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How local communities are ensuring these vintage B.C. mountain destinations remain open

Saddle Mountain
Image Credit: Bob Brewis
October 16, 2017 - 6:30 PM

Tiny dots of human civilization on a backdrop of pristine wilderness, B.C’s historic fire lookout cabins truly are backcountry treasures.

If you became curious about fire lookouts after this story about a historic cabin being fixed up near Sicamous, so did we. These charming little shelters perch over some of the most spectacular views in the province — and there’s a lot more of them hidden around the area than you might think. Breathtaking views aside, the interiors of these tiny cabins are worthy of admiration too: some are equipped with wood stoves, cooking pans, tables and chairs brought up and kept maintained by considerate volunteers. 

Historically, lookout observers used these incredible vantage points to scout for fires before infrared and computer technologies took over. Watch this great 1950s mini-documentary to find out what life was like for those who manned the lookouts.

There are numerous lookouts tucked away in the B.C. backcountry, but many are falling by the wayside. The elements have taken their toll on some, while others burned down or were vandalized. 

Fortunately, volunteer groups — usually ATV or outdoors clubs — are stepping up to preserve them. 

READ MORETiny cabin in the mountains is historic, stunning, and tied up in 'bureaucratic BS'

Kim Reeves, president of the Four Wheel Drive Association of B.C., says his group has adopted three fire lookouts. 

“These fire towers are quite unique,” Reeves says. “One, they’re great pieces of history and two, they’re great day trips. Three, they offer spectacular vistas overlooking various valleys and mountains. It doesn’t get any better.”

While the province continues to staff a small number of lookouts on occasion during periods of high fire danger, and has come up with some funding for restoration projects, Reeves says the province has not really been maintaining the majority of lookouts. 

“If they continue to decline and degrade in their condition, the public will lose access to them because they’ll be deemed as dangerous,” Reeves says.

The Four Wheel Drive Association has contracts to manage three different fire lookouts: Nahatlatch, near Boston Bar, Mt. Lavina, at the northeast end of Kootenay Lake, and most recently, the Cornwall fire tower near Ashcroft.

“In the last half a dozen years, volunteer groups have been stepping forward because this is our history disappearing. For a great many people who enjoy the back country, these are gems. It is a terrible thing that they are not being taken care of,” he says.

Access to fire lookouts ranges. Some, like Eagle Pass, can be reached by foot, but you might want an ATV to get to others. Some are even fly-in, Reeves says.

Outdoor enthusiasts are protective of these special places, and there are concerns that publicity will lead to their demise. At the same time, Reeves believes it’s important to maintain and encourage access to public lands, and thinks that getting people excited about the outdoors will inspire them to protect it.

While coordinating restoration work with volunteers does have its challenges, Reeves believes there are some big advantages too.

“It spreads the feeling of ownership a lot wider,” he says. “When recreation is involved, and volunteers are involved, you have that sense of personal ownership in these sites, and that’s fantastic, because it increases the number of eyes and number of people concerned about the treatment and the condition of these things.”

He encourages people to learn about and visit B.C.’s fire lookouts, but also to be respectful.

“Treat it as if it was your own. If it has a door, close it,” he says. “Literally — the snow will blow in.”

Visitors are also reminded to pack out what they pack in.

MARA LOOKOUT

Near Sicamous, directions to this look out can be found on the Shuswap Trails Society website. The route is described as a difficult, full day hike. 

Mara fire lookout
Mara fire lookout
Image Credit: Recreation Sites and Trails B.C.

EAGLE PASS LOOKOUT

Near Sicamous, this historic lookout sits atop a dramatic mountaintop and features incredible views. Directions are available on the Shuswap Trail Alliance website. 

Eagle Pass fire lookout.
Eagle Pass fire lookout.
Image Credit: Bevan Burke/ YouTube

CORNWALL LOOKOUT
Located in Cornwall Hills Provincial park, near Ashcroft. Directions to this lovely lookout, which is maintained by the Four Wheel Drive Association, can be found here. 

The Cornwall Lookout
The Cornwall Lookout
Image Credit: Tina Rahn


EUREKA FIRE LOOKOUT

Located about 45 minutes north of Cherryville, this little gem is worth the effort. Outdoor enthusiast Tina Rahn offers some great directions here. 

Eureka fire lookout, near Cherryville.
Eureka fire lookout, near Cherryville.
Image Credit: Tina Rahn

GREENSTONE LOOKOUT

Near Kamloops, this lookout offers stunning views of the Thompson Valley. Kamloops Trails provides good directions here. 

Greenstone lookout
Greenstone lookout
Image Credit: Wes Kibble

MT. BEGBIE

Near 100 Mile House, this fantastic lookout is just a 15 minute hike up the mountain from Highway 97. Directions here. 

Mt. Begbie lookout
Mt. Begbie lookout
Image Credit: Tina Rahn


MT. JESMOND

Near Clinton, this lookout is as charming inside as it is out. Get directions here. 

Mt. Jesmond
Mt. Jesmond
Image Credit: Tina Rahn

Inside the Mt. Jesmond fire lookout
Inside the Mt. Jesmond fire lookout
Image Credit: Tina Rahn

MT. LAVINA

Near Kaslo, this lookout is maintained by the Four Wheel Drive Association. You'll want four wheels — and lots of experience — to visit this epic lookout. Directions here. 

Mt. Lavina
Mt. Lavina
Image Credit: Tina Rahn

SADDLE MOUNTAIN

This lookout is located near the Arrow Lakes in Nakusp. Directions here. 

Saddle Mountain
Saddle Mountain
Image Credit: Bob Brewis

TACHEEDA LOOKOUT

A little further afield, you have places like the Tacheeda fire lookout north of Prince George. According to this post by ihikebc.com, it's a bit of a trek, but well worth it. 

Tacheeda fire lookout
Tacheeda fire lookout
Image Credit: www.ihikebc.com

NAHATLATCH LOOKOUT

Near Boston Bar, this lookout was beautifully restored by the Four Wheel Drive Association. Find directions here. 

Nahatlatch lookout
Nahatlatch lookout
Image Credit: Tina Rahn

Most importantly, if you do visit any of these sites, be respectful and responsible. If you decide to camp, make sure you leave no trace and ensure campfires are fully extinguised. Avoid sensitive ecological areas. The Four Wheel Drive Association has an excellent post about how to "wheel wisely" and their points apply equally to hikers. 


To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston or call 250-309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2017
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