For many decades, Washington state relied on solitude-seeking staffers on mountaintop lookouts to spot plumes of smoke rising from its verdant forests. But the function of fire lookouts, many of which date back to the '30s, have been largely replaced by airplanes, thermal imaging, and other technologies. Barely more than 100 lookouts, many of which are accessible by vehicle, remain in a state that once had more than 650.
1 Salmo Mountain, Colville National Forest Few vehicle-accessible places in Washington feel as wild as this remote site at the end of Road 270 in the rugged Selkirk Mountains of the state's northeastern corner.
2 Winchester Mountain, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest A gorgeous, 6.8-mile climb on Twin Lakes Road (3065)--an easy but busy high-clearance, possibly even 4WD road off State Highway 542 northeast of Mt. Baker--will bring you to a fragile alpine environment with two sparkling lakes. From there, at the edge of the Mt. Baker Wilderness, hikers can make the moderately strenuous ascent to an old (1935) lookout with magnificent views of snowy Mt. Baker and a region sculpted by glaciers.
3 Kloshe Nanitch, Olympic National Forest Just west of Olympic National Park's northwestern corner, a replica of a quaint lookout built in 1917 sits on a rock high above the Sol Duc Valley. Views of the valley and Olympic Mountains are outstanding. Access is by roads 3045/595 from the Snider Work Center.
4 Slate Peak, Okanogan National Forest The popular road (5400/600) from Methow Valley over Hart's Pass to Slate Peak is Washington's highest, climbing to over 7000 ft. It involves edging along a hair-raising drop-off and ends at a tiny parking area a quarter mile below the summit and lookout. You'll be rewarded with head-spinning views of North Cascades National Park and the Pasayten Wilderness.
5 Sun Top, Mt. Baker, Snoqualmie National Forest Located off Road 7315, Sun Top, built in 1932, is about 15 miles northeast of Washington's highest point, 14,411-ft Mt. Rainier. If the weather's clear, it provides a terrific view of the mountain and Winthrop Glacier.
U.S. Forest Service maps, available at ranger district offices and outdoor recreation retailers, show lookout locales. Contact the relevant ranger district for information. You'll need a Northwest Forest Pass, available at Forest Service offices and local businesses ($5 day/$30 annual).
The Forest Fire Lookout Association maintains an informative Web site, including information about renting lookouts for frills-free overnight stays, at www.firelookout.org. Also see the National Historic Lookout Register Web site at www.firetower.org.
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