Sleep on top of the world

by Kim on March 2, 2011 · 30 comments

Fire lookouts are one of Oregon’s best kept secrets. Once used by the forest service to spot fires in the backcountry, they are now available to rent all over the Pacific Northwest.  The best news of all?  They’re cheap!  The Bolan Mountain Fire Lookout will set you back about $40 bucks a night.  

Sleep on top of the world in a fire lookout

The Bolan Mountain Fire Lookout

Sweat is beading on my forehead, rolling in rivulets down my neck, but for the effort I’ve reached the top of forty rocky steps and am rewarded with the first glimpse of my weekend accommodations, Bolan Mountain Lookout.  The lookout is a 14 x 14 house of glass perched on a ridge in Southwest Oregon’s Siskiyou Mountains, just north of the California line.  A retired backcounty fire lookout, it was previously used by the U.S. Forest Service to detect wild fires, and is now part of a network of lookouts and cabins available to rent throughout the Pacific Northwest. 

The lookout itself is sparsely outfitted with a single cot, small table and two plastic chairs, but I have not come for the amenities.  The real draw is the world outside.  The lookout and wrap-around deck offers jaw-dropping 360 degree views of the Red Buttes Wilderness and Siskiyou Wilderness. The mountains of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness stand stacked to the north as far as the eye can see and Preston Peak, a 7,309 foot beauty, juts into the sky from the south.  On a clear day, Mt. Shasta, looming and regal, dominates the southeastern skyline. 

The setset from Bolan Mountain Lookout

On Saturday morning I wake to the sun rising over the eastern mountain peaks.  The sky is in layers of pink, orange, purple and gray-blue and the scene feels other-worldly in the early morning light.  I watch the glow for a few minutes before drifting back to sleep.  When I wake for the second time, I prepare coffee in a French press and pull a chair onto the catwalk to take in the view.  From my vantage point, 6,242 feet in the air, there are almost no signs of civilization except for five tiny campfires that burn around Bolan Lake, 1.8 miles below, and a few dots of light to the west, the outskirts of the town of Cave Junction.  When the black flies start biting, I load up a day pack and set out on the 3.6 mile round-trip Bolan Lake Trail hike.  The trail meanders through an alpine meadow filled with wildflowers and past large outcroppings of rock, the earthy-sweet smell of pine hangs in the air.  When I reach the lake I strip down to my skivvies and dive in.  Though the lake is stocked with trout for fishing, no motorized boats are allowed, and the few other visitors float lazily on rafts or canoe around the lake’s perimeter. 

Bolan Lake

Later that evening, back at the lookout, I watch as the sun sinks below the horizon in the most beautiful and intense sunset I have ever seen.  One by one, the stars unveil themselves and I lie on the deck in my sleeping bag, the Milky Way visible above me, and read the visitor log-book by moonlight.  One entry in particular, written by a duo known only as KC and CR, sums up my experience at Bolan Mountain Lookout.  “Seeing the Illinois Valley lights at night,” they write, “makes me realize (again!) how small and insignificant we all are in the big picture of things.”

Sunset at Bolan Mountain Lookout


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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Benjamin Kerensa March 2, 2011 at 8:53 pm

I love old fire lookouts I have been to quite a few on the Oregon California border since I am from Crescent City.

In fact I used to deploy with local fire departments during forest fires and help evacuate people.

We would stumble upon lookouts far up on the mountains.


Kim March 2, 2011 at 9:17 pm

Hi Ben. I love Crescent City and those redwoods. Sounds like a pretty sweet job that you used to have. I’ve always admired fire fighters (especially forest fire fighters). This lookout in particular was so ridiculously far up on the mountains, it was literally like we had the world to ourselves. I’ve never experienced anything else like it.


peach March 2, 2011 at 9:48 pm

well now i know one thing i’m doing this summer.


Kim March 3, 2011 at 12:14 pm

Make sure you book now! Fire Lookouts rental dates open up six months in advance and they book up quickly.


Odysseus March 2, 2011 at 10:16 pm

Congrats! Just the first in many (future) publications, I’m sure.


Kim March 3, 2011 at 12:14 pm

Awww, thank you. I sure hope so.


