Red Mtn. Lookout

#6 VISITED: 10.24.15

Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Red Mtn. Lookout




Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Built » 1959

Elevation » 4965 Ft

Hike » 7 miles round trip

Elevation Gain » 1900 Ft

Red Mountain Lookout is located on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest 15 miles north of the Columbia River. It is the last fire lookout still standing in Skamania County and the last in the Mount Adams Ranger District. Considered one of the best viewpoints in the Southern Washington Cascades, Red Mountain offers views of four major volcanoes: Mount Rainier to the north, Mount Adams to the east, Mount Hood to the south, and Mount Saint Helens to the west.

In 1910, Forest Supervisor H.O. Stabler wrote a special fire report stating that Red Mountain was “unquestionably the best lookout point” in the Columbia National Forest (later named Gifford Pinchot National Forest). As a result, plans were made to build a lookout on Red Mountain, and in 1913 an 8’x8′ cedar-frame cabin was constructed on the summit. Six years later, the original lookout was replaced with a cupola cabin, and in 1935 the cupola was replaced with an L-4 cabin.

During World War II, Red Mountain Lookout was used as an Aircraft Warning Service station, and was staffed 24 hours a day for 12 months by Larry and Mary Rakestraw starting in October, 1942. During this time, a garage that had been built downhill from the lookout was converted into sleeping quarters so that one lookout could rest while the other kept watch for enemy aircraft.

That winter, temperatures dropped to -13º F, and 20 feet of snow fell in January alone. During the worst storms, snow sifted through the tiny cracks in the walls, and the chimney often became clogged with snow. At one point the Rakestraws went 6 weeks without seeing another person because the supply crew couldn’t make it through all the snow. When the crew were finally able to reach the lookout on February 5th, it took them three days on skis and sleds to make the 16 mile trek.

The present day lookout, a 10-foot treated timber tower with R-6 flat cab was constructed in 1959. In December 2006, a winter storm blew the roof off and collapsed the cabin walls. The following summer, 13 volunteers from four states (Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Kansas) spent two weeks restoring the lookout and garage. Today Red Mountain lookout is considered “service ready” but is typically only manned during emergencies.

Above: The original lookout in 1913 (L), and the cupola lookout in 1926 (R).

My Hike » 10.24.15

Field Notes

At one point you used to be able to drive all the way to Red Mountain Lookout, but the road is now gated and locked 3 miles before the lookout to prevent vandalism. I reached the lookout by walking up the gated road, but I’ve heard that you can also reach it from the opposite direction on Indian Race Track Trail #171 starting at the Falls Creek Horse Camp Trailhead.

Historically, the meadows below Red Mountain were an annual gathering place for the indigenous people of the area . The mountain is adjacent to what was then a tribal trade route which crossed over the Cascade Mountains. The meadow directly north of the mountain, known as Indian Race Track, is a long flattish meadow approximately 10 feet wide and 2000 feet long that was a popular spot for racing horses. Indian Race Track Trail #171 branches off from the road right before you get to the lookout and heads north into the Indian Heaven Wilderness.

Approximately 40 miles east of Portland on Interstate 84, the Bridge of the Gods crosses the Columbia River into Washington. I knew of the bridge from reading the book Wild, so my friend Skye and I decided to check it out on our way back from the lookout. The bridge was built in 1926, and is a steel truss cantilever bridge that spans 1,858 feet. The bridge serves as the link between Oregon and Washington on the Pacific Crest Trail, and is the lowest elevation point on the entire trail. It costs $2.00 to drive across, and $1.00 to walk or bike.


From Carson, head north on Wind River Highway for 4.8 miles. Turn right onto Old State Road, and then take the first left onto NF-65/Panther Creek Rd. Continue on NF-65 for 10.9 miles and turn right onto Carson Guler Rd/NF-60. Drive 1.5 miles to NF-6048 and park at the gate.