A Unique Experience at Gold Butte Fire Lookout Tower

Sunset At the Gold Butte Lookout Tower – Detroit, Oregon

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Gold Butte Fire lookout is among hundreds of fire towers built from the 1930s to ’50s by the US Forest Service. These one-room cabins, built on stilts, peaks, or in trees provided 360 views and served as early fire detection and Aircraft Warning System during World War II. Advancements in technology have rendered most of these mountain lookouts obsolete and are now available for rent at recreation.gov. Check out the Forest Fire Lookout Association for a map of fire lookout rentals across the nation. Reservations open at 9 am CST six months in advance and they out fast, so sign up and log in, have your tower picked, and have the reservation page ready a few minutes ahead of time.

What To Expect When Staying At The Gold Butte Fire Tower

Oregon’s Gold Butte Fire Lookout overlooks the Willamette National Forest and is located two hours outside of Portland. Come prepared for a backpacking experience in order to avoid making multiple trips up the steep ascent to the tower which sits at 4,618 feet in elevation. 

Gold Butte Lookout Tower - Detroit, Oregon with clear blue skies
One Room Lookout Tower On Mountain Peak in black and white

Recreation gov is misleading when it says the hike is a quarter mile with some incline; in reality, the hike from your parking spot gains 1,000 feet in elevation in a mere three-quarters of a mile. The incline is not evenly distributed, so the last half mile is… shall we say… character building? Your hard work will pay off the moment you round the last switchback and lay eyes on a picturesque 1934 cabin with 360 views of Willamette National Forest. July is the best time to visit the Pacific Northwest because the weather is not too hot, but brisk enough to keep you cool during rest breaks. 

The cabin is about the size of a small bedroom and comes with a twin bed, 3 cots, and a desk. Previous travelers have been kind enough to leave behind some cookware (utensils and pots/pans), a propane stove, and games. If you’re willing to haul firewood up the steepest part of the inline, there is firewood for the wood-burning stove to keep you warm at night.

Lookout Tower Packing List

  • Sleeping bag -The tower has plenty of pillows but does not include blankets and sheets. Keep in mind, this is not a 5-star hotel with maid service; I don’t think they clean the linens between each use. They weren’t gross, but I would recommend bringing the same sleeping supplies as a camping trip.

  • Food–Freeze-dried food will be easier, lighter, and requires less water.

  • Cooler–There is no fridge, so if you plan on bringing booze or actual food, you will need a cooler and ice.

  • Water–Bring enough water for the entire stay, Detroit Oregon Ranger Station is a 40-minute drive and is the nearest location to fill up on water

  • Sweater, gloves, and beanie–At 4,618 feet elevation, nights are pretty chilly, even in mid-July.

  • 4-wheel drive vehicle–Most of the terrain leading to the tower and surrounding trails are steep, unpaved roads.

  • Camping Chairs – if you are visiting with multiple people, you may want to bring camping chairs

  • Propane for a camping stove–There was a two-burner camping stove and propane left behind, but unless you want to take a gamble, bring your own fuel and burner

Hiking Opal Creek Wilderness

Crystal clear water on the Opal Creek Hiking Trail In Oregon

Awarded one of the most beautiful hiking trails in the nation and full of unexpected sights, the Jawbone Flats trail is worth the 90 minute drive from the lookout. If you are in search of a ghost town, look no further; the trail follows the original road to the Jawbone Flats abandoned mining town, which has been untouched since the mine closed in 1951. Mines, equipment, half-built railroad tracks, buildings, and cars all left exactly where they were nearly 70 years ago. 

This one-of-a-kind trail makes for a moderately difficult 6.5-mile hike with gently rolling hills that sneak up on you for a total of 1300 ft gain instead of the 200 net elevation gain advertised on the website

I’d rate a trip to Gold Butte Fire Lookout Tower an 11 out of 10 for the adventurous spirit. You are miles from civilization and truly off the grid, with nothing but the sounds of nature and a spectacular view of the stars.

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Delaney is a project manager by day and a travel and wildlife photographer by night who is using her skills for translating complex technical language into easy to understand concepts to make photography achievable at all skill levels. You have questions; she has answers.

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