Renting Fire Lookouts in the Pacific Northwest
There are two routes from Eugene, one somewhat longer than the other, though we suggest the longer one because it will take you from south to north along the Robert Aufderheide Memorial Drive-and it is a memorable drive.
To take the Aufderheide route: from Eugene, travel 36 miles southeast on Highway 58 to the Westfir junction. Turn left here and after two miles you will be at the start of Forest Road 19, the Aufderheide Drive.
Just before you reach the Aufderheide Drive-the Aufderheide National Scenic Byway, to unfurl its complete title-you may notice a red covered bridge over the river. This is known as the Office Bridge. It is, in fact, the longest covered bridge in Oregon, and it is unique in that it has a covered footwalk beside, but separate from, the roadway of the bridge itself.
Back when Willamette National Forest had the reputation of cutting more timber than any other national forest in the country, this section of road was the roadbed for the railroad line that was used to haul millions of trees out of the forest to the mill at Westfir. The tracks were replaced by this road after World War II.
Still on Road 19, you are now traveling parallel to the North Fork of the Middle Fork Willamette River. This is a long and lovely drive, green and watery, shadowed in places by oldgrowth trees, particularly at Constitution Grove, 27 miles north of Westfir Junction. A short trail takes you through the grove.
Continuing north and east through the Box Canyon area you will travel, first, parallel to Roaring River and, after that, the South Fork of the McKenzie River.
It is about 50 languid miles north from Westfir to Forest Road 1980. Turn left (northwest) here. Follow Road 1980 for 7.3 steep and winding miles of gravel until you reach signed Forest Road 247. Turn right. Continue for another 2.7 miles: there, on the left, you will see a locked green gate and a ROAD CLOSED sign. The lookout is less than 1/4 mile beyond the gate, although you can't see it until you get much closer.
The shorter route, for the brisk, brusque, or just plain busy, is to travel 45 miles east of Eugene on Highway 126 to Forest Road 19, three miles east of Blue River, and turn right. This is the northern end of the Aufderheide Drive. Continue south for 16 miles to Forest Road 1980, which will be on your right, just after French Pete Campground.
Turn right (northwest) onto Road 1980 for 7.3 steep and winding miles of gravel, until you reach Forest Road 247. It is signed. Turn right and continue for another 2.7 miles: there on your left you will see a locked green gate and a ROAD CLOSED sign. The lookout is less than a quarter of a mile beyond the gate, though you can't see it until you get much closer.
Forest Road 2471 is quite narrow with precipitous, unguarded cliffs. Drive only in daylight, and very soberly.
What is Provided
Two nice beds, a table, two chairs, a small chest of drawers and some shelves are provided. Unfortunately, it has no stove, no sink, no fridge, no heating, no fireplace, no light, and no water, but lots of firewood (for campfires), and an outhouse.
The day we were there, in July, there was a family very happily stoking up their own Hibachi on the rocks beside the tower.
What to Bring
Water is always first on any list when heading to the outdoors. While most lookouts do not have inside potable water, this is the only one we have come across in our travels that is rented so bereft of what many would consider the basic essentials. If you are renting in early spring or late fall, good sleeping bags are a must, as are warm clothing and, of course, some form of lighting, heating, and cooking equipment.
Built in 1958, it is still used intermittently for fire detection during the summer months.
Seeing the Sights
Three Sisters and Mt. Bachelor are to the east. Diamond Peak is to the south. Mt. Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack and Sand Mountain are to the northeast Mt. Hood and Mt. Washington are to the north, and the foothills of the Cascades are seen to the west.
Beneath you, off a sheer drop of several hundred feet, is a perfectly circular pond surrounded by tall trees.
Marring the spectacular view, somewhat, are three eyesores in the shape of three antennae that look like they were dropped there by angry aliens who had been refused Green Cards.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication