Type: 41′ tower with 14×14 cupola cab
Status: Staffed in summer; rental in winter
Elevation: 5,723 feet
Visited: November 1-3, 2015
I visited Warner Mountain in the summer of 2014 and had a very nice chat with the man who was working there. I was enchanted with the unique lookout and with the beautiful landscape and knew that I’d have to come back and rent it sometime. Since it’s staffed in the summer, it’s only available to rent in the winter, when renters potentially have to ski or snowshoe up to eight miles depending on how snowy a winter it has been and where the snow level is. Not wanting such a long trek, Greg and I made reservations for the very beginning of the rental season. It can definitely snow in the Cascades in early November, but the odds of having such deep snow that we couldn’t drive most or all of the way up were pretty low.
It’s a long four-hour drive from Portland to Warner Mountain. It rained most of the way. Once we left the pavement of Road 21 for the gravel of Road 2129, it was 12 miles of climbing up, up, up into the mountains. In my confirmation email six months ago I had received a combination for the lock. I called the Middle Fork Ranger Station the Tuesday before our visit to confirm the code. They told me that they no longer locked the lookout but that the combination I had would work on the gate, which is right where Road 342 branches off, heading to the tower.
So imagine my surprise when we arrived at said gate on Sunday and discovered that it had a key lock, not a combination lock. We had a cell phone signal, but of course no one was at the ranger station to answer our call. So we started unloading the car and hauling our gear. (We are hikers and don’t mind walking, but we would have packed VERY differently if we had known we had to walk.)
It’s about 0.3 mi from the gate to the tower. The mountain was socked in and we had to hike in a cold drizzle, so the tower was a sight for sore eyes.
We were surprised to discover that this lookout doesn’t have a pulley system for hauling supplies up to the top. It was the first tower we’ve come across without one. So we lugged our stuff up the stairs, then went back for one more load of stuff before settling in. This is one posh lookout! It has carpets, double-pane windows, mini blinds, and a thermostat-controlled propane heating stove (instead of a wood stove). The gas range and oven actually worked (you can’t always be sure they will).
Time for soup and a game. We played a new-to-us game called Love Letter, which took awhile to get the hang of, but we got there eventually.
Every lookout we’ve ever stayed at has had a small supply of games. We initially couldn’t find any here, but later discovered them stashed up in a high cupboard, where they were probably stored during the summer. I brought them down and put them in the under-bed drawers for easy access.
We had cozied up in the lookout none too soon. Wind and sleet battered the tower throughout the afternoon.
Views were non-existent:
Late in the afternoon we busted out a bottle of champagne that we had been saving.
After dinner we spent the evening playing games.
I tried for a night shot of the lookout, but the clouds made things a bit challenging. It did create a cool effect with the lights from the lookout, though.
When we woke up Monday morning we discovered a winter wonderland outside. Half an inch of snow had fallen overnight. Beautiful!
While eating breakfast, I got a call from someone at the Middle Fork Ranger District who had heard the voicemail I left the day before. She said that they stopped locking the catwalk of the lookout because of renters having trouble with the lock freezing up in winter and because of non-renters breaking in and damaging the door. So now the Forest Service makes renters park at the gate and walk in. I was totally baffled by this explanation. This logic doesn’t compute. And in any case, that’s not what I had been told when I called beforehand. I had noticed in the lookout’s logbook the previous afternoon that the gate had been closed to renters as far back as 2012, so it’s not like this is a new thing. Well, now we know.
After breakfast we decided to walk over to Logger Butte, which is two miles away. On our hike down our little road we saw rabbit tracks in the snow!
The main road had just a slight dusting of snow. (That sign, by the way, is incorrect. It is Warner Mountain, not Warner Ridge.)
The road curves around in such a way that we got a view across the meadow to the lookout:
We hiked along Road 439 until reaching the junction with Road 454.
Then hiked up that to Logger Butte.
There is a nice wooden platform and bench up there.
Looking north, with Road 454 below us:
Looking east at Juniper Mountain:
Snowy trees were all around:
We sat for a bit enjoying the “view” and our Theo peanut butter cups.
We hiked back to our lookout and got back none too soon, because it started snowing sideways soon thereafter.
The windows of the cupola:
At dusk the snow had stopped and I tried taking some photos outside, but the air was thick with clouds.
We spent the evening playing Iota:
The wind raged all night long and I had trouble sleeping. When we awoke in the morning it was 26 degrees and we discovered what the combination of wind and freezing moisture created. Cool!
Anyone care for a picnic?
It was nice to have just enough snow to make things pretty, but not enough to bury our car!
As always, it was hard to leave. Sadly we packed up our gear and lugged it down our snowy road to the car. So glad we got to visit this lovely lookout! Next time I hope we get some views.
If you go:
- The Middle Fork Ranger District is VERY good at road signage, more so than any other ranger district of any other national forest I’ve visited. The road to the lookout is no exception and is very well-signed.
- As I mentioned, this lookout is not like other rentable lookouts where renters are allowed to drive through the gate all the way to the end of the road (assuming you come when the ground is bare, of course). There is plenty of parking across the road from the gate. You’ll have to haul your gear the rest of the way.
- Normally, winter access to this lookout involves a long trek over snow, so make sure you’re prepared with skis or snowshoes. Watch the forecast during your stay because if the snow level goes lower than where you left your car, you may find it buried in snow.
- We had a strong cell phone signal the entire time.
- Candles aren’t allowed in the lookout. Battery-powered candles are provided and during our visit there were even spare batteries in the cupboard.
- Although there are electrical outlets in this lookout, they appear to be turned off in the winter.
- The propane heating stove takes a lot longer to warm things up than a wood stove does. If it’s particularly cold, the Forest Service has provided a portable Mr. Heater propane-powered heater, in addition to extra propane bottles
- This lookout is well-appointed, with carpet, lots of counter space, double-pane windows, mini blinds, overhead lights, and two sets of wall-mounted LED lights. The propane range and oven worked great. The fridge was turned off and had no door, so I’m not sure if it’s broken or if it’s just not allowed to be used by renters. As I mentioned there is no pulley system for hauling your stuff to the top.
- Pets are not allowed at this lookout.
- If you come when there is snow, you can melt it and treat it for drinking water. If the ground is bare you’ll need to bring all your water.