The vast, rugged land­scape of Wash­ing­ton state is home to a mul­ti­tude of secrets, hid­den on spec­tac­u­lar high trails above the trees, and open­ing the door to a mul­ti­tude of excit­ing adven­tures. Washington’s fire huts were once the first line of defense against for­est fires, manned by vol­un­teers who would spend sum­mers in iso­la­tion. But now the huts offer overnight lodg­ing and unique van­tage points high above Washington’s crag­gy landscapes.

Here are clas­sic fire huts in the upper left cor­ner of the con­ti­nen­tal U.S.

fremontFre­mont Lookout
With a rel­a­tive­ly easy trail and a breath­tak­ing view of Mt. Rainier, Fre­mont Look­out offers stun­ning vis­tas with a 5.6‑mile round trip trail and just over 900 feet of ele­va­tion gain. The 1934-con­struct­ed hut is one of four remain­ing near Mt. Rainier and plays home to moun­tain goats and black bear. In spring, the land­scape lends itself to col­or­ful car­pets of wild­flow­ers, con­trast­ing near­by Rainier’s icy glac­i­ers. As hik­ers climb high­er, they are reward­ed with an ever-expand­ing sky­line of peaks, stretch­ing for miles in the dis­tance. This is a great trail for casu­al hik­ers or those with fam­i­lies and young children.

Mt. Pilchuck
Con­struct­ed in 1918, Mt. Pilchuck fire hut is among one of Washington’s most pop­u­lar, with an often crowd­ed trail but and spec­tac­u­lar over­look of the North Cas­cades and sev­er­al Washington’s famed vol­ca­noes. The 3‑mile trail, which gains just over 2,100 feet, climbs mod­er­ate­ly steep and rocky sec­tions. Along the way, hik­ers pass the rem­nants of the for­mer Mt. Pilchuck ski area, which fea­tured a rope-tow and chair­lift but closed in the 1970s. The peak is an excep­tion­al climb through­out much of the year, and exhil­a­rat­ing in win­ter, how­ev­er, under the snow, it is prone to avalanches.

Win­ches­ter Mountain
Built in 1935, Win­ches­ter Look­out fea­tures one of the finest sky­lines in the state. With over­reach­ing views of Mt. Bak­er, Shuk­san, Gran­ite Peak, the Pick­ets, plus vis­tas all the way into British Colum­bia. Sit­ting just above Twin Lakes, hik­ers can choose to camp down below and make the look­out a day-trip, or camp inside the look­out on a first-come, first-serve basis. In win­ter, Win­ches­ter makes for a spec­tac­u­lar snow­shoe or Ski-in/s­ki-out expe­ri­ence, with an easy but seclud­ed expe­ri­ence, made only dif­fi­cult by a long approach into Twin Lakes. The loca­tion, plus the remote feel make Win­ches­ter Moun­tain one of the most-loved fire huts in the state.

sourdough mountainSour­dough Mountain
As with Des­o­la­tion Peak, Sour­dough moun­tain has its own lit­er­ary dis­tinc­tion as it was the tem­po­rary home for Beat­nik poets Philip Whalen and Gary Sny­der who occu­pied the space in the 1950s. The vibrant wild­flower-car­pet­ed peak stands proud­ly above Dia­blo Lake, between a sky­line of jagged gran­ite moun­tains and lush pine forests in North­ern Wash­ing­ton. The trail is one of the more dif­fi­cult, fol­low­ing a series of switch­backs that rise well above the tree line to a promi­nent look­out over the lakes, forests, and peaks.

Des­o­la­tion Peak
Set at the heart of the North Cas­cades, Des­o­la­tion Peak is one of the more stren­u­ous hikes in the state and a dif­fi­cult hut to reach. But it has his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance, as it was the sum­mer res­i­dence of writer Jack Ker­ouac. In 1956, Ker­ouac spent 63 days in the sum­mer as a fire watch­man. Dur­ing that time, he for­mu­lat­ed his ideas for Lone­some Trav­el­er, The Dhar­ma Bums, and Des­o­la­tion Angels. At the top, hik­ers are offered views high above Ross Lake, includ­ing Jack Moun­tain, and the jagged spire-like Hozomeen Moun­tain. For lit­er­ary lovers of Kerouac’s work, Des­o­la­tion Peak is almost like a pilgrimage.

