still shocking to have it to ourselves. As we leisurely hiked down, we realized we were just slightly ahead of the crowds and had come at the perfect time. There were roughly 45 people heading up the trail on our way back down. The parking lot was full when got back to our car and people were starting to park in the overflow area. It seemed that a good amount of them were just stopping to check out the view point before moving on than actually hiking the trail. The flow of cars seemed to be pretty even on those coming in versus those leaving. The next time we’re in the Crater Lake NP we hope to hike to its highest point on Mount Scott.

History.

The first trail to the summit was established in 1916. It was shortly followed by the construction of a cupola-style lookout in 1917. The site was always intended for dual use of a Fire Lookout and an educational interpretive site. The existing two-story observation station was built from native materials with the intention of blending in with its surroundings. It was designed by Francis Lange as part of the 1920s Crater Lake Master Plan. Construction on the station started in 1931 and was completed in 1933. It was recently restored in 1999 and re-opened for public access. The mountain top museum had been previously closed since 1975. It is still occasionally staffed by a National Park Ranger in extreme emergencies.

More Information.

OregonHikers

AllTrails

National Park Service

Mount Stella L.O.

Oregon Lookouts

Location.

Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest

Status.

Abandoned; Currently standing

Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.

4-1/2 hours

Date visited.

July 30, 2022

Elevation.

4,715′

National Historic Lookout Register.

Yes

Trip Report.

My partner and I decided beforehand that if we only had time to add one other Fire Lookout to our trip to Garwood Butte, it should be Mount Stella. We both really wanted to see The Watchman as well, but Mount Stella is in poor condition. It was on our priority list due to its higher risk for collapse, being torn down, or burning down in a wildfire. We didn’t reach our car until around 4:30PM after visiting Garwood. We knew there was still enough time to squeeze in Mount Stella for the evening, but only if we left immediately. This was also with the assumption that the road conditions to the gate were in our favor. We briefly contemplated setting up camp and visiting Mount Stella in the morning. But, if we successfully visited Mount Stella now that meant there would be time for The Watchman in the morning. As we headed out of the forest to HWY-230 we could see darker clouds on the horizon. The forecast did mention a chance of rain and thunderstorms in the area, but we figured it unlikely with the heat. I could see some flashes in the clouds and we passed through a minor drizzle. Unfortunately, not enough to clean off the collected dirt on my car’s exterior. Thunderstorms are typically not ideal for visiting Fire Lookouts since you are on a higher point that can be more exposed to the elements. But, they seemed to be moving quickly in the opposite direction. Although these didn’t pose much fret for us at the time, it seems they were the same thunderstorms to kick off Oregon’s Wildfire season. The first, currently known as the Windigo Fire, being reported Saturday night within the Umpqua NF. The second, currently known as the Potter Fire, being reported the following morning within the Willamette NF. Both were just barely north of where we were camped this weekend. It’s a bit unsettling how quickly we turned from our wettest spring to our current fire season with little to no transition period. I’m inclined to stay hopeful for a mild season, but I’m also not holding my breath.

We were back on HWY-230 around 5PM and thankful for the longer summer days. We turned right on to NF-6510 just past where the highway crosses Bybee Creek. There were a lot more people camping in this area due to the water access. Once the road started to head away from the creek, we reached a fork. We took a left to stay on NF-6510, while NF-6520 was to the right. It is three miles from HWY-230 to the junction with NF-200. The NF-200 spur didn’t have a sign, but it is off to the left at a four way junction. The NF-100 spur was signed off to the right which helped us identify it on the map. It was roughly one mile down NF-200 to the gate and another three quarters of a mile to the lookout from the gate. The NF-200 spur was in decent condition, albeit a bit overgrown. We were able to drive the Civic to the gate with minimal caution. We ended up parking near the decommissioned road off to the right and walking from there. The gate was open but there were some large rocks embedded in the road that stopped us from continuing on in the car. It had potential to be worse than the access road to Garwood Butte, but it improved significantly after the first rocky section.

