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Goodman Hill Lookout

#61 Goodman Hill Mount Rainier Area

Location: 47.0720979,-122.6471522
Summit Elevation: 480′
Lookout Type:  100′ wooden tower with 8×8′ cab
Site Established: 1955
Current Structure Built: 1955
Date Visited: 08/27/18

When it comes to Washington’s standing lookouts, Goodman Hill is not only unique, but also one of the most difficult to access since it’s inside the Joint Base Lewis-McChord military base southwest of Tacoma.

Goodman Hill is the lowest elevation Washington State fire lookout still standing.

Photos from 2018 visit.


History.

I have found little to no information about the history of Goodman Hill, so if anyone has information, please share! I’d love to find out more.


Access information.

The good news is that Goodman Hill isn’t quite as impossible to access as it first seems. The fire lookout is located in an area of the Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) that is periodically open for recreation. Gaining access to the lookout requires good timing and jumping through a few hoops to get a recreational access permit.

  1. First, check if the area is open. Goodman Hill is located in Training Area 4 (TA4) and the JBLM publishes their recreational access schedule here. You can also call Range Control at (253) 967-6371.
  2. Go to the main gate (I-5 exit 120) and then to the visitor’s center to get a day pass. You’ll need a driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance for the vehicle you are driving.
  3. With your day pass, visit the Range Control office in building 4074 at the intersection of Stryker and Kaufman Avenues to get a recreational access permit, which is valid for 2 years. Range Control will ask you where you’re interested in visiting, confirm the area is open, and provide you a map if you don’t already have one.

Once you have your recreational permit and have verified TA4 is open, you’re good to go! You’ll want to follow Range Control rules, outlined in their brochure, and be sure to call their automated number to leave details on where, when, and for how long you’re visiting.

Locations of the Visitor Center and Range Control on the JBLM.

Directions.

Now the next hurdle is getting there. It looks like you can very easily drive to Goodman Hill from Range Control but you cannot, there are military gates and checkpoints. When I visited I was also unable to drive through the base out the east gate. The Perimeter Road is often closed during active base hours.

You’ll want to get over to the east gate, so from Spanaway, drive WA 507 south and turn right onto E Gate Road. In 4.2 miles, you’ll see an old airplane hull on your right (see photo at right). Turn left there onto a paved road directly across. You’ll follow this main road across the base, with an artillery zone on your left, approximately 6.5 miles until the road comes to a T. Turn right, then in another half mile, take another right. In a little over 2.5 miles you’ll be near Goodman Hill lookout. When the road starts to bend around to the right, find a place to park and look for the lookout in the trees.

It really helps to study maps and orient yourself before visiting Goodman Hill. Roads on the base aren’t well marked and Google Maps will send you on a wild goose chase on roads you either can’t access or can’t drive through.

I would NOT recommend visiting this lookout without all the required permits. Trespassing on a military base is a very bad idea.

Most mapping software will send you on a wild goose chase all over restricted roads, so I put my driving directions into a GPX file below.

This is the junction on E Gate Rd you’ll want to find. You’ll want to turn on this road to the left, directly across from this concrete airplane hangar and hull (out of photo).

The Goodman Hill experience.

When I visited Goodman Hill it took me some effort to figure out how to actually get to the fire lookout since there was little information online from anyone else who had visited. When I got my recreational access permit from Range Control, not a single person in the office even knew there was a fire lookout on base and the only directions I received were that “there were some roads around the base” that went to Training Area 4 (TA4), where Goodman Hill is located.

Base maps and Google Maps don’t really show you restricted roads or military checkpoints, so I hit a lot of dead ends trying to drive across base to TA4. Eventually, sort of by accident, a random MP who I flagged down suggested that I drive around to the East Gate Road and that I could probably connect through from there.

I have to admit that when I turned off the East Gate Road and started driving across the base, with artillery fields on either side, I was pretty nervous. I knew that the area I was going to was open and military bases are pretty clear about telling you where you should not be, but still. Driving along huge artillery fields, even when empty, is more than a little unsettling, especially when you’re not at all confident about where you’re going! I really didn’t want to get blown up.

I tried to pretend I was in stealth mode, driving quietly and silently. About a quarter mile from the lookout I was stopped by an MP in a Jeep. I won’t lie, my heart started racing and I was scared to death I was going to jail or something.

The friendly MP only wanted to verify I had a range access card and asked where I was headed. I told him I was trying to visit the Goodman Hill fire lookout and he looked perplexed. “A fire lookout?” he asked.

I explained to him that Goodman Hill is indeed a standing Washington State fire lookout and dubious, he asked to accompany me to check this out himself. Sure enough, only a short ways up the road I was able to find the lookout and the MP was in disbelief. He said he had been on base for a while and had no idea it was even there. As we’re exchanging small talk, I ask if the route I drove in was indeed ok and if I can go out that way or if there is a better way to leave.

“No way.” he says, shaking his head. “You can’t be driving through the artillery fields.” I was just about to freak out when he smiled and said “I’m totally joking! You’re ok! Have a good drive out!”

Phew! Not funny!

No doubt that Goodman Hill was one of the more exhilarating fire lookouts I’ve visited but I’m not sure I want to go fire lookout rambling on an active military base ever again! Visiting the recreational areas of the JBLM though is a unique experience. There are beautiful habitats that are home for many bird species and endangered butterflies, and not far away, huge scorched military artillery fields—an interesting contrast. There are also some big beautiful views of the Mountain.

If you have an interest in visiting all of Washington’s lookouts, definitely prioritize Goodman Hill when the opportunity is available. Access to this one isn’t guaranteed.