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9 Old Fire Lookouts You Can Climb up Near Los Angeles

Apr 10th, 2024

California has a lot of fire lookouts. A lot.

Hundreds, in fact. 

Although modern technology has allowed for fire detection using satellite imagery, heat maps and live-stream cameras, for the past century or so it was staffers in mountain-top fire lookouts doing all the work. Rangers, volunteers and firefighters residing at these fire lookouts kept watch over the vast Californian forests and peaks, keeping their eyes peeled for signs of smoke and fire. 

Not all of these fire lookouts are still around, and the ones that remain are usually only staffed by volunteers during the summer months. However, hikers and off-roaders can still go visit many of these old lookouts and soak in all the views at these amazing summit destinations!

Here are some of the fire lookouts you can visit near Los Angeles and our luxury Southern California apartments!

Fire lookouts you can climb up near Los Angeles

Black Mountain

Where: San Bernardino National Forest

Elevation: 7,772 feet

Can you climb it:  yes

Can you go inside: yes

This nifty lookout is a great one to start off with. 

Perched on a big chunk of rock at the top of Black Mountain, this metal lookout has a dizzying set of stairs and a catwalk that grants 360° views of the San Bernardino National Forest. Though this particular lookout is one of the more recent to have been constructed in the forest, the peak has had fire lookout towers on it since at least the 1920s!

Butler Peak Lookout

Where: San Bernardino National Forest

Elevation: 8,535 feet

Can you climb it: yes

Can you go inside: yes

This is one of the coolest towers out there, in our humble opinion. Perched atop a rocky outcropping overlooking Big Bear Lake and the vast mountains beyond, Butler Peak Lookout has a gravity-defying catwalk and set of stairs that reward visitors with unparalleled views of the scenery. If the fire lookout is staffed (it’s run on a volunteer basis) then you’ll get to go inside and check out the interior of this historic 1933 lookout that’s been the sighting spot of many fires over the century or so that it’s been around!

Castro Peak Tower

Where: Henninger Flats

Elevation: 2,554 feet

Can you climb it: yes

Can you go inside: yes

Though named for the highest peak in the Santa Monica Mountains north of Malibu, this fire lookout tower is actually located in the Henninger Flats area just outside Pasadena and the Angeles National Forest. 

The lookout tower stood on the real Castro Peak from 1925 to 1971, but it was moved to its current spot in 1978 where it’s now run by the County of Los Angeles Fire Department, Forestry Division, as a museum. Visitors can hike the 2.5 miles up to the Henninger Flats tower and see the tools, maps and artifacts that a forestry staffer would have used in a fire lookout such as this in the 20th century. It’s also fairly close to the Mount Wilson Observatory, so go check that out while you’re up there, too!

Frazier Mountain Tower

Where: Los Padres National Forest

Elevation: 8,027 feet

Can you climb it: yes

Can you go inside: yes

This 1936 fire lookout was relocated to Frazier Mountain from Santa Barbara in 1952 after a fire burned down the previous one, and it’s been standing watch ever since!

Well, kind of.

The tower was decommissioned in the 90s and has been ransacked, leaving behind an empty wooden shell that still manages to stand tall atop the dry peak. It’s not too tricky to get up to see it, thanks to a dirt road that drives straight up from the Chuchupate Ranger Station down in Lake of the Woods.

Keller Peak Lookout

Where: San Bernardino National Forest

Elevation: 7,882 feet

Can you climb it: yes

Can you go inside: yes

This impressive lookout was built in 1954 to replace a smaller tower that had been standing on Keller Peak since 1926.

At the peak of its use, Keller Peak Lookout was responsible for covering a fairly large section of the San Bernardino National Forest. Its high elevation and strategic location gave staffers an almost unobstructed view of the entire Santa Ana River watershed area — making it both a strategic lookout point to keep watch and a scenic lookout to visit! 

Morton Peak Lookout

Where: San Bernardino National Forest

Elevation: 4,624 feet

Can you climb it: yes

Can you go inside: yes

This metal tower, with its corrugated roof and simple design stands on the site of its 1934 predecessor, which was burned down in a 900-acre wildfire in 1959. The one that stands on Morton Peak today was completed in 1960, though it was abandoned just a decade later when smog made visibility so low that the lookout was of no use.

Today, the Morton Peak Lookout is back to being active thanks to the hard work and dedication of volunteers who care about the national forest’s history and who staff the towers during summer months. 

Slide Mountain Fire Lookout

Where: Angeles National Forest

Elevation: 4,631 feet

Can you climb it: yes

Can you go inside: no

Slide Mountain Fire Lookout overlooks Pyramid Lake and the hills beyond, though it takes a good 5-mile hike up a long, dry road to get there! Once you’re up at the lookout, though, you can go up onto the catwalk, rest in the shade, read up on the cool history and information surrounding the tower and take in all the views!

Strawberry Peak

Where: San Bernardino National Forest

Elevation: 6,135 feet

Can you climb it: yes

Can you go inside: yes

Strawberry Peak’s lookout tower is one of the oldest still standing in the San Bernardino National Forest, having survived almost a century of dry, wildfire-ridden California summers!

Built in 1933 and still administered by the U.S. Forest Service, this tower in the hills around Twin Peaks is a great example of what life looked like as a fire lookout staffer in the early 20th century. Today, it’s staffed by volunteers during the summer in between Memorial Day and Labor Day, so stop by and learn first-hand what it’s like to be a fire lookout-er!

Tahquitz Peak Lookout

Where: San Jacinto Wilderness, San Bernardino National Forest

Elevation: 8,752 feet

Can you climb it: yes

Can you go inside: yes

Located just south of the Mount San Jacinto State Park west of Palm Springs, this more remote fire lookout is still a gem to visit. 

From the lookout’s wooden catwalk around the 1937-era cabin, visitors who make the hike up get expansive views of not only the Los Angeles Basin to the north and west, but the vast Sonoran Desert to the east, too! With views like that, it’s no wonder the Tahquitz Peak Lookout is such an essential fire detection location. 

Check out these fire lookouts next time you’re in the mountains, or plan a trip up to one of the more secluded ones for a more remote getaway!


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Featured photo by Wren Meinberg on Unsplash

Author of Article

Colleen Ford is a South African who now lives in Spokane, Washington. She loves to travel, camp (in warm weather) and bake.

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