Photographer documenting every fire tower in Washington


Kyle Johnson is photographing, with a medium-format (AKA hi-res) camera, every one of the 92 lookout towers in Washington state.

In the late 1930s to mid 1940s, the United States scrambled to build as many Fire Lookout towers as possible to protect against a growing number of wildfires. Washington State alone had over 600 in use during this time. Lookout Rangers worked this special summer job, acting as a lifeline for the forest and helping to protect what so many people take for granted.

Sadly, in the last few decades many of these historic lookout towers have been abandoned, destroyed or vandalized.

In Washington, only a few are still manned by Forest Service Rangers. Still, during the summer months, many are still accessible and make for some of the most rewarding hiking destinations the Northwest has to offer.


See more photos here.

If any enterprising Minnesota photog wants to imitate Johnson, this website’s map would be a good place to start. It shows that just about four dozen fire towers remain, down from 174.

(H/T Than Tibbetts)

  • Jack Ungerleider

    When I saw the reference to “medium format camera” my first reaction was not “hi-res”. What I saw was the classic Hasselblad with the square body. (Almost a cube without the lens.) In most cases it had a lens whose diameter matched the body width and there was always a hand crank. The film produced square negatives about 2-1/4 inches on a side. (Wikipedia says 6cm which is a little larger.) It was a format that portrait photographers seemed to prefer.

  • Bonnie

    Oh, this is so cool. I wish I had known about the remains at Kelso Lake, I was just up there. Will have to do that hike in the future to see the outhouse in the boundary waters. I had no idea there were still remains of structures like that in the boundary waters and elsewhere in MN.

  • Ann

    I have a wonderful childhood memory of climbing a tower in Missouri in the late 60’s. My family and church group was on a hike when we came to the tower. My high-school age brother climbed up with some others. When he looked down through the access hole and encouraged me (age 6 or 7?) to climb up, I promptly did, much to my mother’s distress. It wasn’t just the view from on top, or the sense of accomplishment, but also the fact that my brother actually wanted me (his annoying little sister) to share the experience with him. Thanks for bringing all of those great feelings back to life.