I am not sure where I first heard about them (probably some click-baity Facebook ad), but for the last few months I have been obsessing over renting a US Forest Service fire lookout tower. In their heyday, there were a couple thousand lookout towers. With the advent of modern technology, their use has dwindled and now only about 600 remain. Of those 600 (most are historic landmarks but some are still in use) a handful can be rented.
The nearest one to us is Squaw Mountain Fire Lookout. The tower is pretty well booked in advance so I had to keep checking back to finally find an available weekend. A weekend in November seemed like a safe bet...but no, we got a lot more than we bargained for.
The Hike Up
The description for the tower says that it is a mile hike in summer conditions and a 2 mile hike in winter conditions. Being early November, only having had one snowstorm, and mostly warm weather leading up to our trip, we assumed we would have no issues. Wrong!
The first part of the road from the highway was much snowier than anticipated and in a few spots required us to back up and attempt to pass again. On top of these, with the recent switch from daylight savings time, we were losing daylight fast!
We arrive later than we had intended and the sun was already behind the mountains so the snow was starting to freeze. If we had arrived any later, I am not sure we would have made it up that first part of the road.
This meant that by the time we parked the car and got everything loaded for the last mile, it was already dusk. We ended up having to hike a mile uphill, with a 2YO, on quickly freezing snow. Not ideal! Not to mention that when travelling with a 2YO, you have to bring a LOT more stuff than a normal camping trip.
After some juggling of the load, we were on our way and finally made it to the tower just under an hour from when we left the car (though it felt much longer). The majority of the hike was in the dark under a clear moonlit sky...so definitely could have been worse. Of course, a 2YO crying most of the way was not ideal, but letting him down to walk on his own on the ice was not an option.
As we finished the hike and crested the ridge of the mountain, we were greeted with an amazing view of the lights of Denver. It took my breath away and induced a panic attack for the Mrs. (who is generally scared of heights). We got the keys and finally finished our trek into the tower.
The tower itself is 2 stories and constructed of a stone base and a wooden top. The lower level boasts a kitchen with stove, oven, and refrigerator while the upper level is all windows providing amazing views of the surrounding area. The only major drawback is the lack of water, you have to trek that in.
We made ourselves some brats on the stove and relaxed to enjoy our finished hike and our rustic setting over some whiskey and beer. We also made the solid decision not to stay there for the second of our booked nights. A second night would not have been too much of a problem but having to carry the kiddo up and down the mountain again was not appealing to anyone.
After some drinks, we all turned in for the evening. In the morning we were treated with a spectacular sunrise and a few visitors (hikers) who had come to explore the area. We found a puzzle in the tower and spent the morning enjoying the views and doing the puzzle.
The Hike Down
The way down obviously was much easier than the way up. We were lighter and going downhill. The little guy rode on my pack the whole way down without complaint (unlike the night before). With the sun up and the snow starting to get soft, the hike down was nowhere near as slick as the hike up.
Once back to the car we packed up and headed down. We had ran into a good handful of hikers on the way down but there were no cars near where we had parked. After assisting a guy who had gotten his car stuck on the road, we found where the rest of the cars were. No one else had attempted to tackle the road and had all parked off the highway.
We finished our trip with a stop in Idaho Springs for some Beau Jo's pizza before heading home.
The tower was amazing and the views even better. With a kid, we likely won't go back in the colder months but will probably plan a summer trip. Also, we want to explore more lookout towers. The next closest one for us is Spruce Mountain in Wyoming, now I just need to figure out how to claim a spot.