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Everything to Know About the Gem Peak Lookout Tower in Kootenai National Forest

Everything to Know About the Gem Peak Lookout Tower in Kootenai National Forest
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Nestled in the stunning Kootenai National Forest lies the Gem Peak Lookout Tower. This structure is one of the many fire lookout towers in the area, which are primarily used to keep an eye out for fires.

Typically, a fire lookout will stay in this tower, watch for the start of brush fires, and alert emergency services before the fire can spread. But sometimes, these fire towers can be used recreationally, just like Gem Peak Lookout in Noxon, Montana.

Nowadays, Gem Peak Lookout doesn’t serve as a fire tower. Instead, it’s now a one-of-a-kind vacation rental known for its breathtaking nature views. Are you ready to add it to your bucket list?

*Pro Tip: Like all national parks and national forests in the United States, you’ll need to pay an entrance fee to visit Kootenai National Forest, and, consequently, the Gem Peak Lookout Tower. If you plan on visiting a few different national parks during your trip, you may want to consider buying the America the Beautiful Annual National Park Pass instead.

What Is the Gem Peak Lookout Tower?

The Gem Peak Lookout Tower was originally built in 1921 as a fire lookout tower for the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness. It served this purpose for over 50 years, before being closed up in the 1970s.

Today, Gem Peak Lookout Tower is a unique accommodation option. Sitting at 6,029 feet high, guests who stay in this lookout tower get to enjoy breathtaking views of golden sunrises, tree-laden mountains, and star-filled night skies.

How to Book the Gem Peak Lookout Tower

Interested? You definitely should be. Luckily, it’s simple enough to book a stay at Gem Peak Lookout via the recreation.gov website. The season typically runs from the end of June to the middle of October, because weather conditions can get just a little too dicey during the colder months of the year.

As of 2023, Gem Peak Lookout Tower costs $45 per night. But be sure to book quickly! Reservations for the Gem Peak Lookout Tower open six months in advance, and those available days are typically snatched up within a day or two.

There are a couple of additional rules to keep in mind when booking your stay at the Gem Peak Lookout Tower. First, you can’t book a stay that’s more than five nights in a row – after all, we want to give everyone a chance to stay at this incredible spot. And second, if for any reason you need to change or cancel your reservation, you’ll be charged a minimum $10 fee.

How to Get to the Gem Peak Lookout Tower

Since it’s rather remote, getting to the Gem Peak Lookout Tower can be a little tricky. If you’re coming from out of state, the closest “major” airports are Glacier Park International Airport (FCA), which is 259 kilometres away, and Spokane International Airport (GEG), which is two states and 224 kilometres away.

Even after you touch down in the area, you’ve got quite a drive ahead of you. The road from the nearby town of Noxon, Montana to Gem Peak Lookout can be a bumpy one, and a four-wheel drive is definitely recommended.

What to Bring to the Gem Peak Lookout Tower

You’ll want to pack well for your trip to the Gem Peak Lookout Tower. After all, this isn’t a luxurious resort with a lengthy list of amenities. If we’re being frank, Gem Peak Lookout doesn’t have electricity or potable water. You’re (almost) totally off-the-grid, which has its pros and its cons. (Surprisingly, the tower can get cell phone coverage, depending on your provider.)

Before we get into what to pack, let’s start off with layout out what the Gem Peak Lookout Tower does have. It comes with two single beds (without linens or pillows), a table and chairs, a bench, a wood-heating stove, and extra firewood. There’s also a vault toilet located outside of the tower for guest use.

The Basics

Since the list of things that this lookout does have is quite limited, let’s start with the basics of what you’ll need to bring to the Gem Peak Lookout Tower.

