Photo by Alexrk2 – Own work, CC BY 3.0
Part of the National Registry of Historic Places, the Three Finger Fire Lookout in the Mount Baker-Snowqualmie National Forest is one of the oldest and longest-enduring observation posts in the Forest. Its lofty perch is also one of the most improbable locations for a man-made structure; literally on the summit of a rocky pinnacle where it is held in place by bolts that are drilled directly into the rock.
The fire lookout was named after the three-spired Three Finger Mountain (where it is installed) in the Darrington Ranger District in central northern Snohomish County in Washington state. Originally constructed by Harold Engles and Fred Benesh between 1930 and ’32, this site was specifically selected for its prominence and unobstructed views of the surrounding forest. It would provide a lofty observation post for Forest Rangers to spot wildfires and dispatch fire crews.
To create a relatively flat foundation for the structure, fifteen feet of rock was blasted away from the summit of the pinnacle before construction could begin in earnest, with building materials being ferried up the peak via pack animals. A tram system was installed to transport supplies up the final – nearly-vertical – 180 meters to the summit. The final construction is known as an L-4 lookout, although in this particular case, the tower lacks a catwalk, a design choice that resulted from the extremely exposed location. After being completed, the Three Finger Lookout was only staffed for a period of nine years before a lack of funding led to its abandonment.
Eventually, a local mountaineering group known as the Everett Mountaineers took over maintenance of the structure, replacing its roof in 2015. Through volunteer efforts, additional restoration was completed in 2021, replacing broken windows and shutters.
Here’s the exciting part: adventurous souls who have the knowledge to travel safely in the mountains can visit and sleep in this incredible outpost, but getting there is no easy task.
Getting to Three Fingers Fire Lookout
Trailhead: Via the USFS website, “From the Verlot Public Service Center (11 miles east of Granite Falls, WA), travel west on the Mt. Loop Highway for 3.9 miles. Turn right (north) on the Tupso Pass Road (Forest Service road 41) and follow this road for 18.0 miles to the trailhead.”
The Hike: 15 miles (roundtrip), 4200-feet of elevation gain. Summit elevation: 6854.
The Route: For a thorough description of the route, check outthis page on the Washington Trails Association Website. This post on the OregonHikers.org forum is also an excellent resource.
Spending the night in the Three Fingers Lookout is free and works on a first-come-first-served basis. Because this facility is not staffed, it is imperative that visitors leave it better than they found it, packing out all trash and securing storm shutters if they are the last party to leave the lookout.
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