Onion Mountain Lookout


Onion Mtn LookoutOn a clear day, Onion Mountain offers a spectacular view of mountainous southwest Oregon. But at night, with the twinkling lights of Grants Pass far in the distance, the rustic cabin becomes an astronomer’s heaven as the expansive night’s sky is littered with constellations and planets, the moon and the Milky Way. Although the glow from the city of Grants Pass does obscure the northeastern night sky to some degree, little or no light pollution sullies the inky skies in other directions. No trees obscure the view. Sit back and gaze.

Onion Mountain lookout is at 4,438 feet above sea level and is set atop a 12-foot tower. A visit to the cabin, a 14’ by 14’ block of wood and windows, feels like camping in a house of glass. It is furnished with a bed and a table and chairs, and features a propane cooking stove, refrigerator, and lanterns. A vault toilet is located near the tower. There is no water on site, so visitors must bring sufficient supplies for drinking, cooking and washing. There is no propane heater.

Warning: Because of the tower, this site is not recommended for families with toddlers or young children.

  • Availability: Onion Mountain Lookout is available for rent from May 27 through Oct 15.
  • Price and Capacity: $40 per night per group, with a maximum of four occupants. The maximum length stay is five consecutive nights. Fees are used directly for the maintenance and preservation of the lookout.
  • Reservations: To make arrangements to pick up and sign the rental permit required, please call Forest Service representatives at 541-471-6724. The maximum length stay is five consecutive nights.  Phone 1-877-444-6777 or visit www.recreation.gov


The original Onion Mountain Lookout was a raised platform, built in 1916, atop a cribbed-log "tower." A 2-story cupola-style lookout (without a tower) was subsequently been built on this site in 1924; the current structure went up in 1952.

Onion Mountain is named for the tiny wild onions that grow among the rocks at the summit (such tidbits probably flavored many a lookout’s stew). Onion Mountain served as a fire lookout from World War I until the 1970s; during World War II it also did duty as an Aircraft Warning Service observation station, as did many other fire lookouts along the Pacific Coast.

Crank telephone was the only communication link until after World War II. Phone line (#9 galvanized wire) was strung for countless miles between USFS lookouts, guard stations, and ranger stations all over the West. After the War, in the 1950s, radio transmission came to Onion Mountain and other lookouts.

A lookout’s main job was to watch for smoke or other signs of fire (especially after a lightning storm or during the hottest part of summer),"take a fix" on the smoke’s location (using an Osborne Firefinder), and then report its location to the district ranger and the forest guard. The guard would hike or ride a horse to the fight the fire -- followed, if need be, by a larger crew. (Sometimes the lookout would be dispatched to fight a nearby fire.) The lookout also "took the weather" each day, reporting the temp, humidity, wind direction and speed, etc. to the ranger station.

Onion Mountain Lookout6 Onion Mountain Lookout5 Onion Mountain Lookout4 Onion Mountain Lookout3 Onion Mountain Lookout2

At a Glance

Usage: Medium
Closest Towns: ?
Information Center: Wild Rivers Ranger District

General Information


From Grants Pass, OR, travel Highway 199 south to Riverbanks Road (milepost 7 - just past the Applegate River) and turn right. Proceed on Riverbanks Road, 5.5 miles to Shan Creek Road and turn left. Travel 8 miles on this gravel road to Forest Road 2509 and turn right. Proceed 0.75 mile to the Onion Mountain gate.

An alternate route: At milepost 15 of Highway 199, take Forest Road 25, 12 miles to Forest Road 2509 (Onion Mountain Road) and turn right. Proceed approximately 2.5 miles to the Onion Mountain gate.

Onion Mountain Lookout is accessible by car, but the last 8.75 miles are on graveled Forest Roads.

General Notes:
  • No smoking
  • Pets are welcome


  • Vault Toilet
  • Propane Stove
  • Cooking Stove
  • Refrigerator
  • Lanterns
  • No Heater
  • The site has adequate room for four or five tents

Recreation Map

Map showing recreational areas. Map Information



Show detail SHOW
Areas & Activities


  Latitude : 

  Longitude :