Every Lookout in Oregon

Pickett Butte

Type: 51′ tower
Status: Staffed in summer; available to rent the rest of the year
Elevation: 3,290 feet
Visited: June 25-28, 2015

Six months ago Greg and I made reservations for the Pickett Butte Lookout for the last weekend of June. Of course we had no way of knowing that the last weekend of June would end up being a total scorcher, and we watched the forecast get hotter and hotter in the days leading up to our departure date. Oh well! These reservations are hard to get, we’d already requested the time off work, and we were still going, damn it. We would not regret our decision.

We reached the lookout at 8:30 on Thursday.

See Greg waving?

The lookout has a single bed, gas stove, and gas refrigerator. It also has a gas heater, which we never had to utilize.

We didn’t have bugs during our visit, but based on the label on the fly-swatter, others have not been so lucky.

Dinner was cucumber and sweet onion salad and veggie burgers. And of course some cold beers. We cooked and ate at the picnic table by the tower to save time (although we ended up having all our meals there), then headed up the tower to enjoy sunset. It was so freakin’ beautiful up there.

Later the stars came out, or at least a few did. The bright moon drowned out most of them.

Sunrise on Friday morning. Makes you glad to be alive!

The views are pretty nice up here.

Unfortunately the view includes a nasty clearcut, which you actually have to drive through to get up here. Logging operations were still going on over there and we could hear the sound of chainsaws and crashing trees all through breakfast.

I like comparing the views past and present. This is looking west in 1936. (Somehow I didn’t get a shot looking west when I was there.)

Looking north in 1936:

Looking north now:

Looking east in 1936:

Looking east now:

After a breakfast of fresh blueberries, grapefruit, and biscuits with strawberry jam, we hit the road for the day’s adventures. We stopped at the Acker Rock Lookout and then went for a short hike to Buckeye Lake. Damn, it was hot!

Back at the lookout that afternoon we saw a mass of clouds building up in the east. Later we’d hear distant thunder, although we never saw lightning.

We saved ourselves the trouble of getting food and cooking supplies up the tower and continued to eat our meals at the picnic table. On the menu Friday night: green bean stir fry over rice with peanut sauce. YUM.

We learned to plan our trips up and down the tower. The stairs were the steepest of any lookout I’ve ever rented.

Sunset that evening was AWESOME. I took way too many pictures.

Sunrise the next morning wasn’t so bad either (although I overslept and missed the first 20 minutes).

After a breakfast of fresh fruit with biscuits and gravy we headed out for the day’s activities. Our original plan had been to hike Abbott Butte, but it was very hot and very humid. So we decided to putter around the area instead. On the drive down off the butte we passed Lori, the lookout we’d met at Acker Rock the day before. Pickett Butte is always staffed starting about mid-July, but due to the high fire danger she was being sent up to our lookout for the day to keep any eye on the area. Good thing we hadn’t planned on hanging out up there during the day! (Several recent entries in the lookout’s logbook were from renters who had their reservations canceled last summer when the Forest Service decided they needed to staff the lookout sooner than they thought. So we felt lucky that didn’t happen to us!)

After checking out the World’s Tallest Sugar Pine we spotted this little family crossing the road and bounding up the hill. Awesome!

We ended up spending the entire afternoon hanging out by the South Umpqua River behind the Alder Flat Campground, reading, swimming, and eating. The heat was utterly withering, and the cool river felt great.

We got back to the lookout at 5, just as Lori was getting ready to leave. She said that lightning had caused a fire over near Lemolo Lake, but that was all the fire activity so far. We learned that she had worked for the Umpqua NF for years before finally retiring. She now worked as a seasonal. She was full of interesting information. I could have talked to her for a lot longer!

That evening Greg spotted a pair of turkey vultures soaring around the lookout. They hung around for awhile. Very cool!

We knew Acker Rock was out there somewhere to the east, but we hadn’t been able to spot it. The light changed at one point and there it was.

After a dinner of cucucumber and sweet onion salad with sundried tomato pesto gnocchi, we headed up the lookout for our final sunset of the weekend. It was a doozy!

Later, the moon lit up everything on the mountain top, including the clouds above us.

We drank wine, ate chocolate, and played trivia before finally falling into bed, tired and happy.

It was completely overcast in the morning. I got up at 5:30 to check on the sunrise, which was a non-starter, and went back to sleep. We woke up at 7:30 and enjoyed smoked salmon hash for breakfast:

Lori showed up at 9 to staff the lookout again. We were packing up, so it was no big deal. We waved goodbye and reluctantly hit the road It had been a hot weekend and we’d have to revise all our plans due to the heat, but we’d had a lot of fun and it was hard to leave. This is the fifth lookout I’ve rented and I’ve enjoyed every single one of them. What I’ll remember most fondly about this one were the sunsets and sunrises. Utterly lovely.

If you go:

  • Road access is great and the entire seven miles of gravel road from the highway are passable by low-clearance cars.
  • The stairs are VERY steep. They’re more like a ladder than a staircase. Consider leaving your dog at home, unless you want to carry him up the stairs.
  • Hauling stuff up those steep stairs is a pain, but there is a very handy bucket-and-pulley-system. The bucket is pretty small, though, so it takes awhile to get your stuff moved in and moved out.
  • There is only one chair in the lookout, so we ended up sitting on the countertops. Next time we’ll bring portable lightweight camping chairs.
  • We were fortunate and did not have bugs. But the windows do not have screens so if you’re here during a buggy time, come prepared with bug spray.
  • There are two picnic tables near the tower, one of which has a fire ring right by it. No firewood is provided (unless the last renter was kind enough to leave you some), so bring your own.
  • Watch out for poison oak! There is plenty of it growing up here.
  • Many entries in the logbook referred to the troublesome propane heater. It seems that many people had trouble getting it to work properly. If you come during colder weather bring lots of layers in case you can’t get the heater to work.
  • There were two propane lanterns mounted on the wall. Again, previous logbook entries indicate they are hard to operate. We had brought our own lanterns and didn’t fiddle with them.
  • If you make a reservation for June or July be prepared for the possibility that your reservation will be canceled if the Forest Service needs to put the lookout into service. We were lucky that didn’t happen to us and that they just sent someone up during the day to watch for fires.