CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WBOY) — West Virginia originally had near 100 fire towers that served as lookouts to spot fires, now, only a few are still standing, and ever fewer are open for just anyone to climb.
Many of them are either on private land and not open to the public or not safe. Here are a few retired fire towers in the state that you can visit to get some of the best views out there.
Bickle Knob Observation Tower
Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933, Bickle Knob is one of the most easily accessible fire towers because it is only a few miles from Elkins in Randolph County and only a very short walk from a parking area.
Like other towers in West Virginia, it was retired as a fire tower in the 1970s after the adoption of aerial fire detection. The cab of the tower was removed, and it was converted into a public overlook. Now, the tower offers a lovely view of the Otter Creek Wilderness, and on a clear day, you can even see as far as the Shinnston smokestacks in Harrison County, according to Elkins-Randolph Tourism. Detailed directions are available on the Forest Service website.
Olson Observation Tower
Olson Observation Tower is the tallest remaining fire tower in the Monongahela National Forest and is one of only two fire towers in the forest that remains at its original location. Built in 1963, the 100-foot tower stands on the top of Backbone Mountain in Tucker County and was a replacement for the Mon Forest’s oldest fire tower. The cabin itself still remains, although it is closed to the public, but tourists can still climb the tower and enjoy its views of the Blackwater Canyon and Cheat River Valley from the steps just below the cabin.
It is accessible by dirt road, and there is a parking area not far from the tower. Detailed directions are available on the Forest Service website.
Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory
Located in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest in Monroe County, this fire tower isn’t on stilts like many original fire towers but instead sits on a high rock at the top of Peters Mountain. Although it was originally built for spotting fires, the tower is now a great place for seeing several species of raptors.
Tourists can get to the tower by searching for the Hanging Rock Observatory Trailhead, parking there and taking the one-mile hike to the tower. Directions from multiple different towns/cities are available on the Forest Service website.
High Knob Fire Tower (VA)
Although technically located in Virginia, High Knob Tower is right on the West Virginia line, and the parking area and trailhead for the High Knob Trail are in Pendleton County, West Virginia. Although not as high as some of the other towers on this list, it is the only intact stone fire tower on public land east of the Mississippi.
Tower visitors should look for a large gravel parking lot on the south side of Route 33 near the Virginia state line. According to the Harrisonburg, VA tourism website, the trail to the tower is about 1.3 miles from the road, and part of the trail is very steep. More road and trail directions are available here.
Snowshoe Fire Tower
The Snowshoe Fire Tower was moved to its current site around 2000 and is open for the public to hike to and climb. Previously, it was the Rich Mountain Fire Tower and was a fire lookout in remote Randolph County. After being purchased by and moved to Snowshoe Mountain, the tower now sits on top of Cheat Ridge in Pocahontas County.
According to Snowshoe’s website, there are two trails that visitors can take to the tower: The Bail Out Trail, which is the shortest route but very steep and starts at the Lake Trail, and the 6,000 Steps Trail, which gradually climbs about 500 feet in elevation over 1.5 miles and starts from the Soaring Eagle lift. A trail map of the area is available here.
Thorny Mountain Fire Tower
Located in the Seneca State Forest in Pocahontas County, the 65-foot Thorny Mountain Fire Tower has been an overnight rental since 2015. Built in 1930, it has been refurbished with two cots and can accommodate up to four guests. It was even mentioned on National Geographic’s list of the best 10 places to embrace the wild without pitching a tent.
If you want to stay in the tower, you can expect to pay between $100 and $200 per night. However, it is only open from April to October each year and is usually booked a year or more in advance.
Red Oak Tower
The Red Oak Tower in the Monongahela National Forest in Webster County is still being renovated and is not currently open. However, starting in the 2025 season, it will also be available to rent for overnight stays. The 80-foot fire tower will have beds and electric lights in the tower cabin, and an RV pad will be available at the bottom to accommodate additional guests. More information about the project is available here.
The metal tower was built in 1963 to replace a wooden tower at the site from the 1930s.