By this time, the heat had caught up with me. I was feeling completely drained of energy and dehydrated while nursing a headache. Despite my best effort to drink as much water as possible, it was no match to the heat. My partner took off at his usual pace for the summit while I meandered behind. It’s a mostly forested road walk until you come to a sharp bend. At the bend, it opens up to views of the valley just south of the summit. These are the only views we would get from Mount Stella. The remaining area is overgrown with tall trees and shrubs. I could hear rumbles of thunder in the distance as I reached the clearing. It wasn’t an immediate concern, but I also wasn’t inclined to stay on the summit for too long either. I quickly took some pictures of the tower and made my way over to the garage. As I was entering through the door to the garage something larger scurried towards me. I screamed and ran out of its way thinking it was a large wood rat. My partner had already warned me of the rabbit he spooked up in the garage earlier. Turns out I spooked the same poor rabbit. It was now past 6:30PM and we knew we needed to head back so we could set up a camp. As we were hiking down the road, we were surprised to be met by a vehicle. It was a government vehicle from the BLM fire crew. They didn’t stop to say anything, but I can only assume they were driving up to the view point to watch for fires. Based on that, one could argue the site is still used in emergencies even though they don’t use the tower anymore.

Art?
No stairs for Stella
Privy

We had planned on camping near Mount Stella if there were decent options and heading to The Watchman in the morning via the Southern park entrance. But, it seemed most of the decent camps were already taken in this area. We decided it made more sense to head back towards the other camps we found closer to Garwood Butte. This would set us up for easy access to the Northern park entrance instead. We didn’t set up camp until after 8PM, but overall a successful day.

History.

A 20′ native timber tower with L-4 hip-roofed cab was the first structure built on Mount Stella in 1932. Similar to other Fire Lookouts, it was activated as a Aircraft Warning Station during 1942 until 1943. In 1946, the Forest Service replaced it with a 30′ treated timber tower and L-4 cab. This structure still stands today but has been abandoned since the 1980s.

Garwood Butte L.O.

Oregon Lookouts

Location.

Umpqua National Forest

Status.

Abandoned; Currently standing

Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.

4-1/2 hours

Date visited.

July 30, 2022

Elevation.

7,017

National Historic Lookout Register.

Yes

Trip Report.

Oregon has been in a heat advisory for the last week with temperatures ranging in the mid to high 90s. It even briefly jump up into the low 100s a couple of those days. A haze was expected to settle over all of Oregon for the weekend due to a new wildfire in northern California. Is it too soon to say I miss the rain? Anyway, what better time to head into the forest than when you’re sweltering at home? It turns out it’s pretty hot out there too. But, my partner and I headed on as we always do. This weekend we set our sights on Garwood Butte. We figured we could do The Watchman or Mount Stella while in the area too. Yes, both were also an option. It’s a bit of a drive for a one-night trip, but we’ve come to the conclusion that we’re a bit crazy. Garwood Butte has been on our minds for a while. Mostly, because my partner’s name is Garnet and he goes by Gar on occasion. I couldn’t possibly visit Garwood without him. For this reason alone, we felt a connection to the Fire Lookout. It’s also just a really cute L-4 perched on top of a rocky outcropping with views towards Mount Bailey and the Crater Lake rim. What’s not to love about that? We had originally thought about adding it to our road trip itinerary, but were worried about the potential for snow. After our visit to Pig Iron, we could see it was snow free and that it would be accessible for a future visit to the area this year.

Start of the NF-370 spur
Parking Spot
First glimpse of Garwood

Our alarms were set for 6AM and we were on the road as early as possible. We headed down the I-5 corridor once more, but this time cut over on HWY-58 to meet up with HWY-97. We gave a quick wave to Odell Butte L.O. and Walker Mountain L.O. as we drove past their marked highway turn offs. After a quick refuel in our now frequented stop in Chemult, we turned on to HWY-138 towards Crater and Diamond Lake. We passed the north entrance to Crater Lake NP and stayed on HWY-138 until we reached the turn for HWY-230 off to the left. I have been through this area a few times now on various different trips through out the years. We were also familiar with the route due to an unsuccessful attempt of Garwood during our visit to Cinnamon Butte last December. From HWY-230, we turned right at the access for Three Lakes Sno-Park. We continued straight to stay on NF-3703 until we reached the turn off for NF-370 spur. There were minimal potholes and ruts to avoid along the NF-3703 road. We didn’t even have to attempt a drive up the NF-370 spur to see it wasn’t a drive-able road. There were large ruts and rocks embedded in it that were not low-clearance compatible. The road is marked but the sign is sun-bleached and indecipherable. It is best identified by its terrible condition and a ski post marked with the number 36. We parked in a pull out just past the road. It was already noon by the time we got there, so we decided to have lunch in the comforts of our air conditioned car instead of the summit. While we were hiding out in the car, an ATV came brapping by and waited at the NF-370 junction. At first, we were confused on what they were doing or thought maybe they stopped because they were confused by what we were doing. But then, another ATV followed which triggered the first one to head up the road. When the second ATV reached the junction it proceeded to wait as well. The same thing continued to repeat itself until 8 ATVs had turned up the NF-370 spur. We weren’t too keen on starting a road walk that we knew would end in us being dusted up and decided to wait. The road eventually just dead ends and they would have to come back down. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait long and their brapping continued on to somewhere else.

