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A room at the top

By on November 24, 2019 in Outdoor Fun with 1 Comment
The Steliko Lookout is not that high in the mountains, but has outstanding views of the Entiat Valley.

Staying overnight at Entiat’s Steliko Lookout

Story and Photos

By Alan Moen

Fire lookouts are an important part of Washington State history. 

Since the first one was built on top of Mount Pilchuck in the Western Cascade Mountains in 1918, some 750 lookouts were constructed on mountain peaks and high ridges across the state to help spot forest fires. Many were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s. A few were even used during World War II to try to spot enemy aircraft.

These lookouts were usually manned in the summer, and some famous writers spent a few seasons living at them. 

Beatnik author Jack Kerouac wrote The Dharma Bums while a resident at the Desolation Peak Lookout in the North Cascades, and Zen Buddhist poet Gary Snyder worked at both the Crater Mountain and Sourdough Mountain Lookouts above the Skagit River.

Fog rolls up the hillside at the Steliko Lookout.

No lookout is more dramatic than Three Fingers Lookout near Darrington, located at the tiny top of a 2,000-foot mountain wall, and accessible only by crossing a glacier, scrambling up steep rocks, and climbing some ladders to reach it.

But as aerial reconnaissance by planes, helicopters and even drones have improved the technology for spotting forest fires, the use of fire lookouts has declined sharply in the last 40 years. 

Many were abandoned, torn down, or destroyed by lightning or fire, and very few are manned any more. Now only 93 remain in the state, and only three are in Chelan County: Alpine Lookout on Nason Ridge, Tyee Mountain Lookout, and Steliko Point Lookout.

Recently, however, a trend has begun by outdoor enthusiasts and the U.S. Forest Service to both preserve and refurbish lookouts for recreational habitation. 

Susan Kidd cooks breakfast at the lookout.

One of the first to be restored was the lookout atop Mount Pilchuck, rebuilt and maintained by the Everett Mountaineers. In the Entiat Valley, work began this year to spruce up both Steliko Lookout and Tyee Lookout to accommodate overnight guests.

As a long-time hiker and climber, I’ve visited many fire lookouts in the state, including the highest of all at the summit of 12,280-foot Mount Adams (perpetually covered in snow and ice, it’s definitely not a place to stay.) 

So when the Entiat Ranger District announced the reopening of the Steliko Lookout on Nov. 7, a place I’d visited before on a snowshoe trip, I jumped at the chance to check it out.

The Steliko Lookout is not very high, situated on top of a hill at an elevation of only 2,586 feet, but it’s located over 1,200 feet above the Entiat Valley, offering outstanding views of the area. 

The lookout is reached by a short but very steep, narrow road that rises abruptly from the Entiat River Road at a Forest Service workstation just west of the town of Ardenvoir. It’s just 1.6 miles long, but the Forest Service recommends that you have a 4WD vehicle with high clearance to drive it. There’s a fork in the last half mile that leads to the lookout.

The lookout cabin is reached by a short stairway from a small parking lot. It’s only 10 feet square, but cozy and comfortable inside, with a small propane heater and a two-burner gas range. 

There is a brand new outhouse, just down from the lookout, for Susan and Alan to use.

There are no tables or chairs, but four wooden beds with mattresses are provided (two pull out from underneath,) a couple of lanterns, and a long counter by the stove with a shelf below. 

Double-pane windows wrap around the entire building, with a walkway that circles around the outside. Just down from the lookout is a brand-new outhouse, with solar powered lights on it for evening visits.

And surprisingly, cell phones work at the lookout, too.

My wife Susan Kidd and I picked a night with a full moon for our stay at Steliko Lookout, but fog set in late in the afternoon. 

By dusk, the lookout was completely enveloped in a cloudbank, which limited visibility throughout the night, almost giving us the impression that the lookout was floating in space.

By morning, however, the clouds began to lift, and the skyline of the Entiat Mountains emerged to the south, as well as the tiny town of Ardenvoir far below.

The cabin is prone to condensation inside, much like a tent, but two windows on opposite sides of the room can be opened for ventilation. If you stay here, expect some minor dripping from the ceiling at night and fog on the interior windows.

The views from the lookout, however, make up for any inconvenience. They are stunningly panoramic in all directions — south across the Entiat Valley, west to Tyee Mountain, east toward the Columbia River, and north to the Chelan Mountains. 

A map can be pulled down from the ceiling that shows how former occupants could use a compass and string to pinpoint the location of fires in the distance. 

Stays at Steliko Lookout must be booked in advance at the Entiat Ranger Station (phone (509) 784-4700,) and weekends are filling up fast, according to the Forest Service. 

A $50 donation is requested per night, with a maximum stay of two nights for up to four persons 18 and over, and no smoking or pets are allowed. Visitors are asked to clean up when they leave and pack out any trash. 

The road will be closed on Dec. 1, making it accessible only by foot, skis, snowshoes, or snowmobiles, until it is reopened in the spring.

Next year Tyee Lookout, high above the valley at 6,656 feet, will be open for overnight stays as well. We’re looking forward to another mountaintop experience at that one, too. 

Alan Moen is co-owner of Snowgrass Winery in the Entiat Valley. His favorite fire lookout in Washington is High Rock, perched precariously on a tall cliff just south of Mount Rainier.

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  1. Austin Smith says:

    Great, fun article on the feeling and background of lookouts. Steliko is on my list for 2020. My wife and I are ~55 standing lookouts visited. I would like to note however that Mount Pilchuck is not the first lookout built in Washington. Off the top of my head I do not know which is; Eric Willhite’s web page would be a good resource for that detail. Regardless, lookouts like Columbia Mountain in the Kettle Crest Range predate Pilchuck by at least 2 years. Bonaparte’s first structure is also from 1914.

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