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Photo by Patrick Colleran
Jul 28 2017

The Height of Beauty in Northwest Montana

Staying the night at the Yaak Fire Lookout Tower proves to be a once-in-a-lifetime occasion

Exploring Montana, Featured

The vast amount of open space in Montana never fails to amaze me. And if I’m being totally honest, it intimidates me. I grew up in an overcrowded town in Pennsylvania where houses covered the land as far as the eye could see. Montana is the stark opposite. Miles of land with no people, no roads, no mark of civilization. Just the wild.

One of the best examples of this vast, untouched land is the Kootenai National Forest. Thousands of acres of this forest are Proposed Wilderness, so I wanted to get a taste of the Kootenai and see what would be protected with these new proposals. The Kootenai National Forest is a little over 2 million acres; it is next to impossible to see it all in a lifetime, much less one weekend. I decided to take to the car and do a bit of road tripping.

My first stop was Kootenai Falls. I was able to walk around the beautiful, raging river and completely forget I was merely on the side of an interstate. While this area is not part of the proposed wilderness, it reminded me that wilderness surrounds us in Montana, you don’t need to go far to find it.

The trip took me through two small towns: Libby and Troy. Libby boasts a great brewery and a few restaurants. 

After driving a few miles on a forest service road, I arrived at my home for the night. Nestled in the Kootenai National Forest is the Yaak Fire Lookout Tower. Fire lookout towers located all over Montana are available for rent in the early summer. The Yaak Fire Lookout Tower boasts 360 degree views, allowing you to see the entire national forest, into Idaho, and even catch glimpses of Glacier National Park on a clear day. It was hard to believe that I would be spending the night in a glass room looming 45 feet in the air.

I was speechless as I walked around the tower. Surrounded by complete wilderness I was able to understand and appreciate the vastness of the Kootenai. I could see the land that hopefully will be protected soon as part of an agreement hammered by the Kootenai Forest Stakeholders Coalition. There were not any trails around the lookout tower, reinforcing how untouched this land is. Wildflowers covered the area at the bottom of the tower, making it a sea of color.

As the sun set the entire horizon turned bright red and a full moon began to rise. The only sound I could hear were the quiet rustles of the forest. I sat on the edge of the fire tower with my dogs, sipping on tea and watching the sun disappear behind the mountains surrounding me. The only mark of civilization was the far off town of Troy, which was just a few glimmering lights in the distance. Sitting there was one of the most picturesque moments I’ve ever experienced.

Sometimes it is hard to put the big backcountry adventures on the back burner, but road tripping through the Kootenai National Forest to spend a night in a fire lookout tower was so worth it. I left the overnight feeling so grateful for the land that we are able to call home and so grateful for organizations like Montana Wilderness Association that fight to protect that land.

- Maddie Matarazzo, MWA summer intern