Okanogan Highlands | Selkirk Mountains
Location: 47.88525, -117.08250
Summit Elevation: 5,160′
Lookout Type: 10′ tower with DNR live-in cab
Site Established: 2004
Current Structure Built: 1979
Date Visited: 4/6/18
The Quartz Mountain fire lookout is one of only two lookouts in the state with groomed nordic trail access in the winter, the other being Puyallup Ridge*. Quartz is also located inside Washington State’s largest state park, Mount Spokane State Park, and is one of only a handful of lookouts in Washington State available for rental.
*Note: Puyallup is groomed only partway but groomed trails will get you a large chunk of the way there in winter.
Photos from April 2018.
The existing lookout structure on Quartz Mountain was originally built on the summit of Mount Spokane in 1979 by the Washington Department of Natural Resources. It sat 40′ high and was used for fire spotting until it was permanently decommissioned in 1994. The original lookout location on Mount Spokane actually has some interesting history, which started with the construction of the Vista House in 1934.
In 1948, an 85′ wood tower lookout was constructed on Mount Spokane, but it collapsed during its first winter under heavy snow. A new 45′ tower was built in 1950, then replaced in 1963. During its 60 years of service, the Mt. Spokane lookout held the record for more reported wildfires than any of the other 657 fire lookouts in Washington. The Mt. Spokane structures; however, endured some of the worst icing conditions of any fire lookouts in the state. Eventually the DNR gave up on costly ongoing repairs and the lookout was destined for demolition until Park staff and the Advisory Committee requested that it be given to the Park.
In June of 2001, crews scrapped the tower and the 9,000 pound cabin was lifted with a crane and moved by truck to the Mount Spokane State Park ranger’s residence, where it would sit until August 2004 while paperwork and permits were processed.
Finally in late August of 2004, a state parks maintenance crew made the old road to Quartz passable for heavy trucks, poured 4 concrete pillars, and stretched the limits of a boom crane moving the existing cab atop its new 10′ tower on Quartz Mountain.
In 2005, the lookout joined a rental program and can be reserved from June-September each year for about $100/night. Demand is high and it typically sells out, so plan ahead!
Winter Quartz adventure with my dad.
Because the winter route to Quartz is a groomed ski trail, snowshoeing is not typically allowed. However, I confirmed with the State Park that once nordic grooming ends for the season (usually around April 1), trails are open to full use with a Discover Pass and snowshoes are allowed, just be courteous and stay to the side of any ski grooming still remaining.
Since my dad was visiting me in April 2018, we got lucky and were able to snowshoe to Quartz after the grooming season ended. Believe it or not, in all his years of hiking and adventuring, my dad had never snowshoed so it was fun to get him out for the first time. Even at 70 you can learn new tricks!
We had a fantastic snowshoe all the way up and though we hit deeper snow closer to the lookout, conditions were great! We also got extremely lucky and were able to climb up above the clouds to enjoy some sunbreaks and breathtaking views through the clouds and fog.
It was really special to be able to see this lookout in the winter with a healthy snowpack. Visiting Quartz just before or after nordic season is a great way to enjoy a lonely, beautiful winter ascent if you don’t nordic ski, though I definitely want to return with my skis!
Again, the only time snowshoes are allowed are outside of the nordic grooming season and even then, be courteous of any existing ski tracks.
In summer, the trails to Quartz Mountain are open to hiking, biking, and equestrian use and are dog friendly, but dogs are not allowed in the lookout for overnight stays. In winter from Dec 1 – Mar 31, the surrounding trails are groomed for nordic skiing, making the lookout reachable only by skis.
Quartz Mountain is a 2.25 mile hike one way from the Selkirk Lodge. Lots of different trails lead to Quartz, so consult a trail map of the park and make your own adventure!
Note: Snowshoes and dogs are not allowed on groomed trails and you’ll need a Sno-Park permit along with a Special-Groomed Trail permit.
Mount Spokane State Park is roughly an hour northeast from Spokane. From Spokane, take I-90 to the Argonne Road exit, then travel north on Argonne, which becomes Bruce Road. At the roundabout intersection with the Mount Spokane Highway (Hwy 206), travel east. The Mount Spokane Highway becomes Mount Spokane Park Drive at the park entrance ranger station.
Continue up Mount Spokane Park Drive and follow the signs for Selkirk Lodge and the Nordic trail system. Park at Selkirk Lodge. SnoPark permit with Special Grooming Sticker required from December 1 – April 30 each year. Discover Pass required during the summer.