Three Fin­gers Lookout
Dra­mat­i­cal­ly perched above the Moun­tain Loop High­way, Three Fin­gers Look­out is one of Washington’s most icon­ic and spec­tac­u­lar fire huts, soar­ing high above the glac­i­er. Three Fin­gers is one of the grand prizes of fire look­out excur­sions involv­ing glac­i­er cross­ings, steep lad­der climb­ing, scram­bling, and ulti­mate remote­ness. Get­ting to the look­out involves knowl­edge of tech­ni­cal skills includ­ing ice axes and rope, but the perch allows for overnight stays and one-of-a-kind views and accom­mo­da­tions in the heart of the Cas­cades. Get­ting to Three Fin­gers isn’t for the faint of heart, but at an ele­va­tion of 6,854 feet, it’s cer­tain­ly one of Washington’s most unfor­get­table experiences.

It’s impor­tant to treat the fire huts and his­tor­i­cal struc­tures with care and respect includ­ing avoid­ing over­crowd­ing, denounc­ing and report­ing van­dal­ism, and own­ing a sense of respon­si­bil­i­ty and stew­ard­ship for these extra­or­di­nary places. Treat them with the care and respect that any wild area deserves.

Good camp­ing mem­o­ries are like a soft flame that burns through the night. Some­thing about that fresh air, open scenery, and step away from it all can real­ly stick around in your mind and define what you want out of life. Choos­ing a great camp­ground is gen­er­al­ly pret­ty easy; avoid any open sewage reser­voirs, make sure you have access to clean water, and if you can find a nice lev­el spot to pop the tent, even bet­ter. But there are places in this coun­try that are defined by their beau­ty and sur­round­ings that can also be con­sid­ered elite camp­ing spots. Places so amaz­ing that their beau­ty is not just seen, but felt along­side those open tent flaps and stove­top goulash. And here for you today, to get some of your tent stakes in the ground, are ten icon­ic camp­sites in the USA:

Sahale Glac­i­er Camp, North Cas­cades Nation­al Recre­ation Park

To spend the night at Sahale (derived from a Native Amer­i­can word for “high place”) one needs to obtain a back­coun­try per­mit through the North Cas­cades Nation­al Park. These per­mits are free, but are also on a first come, first serve basis, and there is not nec­es­sar­i­ly an abun­dance of room at this well-sought camp­site. But find your­self hold­ing a per­mit, sharp­en your moun­taineer­ing skills, and this camp­site and its high moun­tain peaks can pro­vide you with a life­time of moun­tain memories.


Bright Angel Camp­ground, Grand Canyon Nation­al Park

It should be not­ed that trekking down to the Bright Angel Camp­ground locat­ed at the base of the Grand Canyon is total­ly option­al, but it is the trek back up, that is manda­to­ry. Filled with enough deep canyon views to inspire you to take up land­scape paint­ing, the trek down to this icon­ic camp­site is a lit­tle treach­er­ous for the first-time hik­er, but as you spend your night in the mid­dle of the Grand Canyon near the banks of the Col­orado Riv­er, the sore legs you will feel in the morn­ing (and on your way back up) will be well worth the sense of won­der you’ll expe­ri­ence at this campsite.

Rich­land Creek Camp­ground, Lake of the Ozarks

The best way to explore all the Ozarks has to offer is by spend­ing a night at the Rich­land Creek Camp­ground. Near­ly inac­ces­si­ble by your ordi­nary com­muter vehi­cle, this camp­ground is espe­cial­ly wel­com­ing to those who can trav­el by foot. What this means for you is a chance to explore the sur­round­ing Rich­land Creek Wilder­ness and its wildlife, water­falls, and rolling moun­tains with­out the encum­brance of the RV next door rock­ing its 90’s rock all night. Most sites here offer a pic­nic table and fire-pit, and all have access to fresh water includ­ing a near­by swim­ming hole that is per­fect for cool­ing off dur­ing the hot sum­mer months of the Ozarks.

Lone­some Lake at the Cirque of the Tow­ers, Wind Riv­er Range, Wyoming

You real­ly have to earn your camp­site when vis­it­ing the Cirque of the Tow­ers in the Wind Riv­er Range of Wyoming. That’s because it’s no gen­tle slope to access this sought after view, instead, it’s a requiem for a Stair­mas­ter as you make your way up the 5–10 miles to the dis­persed camp­ing area. Despite its dif­fi­cul­ty, the fan­tas­tic 270⁰ range of huge moun­tain peaks attracts quite the crowd to the Big Sandy Trail­head (which is the access point). Despite that, camp­ing is free once you make it fair­ly far up the path (and must be ¼ mile beyond the shores of Lone­some Lake), and you’ll need to bring your Leave No Trace Ethics because no ameni­ties are avail­able that far up the mountain.


