Shorty Peak: a night in a former fire lookout

Idaho, USA

Deep into the Panhandle National Forest, a lush, lovely and remote corner of Northern Idaho, you’ll find Shorty Peak. This former fire lookout is a unique place to spend the night. The only access is a 2,5 mile hiking trail, but the views are all the more rewarding…

What is Shorty Peak?  It’s a former fire lookout on top of a mountain, with a stunning and unobstructed 360 degree view. Sleeping accommodations for two!

Where is it?  Shorty Peak is located in the Lower Kootenai River Area (Bonners Ferry District) of the Idaho Panhandle National Forest, a lush, lovely and remote corner of Northern Idaho. You’ll find the cabin on the top of the Shorty Peak mountain (6515 ft/1986m), surrounded by wilderness and the Selkirk and Purcell mountain ranges of Northern Idaho, Montana and British Columbia.

Getting there?  There are driving directions on the website www.recreation.gov, follow these and you’ll be fine. The final 5 or so miles you’ll be driving on a dirt road that isn’t in the best shape (maintained by volunteers), so prepare for a bumpy ride.  You might have to scare away a few cows blocking the road, too… Leave your car at the start of the Shorty Peak trailhead. From there on, it’s another 2,5/3 mile hike up the mountain.

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Peak1

Before you go

  • There’s no drinking water and no electricity. You also need to bring your own bedding. If you’re in desperate need of water, there’s a sign along the trail that will lead you to a spring. We were lucky: visitors before us left a few bottles with unfiltered water.
  • There’s a pit toilet about 100 yards/meters down. Always take the toilet paper back inside the cabin though – squirrels like to play with it 😉
  • If you’re arachnophobic, it might not be the best idea to come up here… There are cellar spiders (small body, long legs) everywhere, outside and inside. Every time we opened the cabin door, there would be spiders waiting for a chance to get inside. Cover the gap under the door with newspapers and fill the cracks and holes in the wooden windows with toilet paper (someone else did that before us so we ‘only’ had to kill about 20 spiders inside).
  • You’re in bear country here, so make sure to carry bear spray during the hike.
  • There’s a ‘pack it in pack it out’ rule: don’t leave any trash behind.

The hike

Trees, trees and more trees, that’s what you’ll see when hiking up Shorty Peak. It was the end of September when we were there and the leaves were starting to turn, which was a magnificent sight all the way to the top. The higher we got, the more colorful the forest was. The late afternoon sun made it even more spectacular.

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shorty3   Shorty23

 

The cabin

We arrived somewhere around 4pm on a bright and sunny day. When we entered the cabin, it was steaming hot inside! The cabin was refurbished in 2005 and is maintained by volunteers, so it’s quite a modest accommodation: there’s two small beds, a table and two chairs and that’s about it. The only thing that is reminiscent of the forest fire patrols is the historic fire finder in the middle of the cabin. Other stuff you’ll find are items left behind by visitors: a set of cards, reading glasses, mini-games, matches etc. There’s also a logbook in there, with the experiences from previous visitors. I highly suggest to read a few of their stories, from windy nights to huge thunderstorms and wildlife encounters. Read our report on September 21st-22nd 2014 🙂

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Shorty7

 

 

We bought these two cheap sleeping bags at Wallmart (40°F), they served their purpose perfectly. It gets chilly at night!
We bought these two cheap sleeping bags at Wallmart (40°F), they served their purpose perfectly. It gets chilly at night!

The historic fire finder The historic fire finder

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Shorty9

The surroundings

The best thing about Shorty Peak is the view. To the North: Canada (British Columbia) and the Selkirk mountains. To the West: the Selkirk wilderness and Lone Tree Peak (6,624 ft / 2,019 m), a mountain that you can hike as well. To the south: the American side of the Selkirk mountain range.  To the east: Montana and the Purcell Mountains.

As for wildlife spotting: Shorty Peak is supposed to be a great place for birdwatching. There are red-tailed hawks, golden eagles and goshawks soaring over the valleys, but unfortunately we didn’t see any of those. The logbook also mentioned two brown mountain goats visiting Shorty Peak regularly and sure enough we saw them too! Their favorite spot was right next to the campfire pit. The best time to spot them is at dusk or dawn.

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Sunset to sunrise

What do you do when you’re all alone on the top of a mountain? You enjoy the ambient mountain sounds (and the silence as well), take in the scenery, make a campfire, enjoy a modest meal (bread & cheese), relax and watch how the world and the colors around you change during sunset. At 5.30AM we woke up to a stunning bright orange-red, almost fluorescent gleam and even though we were still tired, we just couldn’t stop looking.

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Sunset with Lone Tree Peak to the right.

 

Want to book?

We booked via www.recreation.gov for 34 dollars. Entry to the cabin is by combination lock. Call the ranger district at (208) 267-5561 for the combination, a few days in advance. It’s an old lock so don’t panic (like us) if it doesn’t immediately open, give it a little push and shove and you’ll be fine. Check-in time is 1:00 PM, check-out time: 11:00 AM. Have fun 🙂

 

 

  • what an amazing place to stay! I would love to stay in that cabin!

  • We camped at a fire tower when we lived in Eugene, Oregon. We moved back to Idaho so we will have to check this out. Thanks for sharing!

  • Nadine

    English might not be my mother tongue, but awesome is the word that comes in mind when I see these marvellous pictures. Nature offers what it has to offer, but you are an amazingly good photographer.

  • kristofpattyn

    Wow, what an amazing place to stay. It ticks all the boxes that I could ever dream of when thinking of getting away from it for a while. You captured the surroundings and feel of the place very well. Top notch work Tine!

    • 😀 Thank you and yes, I’m sure you would love it there!! There are several similar lookouts scattered around in Idaho, Shorty Peak is one of many…

  • Wow so cool. That view alone!
    I’m not much of a camper but if I could get those views sleeping in and waking up, I’d go for it:)

  • That looks soooo good, bit envious we don’t have anything like that here

  • Wow! The views are amazing, and the cabin looks pretty luxurious. Warching the sunrise while warm and cosy in bed would be awesome! Ahhh, you’ve git me dreaming of overnight hikes now…

    • Tine

      Thanks! Not sure if you could call the cabin luxurious, but it certainly served its purpose. Thanks for stopping by!