Start of Connector Trail
Where the Connector Trail meets the road again
Beginning of Main Trail

It was hot and dusty when we started our hike up the road. We knew it was roughly two miles to the Fire Lookout from the junction, if you stayed on the road and didn’t use the connector trail. As we walked along, the road conditions continued to deteriorate with larger embedded rocks, downed trees, and wash out. There was a point in the road where the ATVs even turned around. A large tree had come down across it and there wasn’t enough room on either side for them to get around. Ah, that’s why they didn’t take long. It would have required a chain saw to remove it. We both agreed, this was officially the worse road we’ve been on so far. I took some pictures of the road, but it never quite captures the true conditions. We eventually reached a more open area with a view of Garwood Butte. There was a defined trail off to the left that we assumed was the connector trail. A peakbagger report had mentioned this trail was no longer here in 2012, but from what we could see it was now. If you take this trail you can cut off a half of a mile of road walking. It meets back up with the road where the official trail #1471 to Garwood Butte begins. There is no official trail sign, but it was a well defined junction. If you have trouble finding it, always look for the cut logs first. As we headed up the trail, it appeared to have been brushed out more recently. It was clear to us that someone had been taking care of this route somewhat regularly despite the road conditions. It was a hot and slightly humid slog to the summit. The trail switched backed through an interestingly mixed forest until it opened up to an exposed slope. The trail was in great condition besides a few loose sections that made finding my footing more difficult.

My partner reached the summit before me and was already making his rounds on the catwalk as I tried not to completely wilt away in the sun. I always seem to struggle more than him, specifically on steeper trails and in the heat. Partially, because I’m not in as good of shape but there are various other reasons as well. Garwood has a really nice summit on the edge of a rock that dropped off to views of the drainage below. The lookout structure was looking a bit worse for wear on the catwalk. Some of the stairs had broken and one corner was being supported by two boards. There was a sign posted on the cab mentioning the ongoing restoration, but I’m not sure if that is still active. Please use caution if you decide to climb the catwalk. We headed down after taking in the hazed over views and debated our next step. We had already found some decent dispersed camp spots and could have easily set up camp early to relax. But, there was also just enough time left in the day to move on to Mount Stella. We were both torn between wanting to maximize our short trip and just taking it easy for once. Who were we really kidding though? Of course, we headed on to Mount Stella.

History.

Formerly known as Bear Butte, it was renamed to Garwood Butte in 1946 to commemorate Leroy E. Garwood. Leroy was a former Forest Service District Ranger that died in March 1944. He was known as an old-timer on the forest and was the first to develop the lookout station atop the butte. The renaming also helped to eliminate another “bear” named feature within the forest. At the time the following features included the name bear; 6 Bear Creeks, 2 Bear Buttes, 2 Bear Camps, 1 Bear Bluff, 1 Bear Bones, 1 Bear Gulch, 1 Bear Lake, 1 Bear Wallows, 1 Bear Trap Mountain, and 2 Bear Mountains. The structure on Garwood Butte was built in 1942 as a 14’x14′ L-4 ground cab. It was last staffed in 1973 and has since been abandoned. In 2012, the lookout was threatened by a near by fire and had to be wrapped by fire fighters in Structure Protection Wrap. I believe it was the Butte Fire, but there were a few other larger fires during that year that could have caused this to be wrapped. There has been ongoing restoration work in more recent years, but it still needs a lot of work.