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#8 Buck Mountain Okanogan Range

Location: 48.4366035, -119.82616
Summit Elevation: 6,135′
Lookout Type: 14’x14′ flat-gable
Site Established: 1919
Current Structure Built: 1961
Date Visited: 1/17/14

If you ask anyone in the Methow Valley about Buck Mountain, they’ll probably tell you about the other Buck Mountain near the Rendezvous, known for its famous mountain bike trail. But there’s another Buck Mountain near Loup Loup pass with a fire lookout that makes a fantastic year-round destination!

Buck Mountain’s historic fire lookout was nearly lost in the Beaver Lake fire in 2015, which was part of the massive Okanogan Complex fire, the largest in Washington State history. The fire came so close it scorched the legs of the lookout but firefighters were able to save the structure.

Photos from 2014 visit prior to Okanogan Complex Fire and recently in June 2020.


History.

Buck Mountain Lookout was developed in 1919 by the state as a crow’s nest. A log cabin was built nearby for workers to shelter during periods of high fire danger. In 1934, the crow’s nest and log cabin were removed and replaced with a 20′ pole L-4 tower. In 1961 that tower was replaced with the present 14′ x 14′ flat-gable Washington Department of Natural Resources live-in cab with catwalk on a 20′ timber tower.

The lookout construction work was performed by the Department’s own carpentry crew, who spent two years completing 9 lookouts at a cost averaging $8,000 apiece.1 It is maintained by the DNR for emergency use and sometimes still used after major lightning storms. It was registered on the National Historic Lookout Register on November 20, 1999.

13rd Biennial Report Washington Department of Natural Resources.


The route.

Distance (RT): 3.9 miles*
*Driving to the summit is possible. I visited in winter when the road was blocked by snow.
Elevation Gain: 1,165′
Summit Elevation: 6,135′

Buck Mountain makes a great snowshoe or ski outing in the winter. You can generally drive all the way to the summit depending on road conditions, but there are plenty of places to park down low and enjoy the pleasant road walk to the top.

The catwalk is usually locked but from the top views stretch across the entire Okanogan Valley.


Before and after the Okanogan Complex Fire.

I first visited Buck Mountain with Jake dog in the winter of 2014 when I was living in the Methow Valley. Due to a scant snow pack, ski conditions weren’t ideal, so I pulled out some maps and started looking at interesting high points. That’s when I first realized how many fire lookouts were across the Okanogan and that in fact, the Okanogan has the highest number of fire lookouts still remaining today.

That winter I parked about 3 miles below the lookout and enjoyed a nice road walk up. In 2014 before the fires, the road ascended through beautiful thick forest that obscured the lookout until the very top of the summit. Fires in 2015 drastically changed the landscape.

I recently returned to Buck Mountain in June 2020 and it’s hard to believe it’s the same mountain. The Okanogan Complex fire charred much of the area and only a ghostly matchstick forest remains. I’m really glad I was able to visit this lookout prior to the fires to enjoy its forested beauty.

It was interesting to come almost full circle, and visit a fire lookout that back in 2014, was one of the first ones that drove me to see all of them. The threat of fire and the potential loss of these structures was a prime motivator for me to get out and see them all, and I’m so very grateful I had the opportunity.

All that remains of Buck’s incredible forest are matchstick trees.

Directions.

From Twisp, take Highway 20 over Loup Loup Pass approximately 15 miles to a left turn on Buck Lookout Rd (FS 1100), which is a bit hidden and comes up fast. Depending on conditions, the road is driveable 5.75 miles to the lookout summit or you can park below and hike, ski, or snowshoe up. The road can be rough, so high clearance 4×4 recommended.