Trip Report

Spring Snowstorm at the Historic Pechuck Fire Lookout

The best trips are the ones that just happen. There can be a lot of satisfaction investing hours of your time planning an epic route or spending whole paychecks on the right gear. But there’s an equal satisfaction to dropping everything, hopping on the road and disappearing for 24 hours formulating a plan as you go. So when someone I barely knew said “Hey I’m going to be in your neck of the woods and have a day free, wanna get out of dodge?” you just let it happen. Or rather you just start flinging unlikely ambitious ideas out there and see if one sticks. She texted a photo of a stone fire lookout that was near Portland and was first come first serve. What the hell is that thing? How had I never heard of it? I was a little embarrassed that a Canadian was showing me around my own neck of the woods.

Pechuck Lookout. 1.5 hour drive, 1 hour hike, and free to use on a first come first serve basis year round.
Pechuck Lookout. 2 hour drive, 1 hour hike, and free to use on a first come first serve basis year round.

Discovering this sort of gem has basically been my job for the past five years and some stranger pulls that out of the clouds? It was on, and pretty soon we had tossed some jorts and bourbon and lightweight sneakers in the truck and headed up the beautiful Molalla River. It’s a gorgeous drive in its own right this time of year: dramatic columnar basalt chasms funneling crystal clear water from pool to pool. Every hue of leafy green smothered the entire corridor and flanked us all 20 slow dirt miles deep into the mountains. It started snowing in earnest as we parked the truck and continued to accumulate rapidly as we hiked up the steep trail towards Pechuck Lookout. The wildflowers and green foliage had already sprouted in earnest but quickly became buried in a silent white blanket. The route was short yet steep, switchbacking up to 4,300′ and following an undulating ridge to the summit. The lookout was built in 1932 and is the only remaining stone cupola style lookout in Oregon. We discovered it didn’t have a stove, but was clean and in great condition. Sleeping bags would have to suffice to keep us warm. And they did, along with a little help from good company, bourbon, and a new pad thai recipe.

The next morning came way too quickly and I was back home, showered, and at meeting by 11am. All told we spent about 45 minutes planning and packing, and the trip itself was 20 hours door to door. Trips don’t need to be epic. They can be spontaneous and efficient. It just takes a little creativity, ambition, and fluid expectations.

Snowy overlook
Snowy overlook
New pad thai recipe coming soon ;)
New pad thai recipe coming soon 😉
Pechuck Lookout covered in the night's snowfall
Pechuck Lookout covered in the night’s snowfall
Vertical altar of snow
Vertical altar of snow

Notable Notes:

  • Park at Rooster Rock Trailhead (no, not that Rooster Rock)
  • 60 miles / 2 hours south of Portland
  • 3 mile steep but easy hike in
  • No reservations required
  • Not crowded
  • Available year round
  • Very rustic, no stove, bring everything you need
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