How to Camp at a Fire Tower (Without the Fires)

This year’s fire season is still raging, giving many of us a renewed respect for the men and women who care for our beloved forests. Firefighters take the front lines, but there’s a lesser known position that’s still important in some places, too. Fire lookouts spend their summers in fire towers, sleeping above the trees and watching for smoke below.

Many fire towers are no longer in operation, as new technology has replaced people in many of these positions. But plenty of fire towers are still around — and some of them can be rented for camping!

A retired or off-season fire tower is a romantic and fun way to wake up in the woods. If you’re curious about the life of a fire tower lookout, or simply want to wake up in the sky, consider renting a fire tower the next time you go camping.

Here’s how…

1. Decide Where You Want to Go

A post shared by Josh Steele (@outofthewoods) on Sep 14, 2017 at 7:58am PDT

With so many options, this can be the most overwhelming step. Narrow it down by whether or not you want to hike in or drive and what time of year you’d like to go.

This post from The Dyrt spotlights the 5 Best West Coast Fire Towers, which might help you narrow down your options.

2. Search by State

Once you have an idea of where you want to go, check out Recreation.gov. In the search bar, type in Fire Lookout, and you’ll find an extensive list of lookouts available in different states. On a basic search you can easily find towers in South Dakota, California, and Idaho.

The Forest Fire Lookout Association also offers this handy page with towers organized by state, which can be a more convenient way to start looking.

3. Check for Availability

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All fire tower rentals are handled through the Forest Service. You can head over to Recreation.gov and check availability of the tower you have in mind, or you can call toll-free 1 (877) 444-6777. You can also find fees related to each tower. Typically, the rental is $30-$75, with the most primitive being free in the winter.

4. Book the Tower

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Once you’ve figured out what is available, you can continue to book at Recreation.gov.

5. Pack Your Bags

Now that you’ve booked your fire tower, it’s time to pack up the car and hit the road! Don’t forget essentials like binoculars and a camera to capture those gorgeous views. If you’re venturing out in winter, bring survival essentials and your warmest layers.