• Way Up High

    Spend a fantasy night in a Southern Oregon fire lookout, but make sure to plan well ahead
  • Bolan Mountain Lookout is not an easy place to find.
    • email print
  • Bolan Mountain Lookout is not an easy place to find.
    Tucked deep in the Siskiyou Mountains straddling the Oregon and California border, it requires driving southeast of Cave Junction, navigating a series of unmarked forest roads and ascending a rocky, narrow, cliff-edge access road to reach the 6,242-foot destination.
    Despite a location as remote as any in the Lower 48 — and despite Spartan amenities that require visitors to bring water, a stove and cookware — the competition to spend the night here is so fierce it requires reservations six months in advance.
    In other words: right now.
    Bolan Mountain is among the fire lookouts the U.S. Forest Service rents to the public for $40 to $70 per night. There are 20 lookouts available in Oregon's national forests, along with 39 shelters, cabins and guard stations.
    "If you've ever had the dream of being one of those people who manned the fire lookouts, here's a way to live out that fantasy," Cheryl Caplan of the Umpqua National Forest said. "It's like stepping back in time. The difference is you can stay for a few days and go home, instead of being up there all summer."
    There is, of course, a problem. The allure of spending nights on a mountaintop — of watching sunrise over a vast wilderness in a cozy glass hut — has created serious demand for the handful of overlooks.
    The Forest Service allows reservations made 180 days (six months) in advance, and in many cases that's required. Reservations can be made on recreation.gov, where you can search all the lookouts and find open dates.
    My advice? Don't get discouraged if you don't score on your first attempt. Check the website daily and don't discount lookouts in the far reaches of the state. The effort is worthwhile when the views are this good.
    For up-to-date information and policies, contact the corresponding Forest Service ranger district for each lookout.
    Here's a breakdown of some of the state's best lookouts — and a few high-altitude cabins — based on interviews with Forest Service personnel in every corner of the state.
Reader Reaction
      • calendar