The Mountain Fire Lookout Tower, constructed in 1935 and restored in 2015-16, rises 100 feet above Mountain, Wisconsin and offers memorizing views in every direction from the 7’x7′ cab at the top. The beautiful North Woods that make up much of Oconto County and northeastern Wisconsin have long had lookout towers designed for monitoring fires, weather conditions, and more. Most are gone, but a key one remains, and you can still climb it! This is a fun stop along a Highway 32 or even Highway 64 State Trunk Tour road trip.
Numerous lookout towards once dotted the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest; few remain. The Mountain Fire Lookout Tower is the first one to be placed on the National Historic Lookout Register and the National Register of Historic Places. The tower was in active use as a fire lookout until April of 1970; aerial surveillance essentially replaced its usefulness in its original capacity. While many others were dismantled, the Mountain Fire Lookout Tower survived by serving as a radio relay station for the Forest Service and the Oconto County Sheriff’s Department until 1992. This is the only one you can just drive up to and climb yourself.
When you arrive at the tower entrance, just head up the gravel road past the sign. You’ll get to a small parking lot that also has some informational signs about the tower, the surrounding forest, the Native Americans who’ve lived in area for thousands of years, and the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) that helped build the tower in the 1930s. A few signs also share some background on the view you’re about to witness.
If you’re squeamish about heights, this can be a tricky climb. The stairs are steep with open grates and two metal railings, so you feel pretty open to your surroundings. The tower will shake a little as others climb up or down the stairs, or if the wind is pretty strong. Six or seven landings give you a break on the climb or descent, allowing people criss-crossing to more easily get past each other. But when you get to the top, the view is pretty spectacular:
On clear days – and we were there on a partly to mostly cloudy one – you can see a good 30-40 miles in every direction. The 100 foot tall tower happens to be on top of Lookout Mountain, one of the ten highest natural points in Wisconsin with an elevation of 1,900 feet. So, your view is more like one from a tall building. Along with miles and miles of treetops – very colorful in fall – you can potentially see other high points in the state including East Hill near Rhinelander to your northwest in Oneida County; Sugarbush Hill (elevation 1,939 feet, third highest in the state) to the north in Forest County; Kent Tower Hill to the west in Langlade County; and then east towards the lower elevations that head toward Lake Michigan, nearly 1,400 feet lower in elevation than where you stand in the tower. You can tell how this view would allow watchers to spot fires, track weather systems nearby, and more.
The Mountain Fire Lookout Tower has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2008. It’s a beautiful view, a slightly challenging climb, and definitely an adventure in windy weather! It’s the highest point where one can stand in Oconto County and northeastern Wisconsin.
Mountain Fire Lookout Tower Directions & Hours:
The tower is open 8am – sunset from May 1st through November 1st. In Oconto County, Old Highway 32 – now also Rustic Road R-113 – brings you to the Mountain Fire Lookout Tower. Today’s Highway 32 parallels anywhere from 1-3 miles to the west. Follow Old 32 north from Mountain about 2.5 miles to the sign. You can also follow Old 32/R-113 south from Lakewood. A brief drive up a twisty gravel road past the Mountain Fire Lookout Tower sign brings you to a small parking lot at the tower’s base. From there, climb away!