In the past few years, there’s been a growing trend for alternative ways to spend the holidays. With REI’s yearly #OptOutside campaign, started back in 2015, more and more retailers have decided to close their doors on Black Friday to encourage their shoppers and employees to enjoy the holidays in meaningful and healthy ways.
A unique way to make the most out of your time outdoors is by renting a fire lookout to stay in during your trip. First built in the 1930s as a network of towers to aid in forest fire detection, many of these lookouts have now been decommissioned and repurposed as cabins for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts.
Most of these cabins measure about 14 x 14 feet and are typically elevated and perched on mountains or ridges, offering striking 360-degree views of the surrounding scenery. Whether it’s snowy mountains, a green blanket of towering trees or a beautiful desert mountain range, book any of these lookouts for unbeatable panoramic views and a fun time outdoors.
What to Expect: It’s Not Glamping
When heading out to a fire lookout, keep in mind that most of them were built solely to spot wildfires — glamping wasn’t a term back in the 1930s. So to make your trip as comfortable as possible, it’s important that you prepare for some of the items below.
Don’t forget that many states prohibit you to move firewood from one location to another in order to avoid spreading any non-native pests. When driving or hiking up to your lookout, be sure to buy local firewood and burn it all on-site.
You will also need to check for any required wilderness passes or parking permits. Depending on the gear you’ll be using — including snowmobiles, tire chains, fishing gear or off-road vehicles — you might want to check with the local forest service for any required paperwork.
Before you dive into each state and their lookouts, take a look at our legend below to learn what each icon means. Once you’ve got that down, you’re ready to plan and experience the great outdoors!
For those of you who love the snow and impressive, towering forests, Washington is one of the best states to find yourself a cozy lookout with stunning views.
For the amateur or intermediate hiker, we recommend heading there before the heavy snow starts to fall. Once the deep blanket of snow sets in, most of these lookouts can’t be reached without a snowmobile, skis or snowshoes.
Since these lookouts are managed by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, be sure to purchase any required permits including a Discover pass, parking, motorized trail use and SNO-PARK (snowmobile) permits online before your stay to avoid any delays.
A water sports haven, Oregon offers one of the most diverse arrays of activities on our list. With lookouts surrounded by historical sites as well as fishing, swimming, kayaking and skiing opportunities, you’ll find it to be one of the best destinations for families.
As far as views, Oregon also offers everything from icy mountain tops and glacial rivers to vibrant pine trees and serene lakes.
Offering equally spectacular views of green-covered mountains, sandy deserts and one of the world’s most scenic coastlines, an outdoor trip to the Golden State is always a good choice. If you’re looking for a relaxing getaway, California is home to an extensive list of fabulous hot springs to unwind and enjoy Mother Nature’s jacuzzis.
Due to the state’s high record of wildfires every year, be sure to stay up to date with reports from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection before heading out. In fact, many of California’s fire lookouts are not open to the public as they are still used and run by volunteers to spot wildfires.
Idaho is the ideal destination when you’re in need of a little solitude. With its low population and relatively low travel numbers, the state offers some respite from the busy city life and beautiful off-the-beaten-path locations.
At many of the lookouts below, you’ll be able to find plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities, horseback riding trails, cultural tours and fun spots for winter and water sports.
From the Rocky Mountains to the Great Plains, Montana is yet another state filled with spectacular views and recreational activities. With a total of nine National Park Service areas, you really can’t go wrong with any of the lookouts below. If you’re heading to the more mountainous spots, we recommend renting a high-clearance vehicle to arrive at your destination safely.
Once you know where you’d like to visit, head over to Recreation.gov to book your lookout or try your luck with one that’s first come, first serve. Apart from booking services, this handy site also gives you detailed instructions on how to get to your lookout and the best season to visit.
Whether you’re looking to spend the holidays outdoors and away from the traffic nightmares or simply want to book your next getaway, a fire lookout is an excellent way to get some peace and quiet with sensational panoramic views. Book a car at your destination that fits all of your gear and have a unique and unforgettable trip!