  • Bottled Water (enough for cooking, drinking, and bathing; to last the duration of your trip)
  • Linens
  • Pillows
  • Cooking Utensils
  • Toilet Paper
  • Trash Bags
  • Food
  • Portable Charger

The Clothes

This section of the Gem Peak Lookout packing list all depends on the season and the length of your visit. There isn’t any sort of special gear that you’ll need, unless you’ll be doing an activity that needs specific equipment, like hunting or mountain biking. So we’ll trust you to handle the shirts, pants, and shoes parts of your Montana adventure.

The Fun

Since you’ll be off-the-grid, you’ll have a whole lot of downtime to just rest, relax, and have fun. So don’t forget to bring some entertainment (preferably options that don’t need to be charged, since there’s no electricity). Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Books
  • Board Games
  • A Deck of Cards (or two!)
  • Puzzles
  • Art Supplies

*Note: Along the same lines, the Gem Peak Lookout Tower is a “pack it in, pack it out” facility. This means that there isn’t any sort of trash pick up, and you’ll have to take all of your trash with you when you leave the tower.

What to Do at the Gem Peak Lookout Tower

So far, we’ve covered lots of prep. How to book the tower, how to get to the tower, what to pack for the tower. But now we can finally move on to the fun: what you can do when you’re finally at the Gem Peak Lookout Tower.

Enjoy the Views

First and foremost, you have to enjoy the views from Gem Peak Lookout. After all, that’s the arguably the biggest perk of this remote location. Take in the bright blue skies, the evergreen trees, and the curving mountain peaks from this home away from home. And don’t miss out on the beautiful sunrises and sunsets during your stay!

Do a Little Stargazing

But the views don’t have to stop just because the sun has set. The stargazing opportunities at Gem Peak Lookout are epic too. There’s no light pollution for miles, which pretty much guarantees that you’ll have incredible views of the Milky Way.

Go on a Hike

Aftering seeing the lovely views of nature from above in the tower, you’ll be itching to head out and get a closer look. Luckily, there’s a trailhead not far from Gem Peak Lookout Tower.

From that trailhead, you’ll have access to over 400 miles of trails! These paths will take you below towering trees, through wildflower fields, and around glistening lakes. Simply put, you’ll get to enjoy nature at its finest.

That said, be sure to keep an eye out for wildlife when you’re out and about. Deer, elk, woodland caribou, bears, wolves, and more all make their home in Kootenai National Forest.

Try OHV Riding

Surprisingly, OHV (off-highway vehicle) riding is allowed in Kootenai National Forest. And even more surprising, many of the trails near the Gem Peak Lookout Tower are great for OHV riding. Race through the forest at thrilling speeds and take breaks at the most stunning stops you see along the way. Sounds pretty magical, would you say?

Of course, OHVs aren’t provided at the Gem Peak Lookout Tower. You’ll have to bring your own, and that could prove to be a little tricky, considering the long, bumpy journey to the tower. That said, if you manage to pull it off, you’ll have an absolute blast.

Go Huckleberry Picking

Mid-August to mid-September is prime huckleberry picking time in Montana and Idaho. If that coincides with your Gem Peak Lookout visit, huckleberry picking should definitely be an activity on your vacation bucket list.

Once you’ve picked a bushel-full, you can snack on these tart, yet sweet berries all trip long! And if you want to take things up a notch, you can transform your huckleberries into another tasty treat, like jam, pies, muffins, and pancakes!

Simply Enjoy Some Downtime

When getting off-the-grid, the biggest perk is always the downtime. After all, in our day-to-day lives, we’re often rushing to do one thing and then the next. But since you won’t have electricity (and consequently, WiFi), you won’t have any notifications to distract you from your fun at the Gem Peak Lookout Tower.

While you have to think ahead about the types of fun you’ll want to have in order to pack the right gear, you’ll have loads of options. Grab that novel you’ve been meaning to read, bake a brand new dessert (maybe while making use of those huckleberries), paint a picture of the jaw-dropping lookout views, or have a fun game night!

And there you have it! Everything you need to know about the lovely Gem Peak Lookout Tower. If you have questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below, and we’ll do our best to get back to you!

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