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

4 Popular Hikes That Are Former Fire Lookout Sites

Former Lookouts

In the prime of fire suppression, Oregon had over 800 fire lookouts and Washington had 750 fire lookouts topped on almost every high peak in both the states. Many were dismantled, destroyed, or burned down in a blaze of glory. But remains of the foundation can usually be found on the summits as a reminder to what once stood. Below lists 4 popular hikes close to Portland, OR that have a history in fire detection and lookouts.

Beacon Rock

Location.

Beacon Rock State Park – Columbia River Gorge

Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.

1 hour

Mileage.

1.5 miles RT

Elevation.

730′

Beacon rock is one of the tallest monoliths in North America and stands at 848 feet tall. It is also considered one of the most distinctive geological features in the Columbia River Gorge. The route follows a mostly blasted and bridged trail on the exposed west side of the rock. Parts of the trail have been paved over throughout the years and is completely lined with handrails. It is basically just a series of short continuous switchbacks to the summit. The history behind Beacon Rock is extensive and interesting. The feature itself was once the core of a volcano and what remains is what was able to withstand the force of ice-age floods. It was noted and named as Beacon Rock by Lewis & Clark during their voyage in 1805. Though I’m sure it had a different name for those native to the area. It was even slated for demolition at one point for either railroad construction or a new jetty on the Columbia River Gorge. Henry Biddle bought the rock and surrounding area before this happened. He is also the one who originally built the trail between 1915 to 1918. His property was later offered to the Washington State Parks by his estate for $1. The Washington State Parks originally refused this offer until Oregon expressed interest in maintaining it as a park. It was purchased by the Washington State Parks in 1935. Although you won’t find any remnants of a former lookout structure on the summit of this rock, it does have a history in fire detection. Given the height of the rock, it was used as a fire detection camp from the 1930s up until the 1950s when it was abandoned. I’ve hiked this trail more than any other trail and with more people than any other trail I’ve every hiked. It is a good beginner trail or trail for showing your out of town friends to a quick hike.

More Information.

Oregon Hikers

AllTrails

Saddle Mountain

Location.

Saddle Mountain State Natural Area

Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.

1-1/2 hours

Mileage.

5.2 miles RT

Elevation.

3,283′

The top of Saddle Mountain offers expansive views from the Pacific Ocean all the way to Mt Hood. It is no question why they would want to have a lookout on this summit. The trail switchbacks through an old growth forest until you reach the last push up the rocky slope. Parts of the trail are covered in mesh wiring to help with erosion and traction. It is a steep 1,640′ gain in elevation over 2.5 miles to the summit. Saddle Mountain was established as a fire camp in 1913 with a log cabin situated below the summit. In 1920, a frame cabin with observation platform was built. It was replaced in 1953 by a 2-story live-in cabin. The lookout structure was destroyed in 1966. I have been on this summit a few different times but didn’t take the time to look for any remnants of foundation.

More Information.

Oregon Hikers

AllTrails

Dog Mountain

Location.

Gifford Pinchot National Forest – Columbia River Gorge

Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.

1-1/2 hours

Mileage.

6.5 miles RT

Elevation.

2,480′

Stretching my calves on the way up
wildflowers on the trail!
Near the summit where we turned around

Dog Mountain is a very popular hike in the Columbia River Gorge due to its proximity to town and being right off of HWY-14. In the spring, between March 31st and July 1st, permits are required to hike this trail on the weekends. This is due to the hazardous conditions created for the cars on the highway by the overflow of people during wildflower season. There are a few different routes and loops that can be done to reach the summit once at the trailhead. My friend and I completed this hike on a hot July day before the permit system was in place. We arrived to the trailhead early to give us enough time to reach the summit and attempt to beat the crowds. We took the “less difficult” route which is the newer trail and offers more views on your steep climb up. We made it just past the former fire lookout site, also known as the Puppy Dog Lookout site, before turning around. I vaguely remember there still being some foundation there. The trail originally was developed to service this fire lookout that was destroyed in 1967. The original lookout was constructed in 1931 as a gable-roofed L-4 cab with windows only on three sides. It was replaced in 1953 by a standard L-4 cab. Both structures were located 1/4 mile from the actual summit of Dog Mountain. I used to have more pictures from this hike, even one of us standing on the former lookout site, but they have been lost in multiple phone transitions since 2017.

More Information.

Oregon Hikers

AllTrails

Mt. Defiance

Location.

Mt Hood National Forest – Columbia River Gorge

Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.

1 hour

Mileage.

12.5 miles RT

Elevation.

