Once a staple of fire prevention measures, especially in the Western U.S., fire lookout towers are largely a historical curiosity now. But if you want to enjoy a few nights far away from civilization with a great view, you can rent some of the remaining towers.
If you’re completely unfamiliar with lookout towers, here’s a quick rundown. Before the days of satellites and advanced weather tools, fires way out in the mountains and brushland were spotted by eye by small armies of “firewatchers” posted up in super-tall structures across the land. If they saw a fire, they’d use tools in the tower to get a rough bead on its location and then radio in the position so teams could deal with it.
These days there aren’t a lot of actual firewatchers manning the towers, and of the hundreds and hundreds that existed only a few remain that are in stable condition. But among the remaining structurally sound towers, many of them are available for rent.
For around $40 a night, you can rent towers in remote areas of Idaho, California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming—if you fancy a long drive, then a long hike, and a lot of quiet time in the middle of nowhere. The towers aren’t exactly Best Westerns. You’ll need to pack in your own food, you’ll definitely be using the bathroom in the woods, and if you drunkenly tumble off the top of an 80-foot tower nobody is going to find you until the next camper comes along. But you really can’t beat the views, the price, or the solitude.
If you want a more in-depth look at the experience, check out this great first-hand account of camping in lookout towers over at CNN Travel. And if you’re not going to be making it out to the scenic Western U.S. any time soon but love the idea of visiting a fire lookout tower, we can’t recommend the laid-back adventure game Firewatch enough.