White Riv­er Camp­ground, Rainier Nation­al Park

If you can’t feel the excite­ment once you enter the gates of Mount Rainier Nation­al Park, you can cer­tain­ly see it. That’s because at the cen­ter of this Pacif­ic North­west Nation­al asset is the impres­sive Rainier peak stand­ing at 14,000+ feet. And while the park itself has a num­ber of great camp­sites that you would have a hard time not enjoy­ing your­self at, the most notable site is the White Riv­er Camp­ground. That’s because, besides dra­mat­ic Pacif­ic North­west views, the White Riv­er Camp­ground offers loads of access points to your favorite adven­ture oppor­tu­ni­ties. And whether you con­sid­er your­self a high alti­tude alpin­ist, pro­fes­sion­al day hik­er, or an avid shut­ter-bug, reser­va­tions to White Riv­er Camp­ground should be made today.

Jede­di­ah Smith Camp­grounds, Jede­di­ah Smith Red­woods State Park

There is some­thing unique about camp­ing near the Red­woods that dom­i­nate North­ern Cal­i­for­nia. Maybe it’s just a rem­i­nis­cence of watch­ing Fern Gul­ley as a kid, but spend­ing time near these trees that can be traced back to a time before Amer­i­ca exist­ed gives you a reju­ve­nat­ing spir­it on just how big this world real­ly is. And while there are plen­ty of spots to bask in this age-old glo­ry, Jede­di­ah Smith Camp­grounds holds a spe­cial place in the Red­woods offer­ing its users a dai­ly dose of wildlife, ecol­o­gy, and sure­ly some of that same adven­tur­ous spir­it that Jede­di­ah expe­ri­enced when he first explored what we know today as California.


Gar­den Key Camp­ground, Dry Tor­tu­gas Nation­al Park

To access the prim­i­tive Gar­den Key Camp­grounds in the Flori­da Keys of Dry Tor­tu­gas Nation­al Park you have to take a small fer­ry, so a lit­tle advanced plan­ning is need­ed to stay at these sandy shores. But make your arrange­ments and be pre­pared for a camp­ing expe­ri­ence like no oth­er. Snor­kel­ing, coral reef watch­ing, amaz­ing sun­sets, and tours of the his­toric Fort Jef­fer­son, all this is only made bet­ter by the stun­ning views of this ocean­ic island on the out­skirts of the Gulf of Mex­i­co. Be pre­pared to camp at Gar­den Keys, because, with lim­it­ed access to the out­side world, you’ll be left with your own resources and know-how while vis­it­ing Dry Tortugas.

Apgar Camp­ground, Glac­i­er Nation­al Park

All mighty Apgar, this is one camp­ground to put on your buck­et list. Locat­ed on the south­ern tip of Lake McDon­ald in Glac­i­er Nation­al Park of north­west­ern Mon­tana, you can expect to see high alpine views, dense forests, and an abun­dance of wildlife includ­ing but not lim­it­ed to griz­zly bears, Har­le­quin ducks, gray wolfs, and gold­en eagles. And it’s not even just the rus­tic scenery and diverse wildlife that makes this camp­ground worth vis­it­ing, Apgar also has access to over 700 miles of trails to explore for a life­time to come.

Camp 4 – Yosemite Nation­al Park

Often ref­er­enced as the birth­place of mod­ern climb­ing, Camp 4 in Yosemite Nation­al Park has the quick­est access to the equal­ly famous El Cap­i­tan big wall. Come take part in the fun at Camp 4 which fea­tures 35 tent spaces for climbers around the world to cram togeth­er and share sto­ries of their recent crags (and share a lit­tle whiskey as well). It’s first come, first serve at this famous camp­site, and make no mis­take, it can fill up fast. But while you are there, bask in the glo­ry that is mod­ern rock climb­ing and share the space with climb­ing his­to­ry as you try to avoid shar­ing your space with the local black bear denizen that roam the park.


Watch­man Camp­ground, Zion Nation­al Park  

Sleep tight in Zion Nation­al Park know­ing that the Watch­man has an eye on you. And no, we’re not talk­ing about that creepy park ranger who you’re not even sure is actu­al­ly employed by the park, we’re talk­ing about the rocky peak that is promi­nent­ly vis­i­ble from every camp­ing spot in the Watch­man, and which acts as a good appe­tiz­er for all the Zion has to offer. What’s even nicer about the view from this often times busy camp­site (which is locat­ed just ¼ mile from the south entrance), is that it is a great launch­ing point for explor­ing every­thing that heav­en on earth has to offer.