Deschutes National Forest
Abandoned; Currently standing
Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.
June 30, 2022
National Historic Lookout Register.
Day 6/10: Lookout Road Trip 2022
If you’ve ever been on HWY-97 between the junction with HWY-58 and the community of Chemult, you might have noticed a sign for Walker Mountain L.O. You can even see the tower from the highway if you know where to look. It’s located on a peak east of the highway often overshadowed by the excessive amount of communication towers. The first time I remember seeing this sign was back in August 2017. My friends and I were headed south on HWY-97 towards Diamond Lake for a weekend camping trip. That’s not to say my family hasn’t ever driven this way before, but I hadn’t had the same attention or interest for such things. Similar to the millions of other people that drive this route, have driven this route, or even live in the area, I passed the sign many more times without paying a visit to lonely Walker Mountain.
After our visit to Bald Mountain, we headed north on NF-2516 towards HWY-31. On the map it looked like we could potentially cut across the forest via a three number spur to connect with NF-94. We were hesitant to commit to this road given that it was marked as different road numbers on our two maps and both had it noted as a high-clearance road. We know from experience that the maps aren’t always correct about the road conditions, but it felt too risky this time. We decided to go up and around via HWY-31 to HWY-97. Sometimes pavement is the faster option even if it’s not the most direct. The only other challenge from this route was that we had to cross HWY-97 once again. The road marked for Walker Mountain off of HWY-97 is NF-94. This road will take you up to the ridge of the mountain where you will want to take a left on to NF-9402. The NF-9402 road follows along the ridge and climbs the remaining way to the summit. We had asked all the lookout attendants we met if they knew the road conditions to Walker Mountain, but none were sure of the current conditions. Ed from Sugarpine Mountain mentioned we would probably be fine since there are communication buildings and they want to maintain them. Turns out he was correct. NF-9402 had been recently regraded with fresh gravel. One might argue that it was even too fresh. From the junction with NF-94 and NF-9402, it is a little over 3-1/2 miles to the summit. As we headed up the ridge we found that the fresh gravel was pretty loose and soft in some spots. This made traction a bit of an issue in some of the steeper sections. It even created a highline from trucks driving up and pushing it around. Instead of water bars, the road had these rubber flaps to help divert the water off the road. There were over 30 of these water diversion flaps along the way. The gravel seemed to have piled up closer to them. All was passable in my Civic, but it’s something to be cautious of if you decide to visit. The last few hundred yards of the road turns to dirt, but it looked passable to most vehicles. We decided to park where the fresh gravel ended and walk the remaining distance.
On the summit, you will find Walker Mountain tucked behind a plethora of communication buildings. The lookout tower has seen better days and has been abandoned since the 1940s. They have since removed the bottom stairs to keep people from climbing the structure. There is an accompanying garage, privy, and stone cabin that you can visit on the summit as well. The stone cabin has seen more recent restoration work since it is considered one of the oldest administrative structures on the forest. It’s unfortunate that they didn’t put some time and effort into the tower as well. It was already fairly late in the day and we needed to get moving if we wanted to find a camp. We were also getting moved along by the amount of mosquitoes here. For some reason, we have met more mosquitoes on summits than in camp this trip. We said our good-byes to Walker Mountain and can now claim we’ve been here every time we pass it from HWY-97.
We were motivated to press on to the Umpqua NF since it would mean we could set up a base camp for the next few nights. We would also be leaving Klamath County and entering Douglas County. This meant we should be able to find water sources and refill our water reservoirs again. We stopped to refuel once more in Chemult. The gas attendant made a comment that our car looked like it had been on some great adventure. To be fair, it was completely covered in dust and looked a bit scratched up from our close encounters with the manzanita. I told him we had been intentionally bumping down some forest service roads for the past few days and left it at that. We made an additional pit stop at Broken Arrow Campground near Diamond Lake to refill our water. We were relieved to find the water was on here. We have dispersed camped in the Umpqua NF before and knew of areas to look. It was mostly a race to get there before the sun was set. The impending holiday weekend was finally upon us and our biggest worry was finding an open spot. We were surprised to find one of our favorite camps open and set up for the next few days.
Walker Mountain was established in 1913 as one of the first few lookouts on the Deschutes NF, along with Black Butte and Maiden Peak. The first lookout was a simple crows nest tree. It’s noted that the site was potentially used as a patrol lookout as early as 1907. A cabin made of stone and wood was built in 1915 for living quarters. In 1919, a small 25′ pole tower with 6×6 cab replaced the crows nest. The existing lookout was built in 1932 as a 35′ steel tower with hip-roofed 14×14 L-4 cab. The accompanying 16×18 garage was added in 1934. In 1996, a restoration and maintenance program was started to help preserve the historic stone cabin. The restoration work had been carefully completed on the cabin in 2005. The lookout tower itself is listed as condemned and proposed for removal by the Forest Service.