4,960′

Mt Rainier
Mt Adams
Mt Hood
Mt Saint Helens & Wind Mountain

Mt. Defiance is one of the more brutal hikes I’ve done. It is the highest peak in the Columbia River Gorge and offers views out towards Mt Hood NF as well. This made it the perfect candidate for a fire lookout site. I recommend starting this hike early if you want to make it to the summit and back before dark. Or at least hike a lot faster than I do. We didn’t start this hike until mid-morning and ended up getting back to the car after dark. The hike starts out paved and passes some pretty waterfalls. Once you have reached the junction with the un-paved trail you will start to go up and continue to go up the rest of the way. There are still some communication buildings on the summit and I’m sure there are foundation remnants if you spend some time looking for them. We didn’t spend much time here since it took me so long to get there. The trail had recently re-opened after the Eagle Creek Fire in 2017. The ashy portions of the trail made for un-stable ground and was hard for me on the hike down. By the time I got back to the car my feet felt like they were going to fall off completely. The first fire lookout on this site was a crow’s nest and tent in 1925. A more substantial structure was built in 1934 as a 40′ pole tower with L-4 cab. This was eventually replaced by a 41′ treated timber tower with L-4 cab in 1952. In 1959, the lookout was destroyed by a windstorm. The Forest Service didn’t build a replacement lookout until 1962 which was a R-6 flat top cab and 41′ treated timber tower. It was completely removed from the summit in 1971.

Struggling on the way up, but with a view!
Dying on the summit, also with view!

More Information.

Oregon Hikers

AllTrails

Red Mountain L.O.

Washington Lookouts

Location.

Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Status.

Maintained; Currently standing

Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.

2 hours

Date visited.

September 25, 2021

Elevation.

4,965′

National Historic Lookout Register.

Yes

Indian Racetrack Trail #171 Junction
Damaged Gate on FS-6048
Mount Rainier
Mount Adams
Mount Saint Helens
Mount Hood

Trip Report.

With some wildfires clinging on to the end of the season, my partner and I decided to head out to Red Mountain L.O. in the Gifford Pinchot NF. We brought my partner’s mom with us since she had been wanting to see this lookout as well. Red Mountain L.O. is one of the closest Washington lookouts to Portland. It skirts the edge of Indian Heaven Wilderness and is typically accessed via hiking trails. The main trail that leads to the lookout is Indian Racetrack Trail #171. We decided to go up via the road since it was a slightly shorter approach. From Carson we drove towards Panther Creek C.G. and Panther Creek Falls on NF-65. You will stay on NF-65 until you come to a four way junction. Turn right onto NF-60 and continue down this road until you reach NF-6048. NF-6048 will be on the left hand side of NF-60 and will take you directly to the lookout. This is supposed to be a gated road to help deter vandals but is unfortunately open now. It looked like someone had hooked a chain to their car to pull it open given the large bend in it. We drove past the gate a little but were wary of the remaining road conditions. I was driving my partners’ mom’s car which is a Honda HR-V and I didn’t want to damage it. It gets better clearance than my Civic but is still not what I would consider a high-clearance vehicle. We walked the remaining 2 miles of the road which is in great condition. We most likely would’ve been fine driving the HR-V to the summit. My Civic would have only been able to drive to the broken gate. We reached the lookout as a few groups were leaving and had some uninterrupted time to explore. The door to the lookout had been open when we were there so we were able to take a look inside. It was otherwise boarded up to keep the windows from breaking. One of the boards covering a window had fallen along with a glass pane. My partner and his mom tried to secure these two pieces back in place before shutting the door. Once we were joined by more people, we decided to exit the catwalk and sit below the tower for lunch. We absorbed the surrounding views of Mount Saint Helens, Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, Mount Hood, and the Gifford Pinchot NF as much as we could before heading back to the car to find camp. This lookout is close enough to be done as a day trip but we decided to stay the night in Crest Camp just down the road where NF-60 meets the PCT. There were dispersed camp spots in this area but they were filled with commercial mushroom pickers.

History.

The Red Mountain L.O. was established in 1910 with an 8’x8′ cedar frame cab. It was replaced only 9 years later in 1919 by a standard cupola cabin. That was in turn replaced by an L-4 cab and added garage in 1935. The current structure is a 10′ tower with R-6 flat cab from 1959. The original garage is still standing and was used as living quarters during 1942 for World War II. Some of the fire lookouts were used for Aircraft Warning Services during this time. In 2006, the lookout along with some communication structures were torn apart by a violent winter storm. Volunteers came together to restore this lookout over the next few years. Matt Haldeman was the one that championed the project. As a Vancouver based custom home builder he was able to source the donated materials needed to complete the structure. The windows were salvaged from a decommissioned fire lookout in Oregon. And the man-power needed to reconstruct this lookout was donated by the volunteers of Passport in Time. After Restoration was complete, there were plans to add it to the Recreation Rental program but I don’t believe that is still the case. Red Mountain L.O. wouldn’t be in the condition it is today without the community volunteers. This is the last remaining fire lookout in Skamania County.

More Information.

Washington Trails Association

Oregon Hikers

AllTrails

US Forest Service