Calpine Fire Lookout

Area Status: Open

Calpine is a fire lookout tower that was actively used every summer until 1975. It is a three-story structure with external stairs. The top room or observation cab is the only rental space available at this time.  Visitors renting the lookout will have spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, sunrises, sunsets and stargazing. This is an extremely popular facility that is rented year-round. The Forest Service does not plow the road in the winter. Once the road is covered in snow, access is by snowshoes, skiis or renters can bring their own snowmobiles. This facility is maintained and operated by the Sierraville Ranger District of the Tahoe National Forest.

Calpine sits at an elevation of 5,980 feet, approximately 40 miles from Truckee, CA.  Visitors can drive directly to the tower in summer and ski or snowshoe to it in the winter.  The lookout does not have electricity or water.  In contains propane- powered appliances.   The interior of the cab measures 14' by 14' and currently has two twin beds, a dry sink, a table and chairs, three propane lights, a propane heater, a propane stove/oven and a fire finder.  A limited assortment of cooking utensils, pots and pans are provided.  An accessible vault toilet and a picnic table and fire ring are located outside the lookout. Firewood is not provided.  Visitors need to bring their own bedding, toilet paper and other personal items.


Towers such as Calpine lookout have been used for many years to spot forest fires. Calpine lookout was built in 1934 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The structure consists of a ground floor storage room, a middle sleeping room and the observation cab on top.

Calpine lookout is an “L-7” or windmill style enclosed tower with a “BC-3” cab and has been determined to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The windmill style of lookout was very popular throughout California, used by the Forest Service, California Department of Forestry and some counties. Calpine lookout is one of 3 windmill style lookouts that remain in the state.

Historically, active lookouts were staffed during fire season by one person trained to spot fires. Searching for fires is an all-day and sometimes all night, seven day per week job. Since 1975 Calpine lookout has had limited use, mostly during times of summer lightning activity.

At a Glance

Current Conditions: Popular rental with reservations booked approximately 6 months in advance.
Reservations: Reservations can be made online at
Rentals & Guides: The Sierraville Ranger District will contact renters within two weeks of their reservation date with information on picking up their rental agreement packet.   The key for the lookout is kept in a lockbox at the lookout; renters will be given the combination to the gate and the lockbox upon check-in at the Ranger District Office in Sierraville.
Area Amenities: Toilets
Fees: $45 per night
Usage: Heavy
Busiest Season: summer
Restrictions: Weather conditions and snow may cause an early seasonal road closure or a late spring opening for road access.   In winter conditions, temperatures may be as low as -21 degrees; cold weather gear and clothing is required.  Fire restrictions may be imposed at any time due to hot, dry weather conditions in the summer, at which time wood or charcoal fires may not be allowed.
Closest Towns: Closest post office is in Calpine.  Closest town for supplies is Sierraville
Water: No water available
Restroom: Pit toilet below tower
Operated By: Forest Service
Information Center: Sierraville Ranger Station, 317 South Lincoln Street, PO Box 95 Sierraville, CA  96126     (530) 994-3401 Monday - Friday 8:00 am - 4:30 pm


Cabin Rentals

The lookout is equipped with 2 twin beds, a propane stove top/oven, propane heater, propane lights and a dry sink (no running water). A table and chairs and some cooking and eating utensils are availabe.   There is an outdoor fire pit, picnic table and vault restroom.  Visitors should bring their own water ( 1 gallon per person, per day), food, matches, sleeping bag or bedding, personal toiletries, extra clothing and rain gear, garbage bags, cooking utensils, copy of your permit and rental agreement, map and compass, flashlight, first aid supplies, camera and binoculars.  During the winter months, access may be limited to snowshoes or skiing.  

Recreation Areas

Recreation Activities


  Elevation : 
5,980 feet