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Fire lookout towers: A room with a view

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Many visitors to Big Sky come for a break from their routine, to experience a taste of the solitude and beauty that the wilderness of this region can provide. One way to maximize that experience while visiting southwest Montana, is by staying in a historic U.S. Forest Service cabin or an even more unique fire lookout tower.

Fire lookouts are a unique piece of Montana history. They were predominately used to aid Forest Service rangers in spotting wildfires at the beginning of the 20th century. During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps was assigned work projects across the country, including the construction of more than 600 fire lookouts.

The advent of new technology and systems to detect fires has led to the decommission of many fire lookouts, but some have been given new life as short-term vacation rentals and guest accommodations.

Here in the Custer Gallatin National Forest, the Garnet Mountain Fire Lookout is available for rent. This particular lookout location has existed since 1930, although the current structure was built in 1962.

It’s a bit of a hike, but worth the reward: grand views of the surrounding peaks and valleys with ample opportunities for wildlife spotting. This unique lodging experience sleeps up to four and is available year-round.

In the Big Sky area, additional Forest Service cabins are available at Spanish Creek, Windy Pass, Yellow Mule and Wapiti. They can be a bit of a trek, but the experience of history, natural beauty and solitude is one to remember.

Visit to learn more or to make reservations at any U.S. Forest Service cabin, nationwide. For more information about Big Sky and southwest Montana, see Visit Big Sky’s blog at

Joseph T. O'Connor is the previous Editor-in-Chief for EBS newspaper and Mountain Outlaw magazine.

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