By Ryan Dawes

Imagine all the comforts of a furnished cabin you can drive to, set in the solitude normally found only in backcountry camping. Now, add in full 360-degree panoramas of glacier-clad volcanoes, endless forests, pristine watersheds, and rare wildlife. Top it off with spectacular day hikes right out the front door. All of this comes complimentary with a Forest Service lookout cabin rental.

These surprisingly economical getaways come with a catch, however. There’s very few of them, and they’re incredibly popular. To increase your chances of booking one, try reserving it exactly six months in advance, the earliest possible point in the reservation window. You’ll find the effort to snag one of these gems more than worth your while.

Bolan Mountain Fire Lookout

Imagine waking up, perched high above the earth, to a panoramic view of the Siskiyou Wilderness, the Red Buttes, Preston Peak, Bolan Lake, and, on a clear morning, Mount Shasta. The historic Bolan Mountain Fire Lookout, with windows on all sides, was built in 1953 and is available for rent in non-snow months; reservations can be made up to six months in advance for up to 4 guests with a maximum of five consecutive nights. The lookout is in a prime location for exploring with trails to the high mountain Bolan Lake, surrounded by Douglas fir and hemlock and filled with trout, where you can take a dip in its cool, rejuvenating waters. Also nearby are the Oregon Caves National Monument and the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. Note that the 14 foot by 14 foot Bolan Lookout is rustic — it has no water, electricity or stove; guest should bring their own amenities.

Open Season: Summer-Fall

Cost: $40/night


Green Ridge Lookout

This 20-foot tower gets guests up close and personal to Oregon’s second tallest mountain. Jutting up from a ridgeside 2,000 feet above the clear, icy waters of the Metolious River, this 1960s-vintage fire lookout gazes out across the Metolious Basin to the Cascade crest and Mount Jefferson. If the view and solitude isn’t enough, several day trip options exist. Trails meander along the banks of the Metolious river, offering casual hiking and fly-fishing. At Metolious Springs, the river wells up full-fledged from seemingly nowhere, and at Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery, eagles and osprey swoop down for a pescatarian snack.

This lookout accommodates up to four people but has only one futon, no water, and limited lighting. It is equipped with a propane refrigerator, stove, heater, and outdoor vault toilet. Getting there requires a short walk from the parking area and a one-story stair climb.

Open Season: May-June, September-November

Cost: $40/night

Drake Peak Lookout

As far as lookouts in Oregon go, you can’t get any higher than Drake Peak. Situated on an 8,222-foot crest in the Warner Mountains, a 15-mile drive northeast from Lakeview, this ground-story cabin actually lies about one mile from the true summit of Drake Peak. Regardless, the alpine landscape of eroded basalt and stunted vegetation allows unhindered views over Oregon, California, and Nevada. From the lookout, a one-mile trail summits Drake Peak, and horseback riding opportunities abound nearby. Antelope and other wildlife thrive in the sweeping volcanic landscape, and vast, clear skies offer some of the best stargazing in the state. The lookout sleeps four, furnished with cots, a table and chairs, a wood stove, and a picnic table and vault toilet outside. Water can be found six miles away at Mud Creek Campground.

Open Season: June-November

Cost: $40/night

Gold Butte Lookout

Guests at this western Cascade lookout score views of Mount Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, Mount Hood, the Three Sisters, and the pristine woodlands of Bull of the Woods Wilderness. As a bonus, seasonal wildflowers paint the surrounding area and huckleberries offer a late summer treat. Nearby, Elk Lake beckons fishermen, canoers, and swimmers, and the Opal Creek Wilderness offers premier Western Oregon hiking and exploring.

Built in 1934 for fire watching, Gold Butte was repurposed during World War II as an Aircraft Warning System station, where a husband and wife team reported all aircraft passing by around the clock. Now this getaway sleeps four and comes with a wood stove for heat. Water, power, and a cook stove aren’t provided. The road to the lookout requires a vehicle with high clearance, and the last half mile to the tower must be walked.

Open Season: July-October

Cost: $65/night

Bald Knob Lookout

The 360 degrees of outstanding Rogue-Siskiyou National Forest vistas are just a taste of what this retreat has to offer. Right from the lookout, the Panther Ridge Trail plunges into the Wild Rogue Wilderness. Following an old Native American travel route, the trail meanders through stands of massive old-growth forest, rhododendrons, and scrub oak. Throughout this ecologically diverse area, wildlife and bird watching opportunities are never scarce. Close by, another trail zigzags through Douglas fir, Port Orford Cedar, and western hemlock before reaching its destination at scenic Coquille River Falls.

During World War II, this lookout site served as an observation station for the Aircraft Warning Service, similar to Gold Butte. Later, the original building was replaced with the current one. This 256-square foot cabin includes a propane stove, heater, refrigerator, lights, single bed, and small table. Outside, a picnic table, campfire ring, and outhouse add additional amenities. No water is available on site.

Open Season: Memorial Day-October

Cost: $35/night