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 MORE: Tiny 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Near Kamloops, this lookout offers stunning views of the Thompson Valley. Kamloops Trails provides good directions here.
Near 100 Mile House, this fantastic lookout is just a 15 minute hike up the mountain from Highway 97. Directions here.
Near Clinton, this lookout is as charming inside as it is out. Get directions here.
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.
This lookout is located near the Arrow Lakes in Nakusp. Directions here.
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.
Near Boston Bar, this lookout was beautifully restored by the Four Wheel Drive Association. Find directions here.
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.
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