Thursday, August 22, 2013

Idaho Fire Lookouts are a great place to visit, stay overnight; plus Sawtooth Salmon Festival

Bald Mountain Lookout ... Clearwater National Forest.
You can rent this one! 
Google Earth map of all of Idaho's 1,000 lookout sites ... 
Volunteers who helped to restore Basin Butte Lookout near Stanley. Thanks everyone! 
Work in a bike ride or a hike to and from the lookout if possible ...
This is Whitehawk Lookout in Bear Valley, Quinn's first summit via mountain bike several years ago. 
Hi all,

I must admit, I've always had a soft spot for Idaho's fire lookouts ... especially after I started mountain biking in the mid-80's, mountain-top lookouts were a natural place to go. Typically, there is a 4WD road leading to the lookouts, and so you've got dirt road access, and often the climb to the lookout goes for multiple miles with several thousand feet of vertical gain, meaning you'll have a guaranteed excellent workout to reach the summit.

Idaho Public Television featured a program last Sunday titled "Eyes of the Forest" about a number of super-cool fire lookout towers in the state. You can watch it online here on the Idaho PTV web site. Watching that program inspired this week's blog post and outdoor tip of the week.

My recommendation is to explore Idaho's lookouts whenever you can, wherever you can, work in a hike or bike ride into the outing for some exercise, and consider making plans to rent a lookout for a weekend with your honey, friends or family.

Why go? Fire lookouts, by definition, are always located on top of a high mountain peak. That's so the Forest Service lookout personnel have a big view of the surrounding countryside and can spot lightning strikes and fire starts. That means the lookout locations have a huge, 360-degree view of the mountains for miles on end -- this is one of the big payoffs.

"There's no finer way to see our state," says Gary Weber of the Forest Fire Lookout Association in the Idaho PTV program.

"Idaho's Lookouts are doorways to the heavens," narrator and executive producer Bruce Reichert says. "They inspire people to visit these sanctuaries at the edge of the sky."

Another reason is to get a workout hiking or biking to the summit. For families with small children, it's a big benefit to be able to drive to the top. Mom or Dad can drive, and the other can ride or hike. You know the drill.

One of the biggest benefits, I'd say from personal experience, is to experience a sunrise or sunset from a fire lookout tower. It's absolutely, utterly spectacular! Bring your camera, and pack your binoculars to look for wildlife.

At one time, there were 8,000 fire lookouts nationwide, and Idaho had about 1,000 of them. Here's a website with all of the original sites. Many of the lookouts have been decommissioned over the years, but there are about 150 lookouts still standing in Idaho, according to the Idaho PTV report. I've noticed a number of sites where the lookouts no longer exist, such as on Packer John Mountain, Red Mountain, Council Mountain, etc. I bet you've seen some, too.  

