Tillamook State Forest
Built & maintained for educational purposes
Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.
March 26, 2023
National Historic Lookout Register.
This winter has been rough on us in every aspect; mentally, physically, and financially. We traded in our hiking sanity for house hunting this last November. This continued well into December and January leaving little time for any outdoor fun between holidays, birthdays, and other associated events. We finally had an offer on a home accepted at the end of January. After that we felt like we were in the home stretch to getting back outside, but the house hunting was only replaced by paperwork, moving, and home projects. Don’t get me wrong we are very excited to be home owners and to have a space that we can do with as we please. But, we are having a hard time finding the balance to get back outside between our opposite schedules and ever growing project list. The everlasting snow and wet winter weather hasn’t helped any either. I won’t elaborate on the nitty gritty since I’m sure many of you are already seasoned home owners and too familiar with the ups and downs that come with it. This isn’t to say we haven’t been outside at all this winter, but it has been far less than either of us would like.
We decided to put down our tools and carve out some time for something fun this last Sunday. The weather wasn’t promising and threatened for some lower elevation snow that almost kept us home. The Tillamook Forest Center has been on our list to visit, but it has been closed the last couple of years due to the pandemic. It finally re-opened its doors to visitors on March 17th with limited seasonal hours. They plan to resume regular operations in May. We decided this fit the bill for what we needed. We could check out a fire lookout, enjoy some fresh air away from our house, and read up on some history of the area. It is only 50 miles outside of Portland and is easily accessible off of HWY-6 within the Tillamook State Forest. I checked the trip check camera’s before heading out and everything looked free and clear. There was still a lot of fresh snow built up along the sides of HWY-6 though. A reminder to us that our higher elevation fun was going to be delayed even longer this season, I guess the groundhog was right about this one.
We got to the Forest Center around noon and started by climbing the lookout tower. The stairs were metal and nicely graded for public access. We only had the cab to ourselves for a brief moment and decided to climb back up on our way out instead. It gets easily crowded on a small catwalk, so be mindful of other people. We headed down to check out the interior of the museum and gift shop as well as deposit our donation in their adorable fire lookout kiosk. I am working on collecting magnets with fire lookout towers on them and their gift shop did not disappoint. We spent a good amount of time checking out the exhibits they had in place and reading up on the history. We didn’t stop to watch the 15-minute film “Legacy of Fire” that plays throughout the day, but I am sure it is worth a watch! The center definitely sparked my interest in expanding my knowledge on the state forest and the historic burn. We headed outside to walk along the interpretive trails that surround the center. While heading toward the trails, we noticed that the tower was currently unoccupied and decided to climbed it again to take some more pictures before continuing on. The back of the center is defined by its 250′ long pedestrian suspension bridge that crosses the Wilson River. It connects to the Wilson River Trail and Jones Creek Campground on the other side. We didn’t cross the bridge since we didn’t get up early enough for a longer hike along the Wilson River Trail, but we will be back to the area some other time for the things we missed. After walking along the Riverview trail, we found a picnic table directly in the sun that was calling our name for a late lunch. We soaked in as much vitamin-D as the clouds would allow before packing up to head home. The FFLA and many fire lookout enthusiasts would not consider this an actual fire lookout tower given that it was only built for display, but I still consider this our first of the season.
This fire lookout has no true history in fighting fire on the forest, but it was built in 2006 as a replica with education in mind. The tower stands 40′ tall and is open to the public to climb when the center is open. The center is based around the history of the Tillamook Burn that devastated the forest in a series of large fires. It expands from that to provide information about the indigenous people, the first homesteaders, and how proper forest management can protect from future fires. I was surprised to find out that the Tillamook State Forest is a mostly hand planted forest due to the burn. The center is owned and operated by the Oregon Department of Forestry, but it is an extension of a major public-private partnership that took 10-years to develop. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated if you plan to visit. Make sure to check operating hours before visiting.