For my day job I regularly work with folks from the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service. I always ask which park or forest is their favorite to visit, and I keep hearing the same two things: Crater Lake National Park and Forest Service fire lookouts in Oregon. Crater Lake has one of the lowest visitation rates of any National Park, which makes sense considering the competition in the region - Yosemite and Yellowstone, two of the top visited Parks in the country.
So, I decided to plan a trip around both, and it proved to be the best vacation I've had in a long time. I'm working on more designs of National Parks near DC for Teerritory and this trip was great inspiration. Part of my creative process involves getting outside and off the internet, so if you're into that sort of thing check out my guide, pictures and tips below:
Q U I C K G U I D E
1. FIND YOUR LOOKOUTS: Check out firelookout.org to see all of the Forest Service towers that are available by state. The site hyperlinks straight to the recreation.gov site where you can find basic information on the individual towers - price ($35-$60 / night for most), capacity, maps, dates of availability and what you'll need to bring. Firelookout.org also has some photos, but honestly they kinda suck.
When you're planning your trip, note that some are only available in the fall - spring and some are available all year round.
2. BOOK YOUR TRIP: All the booking happens through recreation.gov. You'll have to plan your trip more than 6 months in advance (recreation.gov opens booking for the towers 6 months out). Most of the towers book up immediately after they become available, so be ready (even if you're at your 9-5).
3. GET OUT THERE: We flew to Portland and hung out there for the weekend, then drove south to our three lookouts. Make sure to rent a car with decent clearance, as some of the forest service roads are ROUGH. We made it up in a Kia Rio somehow but beat the shit out of it in the process - #R E N T A L.
4. DON'T TRUST GOOGLE MAPS: Many of the towers are off of small service roads that aren't well marked, and even though the recreation.gov site gives coordinates for each lookout, Google gets all sorts of fucked up with the route. Failsafe: look up the closest Forest Service ranger station to your tower(s), and stop by to grab a map and clarify any weird directions / road quality. The staff at each place we stopped or called was incredibly helpful and friendly. Also, many of the stations we contacted closed by 4:30 PM, so definitely check the hours in advance.
P I C T U R E S
L A K E O F T H E W O O D S L O O K O U T - We arrived here on the tail end of a typhoon, and it was honestly a little terrifying driving up with all the wash-out from the storm. We made it up but couldn't see much through the clouds. According to the visitor book, the out-house has "the best view for a poop in the NW."
B A L D K N O B L O O K O U T - The weather finally cleared when we got up to the second lookout not far from the Lake of The Woods. This was one of our favorites; easier roads, clear skies, a cabin with a sink and an awesome American flag!
P I C K E T T B U T T E L O O K O U T - This was our last lookout and also the tallest. It was about an 1.5 hours away from Crater Lake and was another incredible lookout, complete with a pulley system and an amazing view of some prescribed burns going on in the distance.
Photos taken by Cait Sanders Photography
O T H E R T I P S
- If coming from across the country; buy kitchenware from thrift stores (we got everything we needed for $3.50).
- All towers are not created equal. It's hard to tell from the USFS booking site what you're getting by the shit visitor pics.
- Check out the visitor book for good tips from past visitors on day hikes nearby.
- The weather is unreliable a lot of the year, so book a few nights to increase your odds for great weather. The summer is fairly reliable for sunny weather in the NW though!