Updated: Oct 2, 2022
Second only to Smokey Bear!
Fire lookouts are one of the most recognized images of the U.S. Forest Service. And the men and women who staff these lookouts spend endless hours alone on these peaks watching for wildfires.
We decided to visit some of the fire lookouts in Northeastern Oregon, along with visiting some other interesting sites in the area. Here's what we found.
Fire Lookout Route
Little Prairie Hill Lookout
We started from Boise and traveled through Vale and Ironside, looking for Little Prairie Hill Lookout Site, an abandoned former fire lookout atop Prairie Hill at 5,890 feet. Prairie Hill was once home to a fire lookout cabin built in 1933. It has been gone for many years, but the road was supposed to still be there. We drove back and forth where it was supposed to be but it is overgrown and we didn't want to disturb the forest ground to access the area. It was a beautiful drive and we enjoyed a picnic lunch along the way.
CORRECTION: We later learned from the fire lookout at Table Rock that we were looking for the wrong road! You can get to Prairie Hill by turning onto Road 446 and it will take you up to the former lookout site.
We continued on to the highlight of the day - Table Rock Lookout.
Table Rock Lookout
Table Rock Lookout was built in 1936 for only $676.87 and later a catwalk was added. It was replaced again in 1949. The lookout has been in service for 85+ years and is listed on the National Historic Lookout Register. There's a humorous story to go along with the rich history of this mountaintop. "One morning soon after the lookout's construction, the staffer awoke to find several elephants and camels around the station. After some eye blinking and rubbing and a little consternation, it was discovered that a circus troop had bedded down there in the middle of the night. Seems their van broke down in Unity and the small cavalcade was trekking cross-country to meet its next engagement. There are pictures of this event in the historical files in the Supervisor's Office of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest."
The road is graded the first 6 miles from NFD 13, but is quite rough the last five miles, where you will need a medium or high clearance vehicle. The directions to Table Rock Lookout are well-marked. This lookout building is staffed during the summer. And the views from this peak are amazing!
Table Rock: 44.33397 -118.31656
Out of the WAY - Split Rock: 44.40454 -118.30634
After visiting Table Rock, we decided to head through Sumpter and Granite and camp at Olive Lake. We passed by the Fremont Powerhouse on the way to Olive Lake and since it was late, chose to head to camp and come back in the morning to see the powerhouse.
Olive Lake Campground is on the edge of the lake, high in the Blue Mountains of Eastern Oregon, eight miles west of the historic Fremont Powerhouse and 12 miles west of the old mining town of Granite. The campground has 28 campsites and 7 accessible toilet facilities but no potable water. There is a two-mile hiking trail around the lake plus access to other wilderness and scenic trails, two docks and a boat ramp. Since there are no garbage facilities, it is a pack it in, pack it out camp.
When we were there, they had recently stocked the lake with trout and our camping neighbor reported daily catches of 20+ trout that were around 20 inches.
Besides beautiful scenery, the lake offers many opportunities for wildlife viewing--particularly a nesting pair of osprey that return annually. Activities in this area include fishing, boating, swimming, hiking, hunting, and photography. Within 20 miles are several historic sites.
Link to Recreation.gov with more information about Olive Lake Campground.
I'm Here - Now What?
Bring your fishing rod! - rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, brook trout, kokanee and crawfish
Bring your kids, if you have any!
Bring your dog - must be on leash
Hiking - nearby trails to North John Day Wilderness Area and Vinegar Hill Scenic Area
Boating - motorized boats but no jet skis
Wildlife viewing - deer, elk, bear, river otters and osprey
Plant viewing - plus, mushroom and berry picking are available in season
The next morning we broke down camp to head home, stopping at the Fremont Powerhouse on the way. And we're looking forward to visiting more fire lookouts!
The historic Fremont Powerhouse and four restored cabins are about eight miles northwest of Granite. The National Register of Historic Places and Oregon’s State Historic Preservation Office list the complex as a historic district. The Romanesque stone building was built in 1903 and holds two 500 kilowatt generators and a control panel built from an 11-foot-wide piece of blue Florentine marble. Redwood and steel pipes once carried water eight miles away and 1,100 feet downhill from a dam built at Olive Lake to drive the turbines. The powerhouse was built to provide power for the Red Boy Mine, which relied on steam power. Mining slowed in the 1920s and the plant was connected to generating plants in Baker, La Grande and Cove and formed Eastern Oregon Power and Light. The Fremont Powerhouse also provided power for the gold mining dredge at Sumpter. Take a moment to admire the amazing ingenuity of the architecture and work that went into this endeavor.
Geocaches near the Fremont Powerhouse
The Real Outback “Steak” house: 44.809558 -118.422169 (Granite)
Pipe Dreams: 44.792817 -118.548672 (2.5 mi west)
More Pipe Dreams: 44.78779 -118.57383
The Fire Lookout Trip
STARTING POINT: Boise
DISTANCE FROM STARTING POINT: Depends on number of lookouts visited
TIME TO REACH: Again, depends on lookouts visited
ROAD SURFACE: Paved and dirt roads - some very rugged roads!
WHEN ACCESSIBLE: Summer is best for fire lookout access
FEES: None for the lookouts, campgrounds in the area vary
RECOMMENDED VEHICLES: Four-wheel or all-wheel drive
PET FRIENDLY: Depends on where you go
WHEN WE WENT: Last weekend of June 2022
Other Fire Lookouts in NE Oregon
We will add info for other lookouts soon!