Here are a few lookout towers to visit near Boise, and some possibilities for rental. Rental rates, by the way, range from $35/night to $50/night:
Scott Mountain Lookout near Garden Valley 
  • Scott Mountain Lookout - Scott Mountain lords over Garden Valley at an elevation of 8,215 feet. You can get there via the Banks to Lowman Road, heading toward Lowman, and then head north to Scott Mountain on Forest Road 555. You can hike or mountain bike from the Scott Mountain Road junction to the top of the mountain. Be sure to bring a lunch and enjoy the views from the top. 
  • Pilot Peak Lookout - A lot of backcountry skiers know about Pilot Peak because it's an awesome backcountry skiing area. In the summer, there's a great mountain bike ride going up to the lookout, and then descending all the way to Idaho City via Bear Run Road! Plus, it's a nice hike or trail run to the lookout and back (3.5 miles each way) from Mores Creek Summit. You can access the gravel road to Pilot Peak via Mores Creek Summit on Idaho 21, about 10 miles northeast of Idaho City. 
    Sunset Mountain Lookout is a great hike or bike ride from Mores Creek summit.  
  • Sunset Mountain Lookout - It's five miles to the top of Sunset Mountain from Mores Creek Summit. This is a good hike or bike ride. The hiking and trail-running trip to the top of Sunset L.O. are featured in my book Boise Trail Guide. I remember pedaling the baby trailer to the top of Sunset when my son Quinn was about 6 months old; it was definitely doable. Sunset has fabulous views of the North Fork of the Boise River country, and Steel Mountain and the Sawtooths are visible from the distance. 
    Basin Butte offers amazing views of the Sawtooths, the White Clouds and the Frank Church 
  • Basin Butte Lookout - This one is available for rent. It's located north of Stanley in the Salmon-Challis National Forest. (need details on the approach). Forest Service Road #432 climbs to the top of Basin Butte. The turnoff is across Idaho 21 from the turnoff to Stanley Lake. Go left on the Stanley Creek road (653), and then after several miles you'll come to a fork. Go left on #432 to reach the top of Basin Butte. It's 6.3 miles and 2,750 feet of gain to the top from the turnoff. Check into rental availability at
    From the inside looking out at Deadwood Lookout ... this could be yours for a weekend! 
  • Deadwood Lookout - This one also is available for rent. According to, Deadwood Lookout is one of the most popular Forest Service rental cabins in Idaho. It's located on Deadwood Mountain, high above Deadwood Campground and the Deadwood River confluence with the South Fork of the Payette River. Take Forest Road #555 north from the South Fork to a junction by a campground at the top of the grade, and take a hard right on Road Road #555EC. It's less than 3 miles from the junction to the lookout.   
  • Bald Mountain - This is a 50-foot-high structure that sleeps four in the Clearwater National Forest in the Hoodoo Mountains. It looks so cool, that it's certainly worth the long drive to get there. You'd want to set aside a day on either side of your lookout trip for travel time. I bet this particular lookout is in high demand because there aren't that many left that sit that high off the ground. Bald Mountain Lookout is accessed from Highway 6, near Moscow, along the White Pine Scenic Byway. There are a number of hiking and biking trails that you can tie into near the lookout. 
    Lookout Butte Lookout, 60 feet high 
  • Lookout Butte - This one also is set on top of a steel tower, 60 feet above the ground, and it's available for rent. Sleeps up to 4 people. Lookout Butte is located in the Nez Perce National Forest, and it offers fetching views of the Selway Crags, Seven Devils, Coolwater Ridge and more. It's 15 miles southwest of Lowell on Forest Roads 223, 470, 286 and 1124. 4WD recommended. There are zillions of Forest Service roads in the vicinity. Looks like a cool place to explore.   
    Tripod offers fetching views of the southern end of Long Valley
  • Tripod Mountain Lookout - And last, but not least, we come back closer to home to visit Tripod Mountain Lookout, above Smith's Ferry. This one also is featured in my Boise Trail Guide. Tripod is best reached by trail on foot. You take Forest Road #626, across from the Cougar Mountain Lodge, and take that to the West Mountain Trailhead at a saddle on the road. It's 11.8 miles round-trip to the peak and back. Vertical gain is 3,160 feet. I rate it strenuous. But once you're on top of the ridge, you're glad you did it! 
Sockeye heading for Redfish Lake ... what a beautiful sight! 
There's a cool event happening on Saturday in Stanley, the Sawtooth Salmon Festival. Look for the festivities at the Stanley Historical Museum off Highway 75, between Stanley and Lower Stanley. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. 

The festival begins with the Shoshone-Bannock Blessing of the Salmon, always a treat to experience. And there will be live music all day, plus four educational tours of spawning sockeye and chinook salmon as well as a tour of Sunbeam Dam. There also will be vendors, kids activities, artwork, and a presentation by Idaho Falls author Jo Deurbrouch about her book, Anything Worth Doing. I've read it, it's a great book! 

If you go, you have to stay for the wild sockeye dinner ($15/person). Wine and beer will be provided by Sockeye Brewing.  

Have fun! 
- SS 


Kirsten said...

One of my favorite lookouts is Rice Peak, south of Warm lake area. I hiked it both early season and late summer last year, as an out and back from the road to the lake and as a loop from further down. The lookout is abandoned but the views were spectacular and the colors are pretty in the fall. 

Steve Stuebner said...

I agree, Kirsten, Rice Peak is a nice spot ... and not too hard to get to ...