Sometimes you just need a getaway in the mountains. And while Oregon is dotted with great places to escape to, few retreats are better at mixing cabin charm with solitude as the fire lookouts peppered across the state. A terrific find (if you manage to snag a booking) is the Fivemile Butte Fire Lookout.
It’s hard to deny the appeal of this fire lookout. Tucked away in the slopes of the Mt. Hood National Forest, the 14x14 foot structure combines the coziness of a cabin with the thrill of a mountainside vista. With windows on all sides, and perched 40 feet above the ground, visitors are treated with awesome views they can enjoy from the comfort of the indoors, or from the bracing vantage of a catwalk. From up on high you can spot Mount Rainier, Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens, as well as the fertile farmlands of eastern Oregon.
The cabin itself is stocked with amenities such as a wood-fire stove, firewood, a twin bed, sink, cooking range, and basic kitchen utensils. You’ll also find an outhouse nearby, and can make use of a pulley system to haul equipment cabin-side. There’s no electricity or running water, but hey – no one goes camping for luxuries and comfort.
Not only that, but the trade-offs are well worth a few days without plumbing and outlets. You’ll get to drink in the rich stillness created by a canopy of ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, and western hemlock. The nearby area is veined by small creeks, which attract elk, deer, coyotes, and the occasional bear. The remote locale also means the skies are home to golden eagles, steller’s jays, and flocks of songbirds. At night, the skies are spectacularly dark and brilliant with stars.
Like most of Oregon’s lookout towers, you’ll want to book your stay as soon as reservations open. The cabin is open year-round, but to nab a spot, plan to book up to six months in advance. Pets are allowed.
-- From Darfur, head west 18 miles on Dufur Valley Road.
-- At the junction, take FSR 44 to an intersection with FSR 4430 and turn right on to FSR 4430-120.
-- Drive straight, then turn left and follow to spur road 122.
-- There’s a gate that’s locked in the winter months, which in summer you’ll pass through to head down another 3 miles to the cabin.
In the winter, you'll have to park at the Billy Bob Sno-Park and trek the final way. A permit is required to park, and the hike takes 3-4 hours.
Note that the final stretch of road is not maintained, and it’s advised that you bring a vehicle built to take rough terrain.