Garnet Mountain Fire Lookout – Big Sky, MT
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Today is the first day of winter. And while we’re currently basking in the perennial warmth of southern California, our minds were recently reminded of far chillier days from just a few short months ago.
An article we wrote about our time in Montana was published by the Huckberry Journal over the weekend, and it got us thinking of crisp mountain air, frost covered hillsides, and big shifting skies of grey. We were hiking to the top of Garnet Mountain to spend an evening at a fire lookout tower. It was only October when we were there, but it felt more like winter than December does now.
So take a trip down memory lane with us and and head over to Huckberry to check out the full article. Wherever you are, we hope it puts you in the winter spirit.
Want to Hike To & Camp In the Garnet Mountain Fire Lookout?
The Garnet Mountain Fire Lookout is available to rent year-round through Recreation.gov
In the summer months, the fire lookout can be accessed by off-road vehicles via Forest Service Road 3112 or by foot via Garnet Mountain Trail 85. The hike is roughly 3.5 miles with a 2,800″ elevation gain, with a very steep grade towards the end. We made it to the top in just under 3 hours and it took us about 1 hours 45 min on the way back down.
There’s no water at the lookout tower, and, aside from the creek at the trailhead, there are no water sources along the trail. So you will need to pack in all of the water you will need for both your hike and your stay.
This hike does cross through grizzly, wolf, and cougar country, so please do your research on how to safely hike in the area. While we didn’t see any wildlife on our hike, we did see tracks on the trail and at the summit around the lookout tower.
Once you get to the lookout tower, you’ll find plenty of firewood downstairs as well as a splitting maul. There is also a fire ring outside if the weather is a bit warmer and you’d like to have a campfire!
At the end of your stay, please do make sure that you sweep out the tower with the broom provided, leave enough chopped firewood for the next guest and make sure that all fires are completely out. These days, fire lookout towers are few and far between, so it’s up to their visitors to ensure that they will be available for future adventurers to enjoy!
That’s so cool that you got to stay at the tower!! I read a few hiking blogs that talk about staying in them and it sounds so cool! Especially since its usually way too windy to camp on/near the peaks of ranges.
They are perfect for that! It’s kind of like backpacking, but you get a little more shelter from the elements. In our case, we woke up to snow flurries so it was nice to have a cabin with a stove in the morning (until we had to hike back down the mountain in it…)
This is awesome. You mentioned that in the summer months it is accessible by 4WD, in the winter do you have to hike in?
That is correct. In the winter, snowshoeing would be the best option.