Enjoy the view (or even the night) at these mountaintop fire towers
Find a mix of adventure and solitude atop West Virginia’s old fire towers.
The first fire towers in the state were built around 1916 in order to— you guessed it— spot wildfires raging in the distance, so officials could contain them as early as possible. But, since the days of watchtowers operating with carrier pigeons have passed, many of these old beauties are near-forgotten.
But don’t worry! There are still a few gems throughout the Mountain State, and some have even been renovated into camping enclaves.
So take a climb to the top of one of these towers and feast your eyes on some seriously indescribable views of the West Virginia wilderness and the night sky:
1. Olson Observation Tower
The Olson Observation Tower is the oldest of all these towers, originally built in 1922 and used until 1963. While the tower proper is locked, head up the staircase to get a look from the top— which is more than worth the 133-step climb. You’ll be rewarded with a stunning 360-degree view of the sprawling beauty of Monongahela National Forest. See if you can spot the Cheat River or the Otter Creek Wilderness, which is especially beautiful in the fall.
You’ll find Olson Tower at the end of Forest Road 717, which you can access from US Route 219. Any old passenger car will do— nothing special required. You can also access Olson Tower through a few different trails, but we recommend adding a couple miles to your trip by taking the Canyon Rim Trail.
2. Thorny Mountain Fire Tower
Originally constructed in 1935, this tower rises 53 feet above the Seneca State Forest and has all of the original features (though some have been restored). Some of the trees in the area were posing a risk to the tower, so they have been cleared out— which means you get open, 360-degree views here, too.
What makes Thorny Mountain Fire Tower so special is that you can actually rent out the cab, which is now a living area. Get a full-blown, star-filled grown-up tree house experience. You can stay in the tower from mid-April to late October, and the cost includes firewood. Don’t forget your flashlight— the tower only has natural light.
3. Bickle Knob Observation Tower
The area of the Monongahela National Forest surrounding the Bickle Knob Observation Tower has a thriving ecosystem, filled with spruce and hardwood trees that are home to wildlife like black bears, white-tailed deer and bobcats. At an elevation of 4,003 feet, the platform’s original cab has since been replaced with a wooden viewing platform for the best views of the landscape. Get to the tower from Forest Road 91, then take a short footpath.
4. Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory
Hanging Rock Tower is the place to go if you’re itching to see some regal birds of prey soaring through the sky. Visit in the fall, when hawks, eagles, falcons and osprey all have migration routes past the observation tower in the fall. Talk to on-site raptor experts to learn all that there is to know about hawks and more, or even help them with their annual counts. The best part? It’s free!
This post was last updated on October 12, 2016