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7 Fire towers to visit in the Midwest

By: The Outbound Collective + Save to a List

The height of fire tower use was in the early to mid-1900s and allowed the forestry fire service to observe the forest for miles to quickly detect wildfires. As technology increased, fire towers became obsolete. Many of these tree-house-like structures were retired across the country. Visit these 7 Midwest fire towers to take a step into history and see your state from a whole new angle.

Note: Some fire towers are closed off for safety concerns. Check your local regulations to ensure the fire tower you are visiting is open and you are allowed to climb to the top of it. Many are in remote locations and unmaintained, so use extreme caution while climbing. Climbing unsanctioned fire towers may result in injuries and fines.

1. Trigg Observation Tower- Johnson County, Il

A fire tower stretches into the sky on a blue, sunny day
Photo by Lucas Bremer

This former fire watch tower is located in Shawnee National Forest. While it originally stood 100-feet-tall, half of the structure was removed for safety reasons. Still, the remaining 50-foot tower is an impressive sight to behold and allows you to see the stunning beauty of the national forest from a bird’s eye view. 

It is the last remaining watch tower in Shawnee National Forest. It's just a short walk from the parking lot, making it a great place to take in great sunset views and fall colors or have a picnic.

2. Black Bay Fire Tower- International Falls, MN

Built in 1939, this historical tower is located near Voyageurs National Park and climbs 100 feet of stairs. This tower is also known as the Rainy Lake Tower and can be seen from the road in a car.

3. Kabetogema Fire Tower- Orr, MN

This 80-foot stairway tower looms large in Minnesota. Built in 1934, it used to be entirely made out of timber but was torn down and replaced with steel. Also known as Arbutus, this tower will allow you to see the surrounding forest for miles.

4. Black Elk Peak Fire Tower- Keystone, SD

A stone watch tower sits on top of the rocky outcropping
Photo by Drew Thompson

Formerly known as Harney Peak, this tower is constructed from stones from the nearby French Creek from 1935 to 1938. Visitors can hike 3 miles to reach the tower, which boasts stunning panoramic views of the surrounding pine-covered landscape.

5. Mountain Fire Lookout Tower- Mountain, WI

Located 2.5 miles north of Mountain, Wisconsin hikers can climb to the top of this tower for breathtaking views of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. From May 1 to Nov. 1, this tower is open every day from 8 a.m. to sunset. Built in 1935, the 100-foot steel tower was the first lookout tower in Wisconsin to be placed on the National Historic Lookout Register.

6. Lilly Lookout Tower- Washington Township, IN

An aerial view from the top of Lilly Lookout looking down the side towards the grassy ground.
Photo by John Clairmont

This retired 75-foot fire tower soars into the sky. Located in Brown County State Park, the tower is a short distance from the park office on trail #10. From the top of the tower, you can take in nearby Kimmins and Kreuger Lake as well as the vast park stretching into the distance.

7. Udell Lookout Tower- Manistee, MI

While this tower is not accessible, it still serves as an interesting glimpse into history. Visitors can hike under it to see where rangers of the past watched for encroaching wildfires. Built in 1936, it served as a lookout for fires and was used to facilitate radio communications during fires. Visitors can take a short 0.8-mile hike along the fire tower trail in Huron-Manistee National Forest to view this lookout tower and learn about its history. If you are looking for a longer hike after observing the tower, check out the Big “M” trail system that is connected behind the fire tower.

Cover photo by Spud Groshong

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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