9 miles south of Hungry Horse stands the Firefighter Mountain lookout. Originally established in 1923 the lookout has transformed from a wood frame cabin to the 41′ treated timber tower you can see today. While widely used by the Forest Service fire towers predate the founding of the service with many towns, lumber companies and state organizations operating towers to protect valuable timber lands. In 1910 a fire that burned over 3 million acres swept through Washington, Idaho and Montana. This fire, the largest forest fire in recorded history, helped forge many of the fire policies we still use today.
Many lookouts today are staffed only seasonally and Firefighter Mountain sees a full time lookout only during the dry summer months. Lookouts are trained to use an Osborne Fire Finder to establish a directional bearing to smoke and direct fire crews to burn locations. During World War II lookouts, especially those on the west coast, were trained to spot and report enemy aircraft.
The easiest way to access this area is to come through Martin City off of Highway 2. Taking South Fork Road will lead you into the forest on the Northeast side of Hungry Horse Reservoir. South Fork becomes NF 38 and winds around the coves on this side of the reservoir. After roughly 10 miles NF 896 splits off of NF 38 on the right and leads to NF 3818 that summits Firefighter Mountain. While the road goes all the way to the tower, during the off season you’ll find a locked gate about half a mile away that will prevent you from driving the entire distance. There’s room at the gate to park off the edge of the road and make the short hike up the remainder of the road to the tower.
Once at the peak you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the reservoir below and several of the boat launches across the reservoir. While hiking around the area we found numerous small campsites and fire rings that were most likely established by hunters in the area. The roads leading to Firefighter Mountain can be traversed by most vehicles, although some of the rutted areas may require a sedan with less ground clearance to choose their path carefully. If you’re in the area and have half a day to kill I’d highly recommend making the trip and taking in the views from the top.