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Fire Lookout Towers

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Here’s an off-the-beaten path travel idea: Stay in a fire lookout tower where you can really get away from it all and get some of the best views in town. Here’s how it works:

Fire lookout towers are exactly what they sound like—they’re tall structures that were built specifically for patrollers to look out for forest or wildfires. But these days, backpackers and campers can rent them out for about $40 a night through the National Forest Service, especially throughout Western states and the Pacific Northwest.

The idea behind this is to stay somewhere that guarantees an incredible view, not to mention historical significance. For example, the Needles Lookout in California’s Sequoia National Forest stands more than 8,000 feet tall and is considered one of the best views in the entire forest.

At the Siskiyou National Forest in Oregon, the Lake of the Woods lookout stands more than 3,000 feet tall, and offers panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, rivers and forest.

Remember, these aren’t for couch potatoes. A lot of these lookout towers and cabins are in rugged land, and require hiking or climbing. Some are staffed during fire season, but backpackers generally have to bring their own gear and food. Talk to the local Ranger District office to find out what is and isn’t furnished.

To reserve a tower on your own, visit the National Recreation Reservation System or the Forest Fire Lookout Association.

Find more unusual places to stay in our Hotels & Accommodations section.

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