Scott - Quirky Travel Guy March 3, 2011 at 11:57 am

Wow, I wish I had known about these when I was in Oregon. The views looks spectacular and it would be amazing to canoe around a quiet lake like that.


Kim March 3, 2011 at 12:15 pm

Hey Scott. Well, you’ll have to come back! The views were out of this world. As is normally the case, the photos just don’t do it justice.


Kristin M March 3, 2011 at 8:32 pm

Congrats on the publication! And beautiful pictures. This sounds like a much better alternative to staying in a hotel. I would love to do this!


Kim March 3, 2011 at 8:41 pm

Thanks Kristin! It is really an amazing experience. There is one quite close to Mt. Hood that I am dying to get into. The view of the mountain is amazing!


Brian March 3, 2011 at 8:58 pm

I want to go back!! (hopefully without our car alomost blowing up this time)


Kim March 3, 2011 at 9:07 pm

I think when we go back we need to take a different car.


Lauren March 4, 2011 at 5:43 pm

Congratulations a million times!!!! This is awesome and I am so proud of you! You and your talent never cease to amaze me.


Kim March 4, 2011 at 8:51 pm

Lauren, THANK YOU. I love you. You have no idea how blessed I feel to have you- my third sister!


Rod Fosback March 5, 2011 at 6:13 pm

Kim, enjoyed your article in Northwest Travel. Always nice to come across people who love these little houses and the places they’re at.


Kim March 5, 2011 at 11:02 pm

Thanks Rod. I really do love the lookouts, such a great gift to all of us that are lucky enough to stay in one.


Amanda March 9, 2011 at 8:37 pm

Congrats on the publications- that’s fantastic!

My mouth actually dropped open when I saw your photos of the lookout. What an amazing place to stay! This totally goes on my “Things to Do Before I Turn 40” list. I had no idea these places were even available to the public.


Kim March 9, 2011 at 8:59 pm

Thanks Amanda! There are some really amazing lookouts available, but of course I can’t imagine any of them being more amazing than the Bolan Mountain lookout.

Also, I love that you have a “Thanks to Do Before 40” list. I make a new one every year (for example, 31 things before 31).


Elise April 23, 2011 at 10:51 am

Congrats on the publication!
The photos look great from there too!
$40 bucks aint bad at all!


Kim April 23, 2011 at 11:05 am

Thank you. $40 bucks is a steal, huh? Such a magical place.


Tyler April 23, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Wow! Lived around one and I never knew that you could stay in them! Going to deffinetly see if the wife wants go go check it out! Thanks both of you!
And good lick, have a blast on your world wide tour!
Tyler recently posted..Maybe Tonight Maybe Right now!


Kim April 23, 2011 at 4:31 pm

Very much recommended. This particular lookout was so isolated that we were literally the only humans for miles. So amazing.


Nick August 7, 2013 at 9:58 am

Hey Kim, great post.

Can a passenger car make it all the way to the top?



Kim August 7, 2013 at 11:33 am

Hi Nick. Yes, it can, but it is a bumpy ride! We took our Nissan Altima up there.


Nick August 8, 2013 at 9:11 am

Thanks for the quick response, Kim –

A few buddies and I are coming from NY, and reserved a night for next week. We’re hoping these forest fires don’t completely ruin the view, but it will be an awesome experience none the less.




Kim August 10, 2013 at 6:26 am

Have a great time, Nick. It’s amazing! The road up is incredibly bumpy but just go VERY slow and you should be okay. Make sure to hike down to the lake for a swim. Check under the bed in the lookout for storage, there might be a raft in there 🙂


Dustin@WeGoRTW January 27, 2014 at 8:58 pm

The internet is too small, brief boring story. For work reasons I was google image searching “sleep on top of the world” and clicked a great cabin photo to reuse for test data internally at work. Having clicked the photo I see a familiar website…yours!

I say too small because our previous chat about cabin porn, we’ll after seeing your first photo I realized I did recently see it on CP they just didn’t credit you in the text (but does link)

Page 92

Small internet world, made me laugh a little, anyway enough boring rant for now. Keep Writting!
Dustin@WeGoRTW recently posted..Snow Day


Kim January 29, 2014 at 7:50 am

Haha, that is funny!!! Yep, page 92. Still truckin’ along.


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