You know those silly memes about 5 star versus 5,000 star hotels? The Girard Ridge Fire Lookout is it. With its 0-star amenities, but 5-star views, here’s everything you need to know about staying at the Girard Ridge Fire Lookout.
The Girard Fire Lookout was constructed in 1931 and used by the Forest Service for 50 years. Restored in 1997, the structure at Girard Ridge is reportedly the oldest lookout of its particular design remaining in California.
How to get to the Girard Ridge Fire Lookout
The Girard Ridge Lookout is only accessible in summer, or snow-free, months, as recreation.gov will show. The USFS recommends high clearance vehicles. However, as far as dirt roads go, a regular car will be just fine on this road, with some slow driving and careful maneuvering around one or two rough spots. Our Subaru Outback handled it just fine. The USFS will also give you directions. If you cross-reference them with Google Maps, you’ll be just fine.
From I-5, exit at Soda Creek, Exit 726. The lookout is approximately 7.5 miles over mostly dirt road from this exit. Head east towards the Sacramento River and go over the railroad tracks, then cross the bridge over the river. Stay on Soda Creek Road until you come to an intersection. Turn right on Riverside Rd and follow it to the intersection of the Girard Ridge Road (Forest Service Road Number 38N23). Turn left, heading uphill. The road changes from pavement to dirt. You pass some microwave towers on your left.
At the top of the hill at about 6.5 miles from I-5, you’ll reach another intersection. You’ll know you’re there because it opens out into views of the forest. This is the Girard Ridge Informal Trailhead. Take the left onto Forest Service Road Number 39N13. In June 2020, no sign existed. Travel another .6 miles to an unnumbered road. On Google Maps, it will say Girard Ridge Lookout Road. There’s a small sign on the tree that says LO, for lookout. Turn left here and you will get to a green Forest Service gate. Girard Ridge Lookout is about half a mile away.
If you’re staying at the fire lookout, you’ll need to call the McCloud Ranger Station at (530) 964-2184 to get the gate and lookout code. If you’re just stopping by for a peek, you can park at the gate and walk in. Please make sure you respect any current guests.
What to Bring to the Girard Ridge Fire Lookout
Literally everything. The only things available for campers at the Girard Ridge Fire Lookout are two twin beds, a pit toilet, a desk, some chairs, some cleaning supplies, and cell phone service.
- Mattress topper or another sleeping pad. (I wish I brought my Exped MegaMat Duo) The beds leave much to be desired. I felt every spring on the mattress. Bring some extra padding and you’ll be happy.
- Sleeping bag. A double bag works since the twin beds are pushed together.
- Pillow. You’re driving to this lookout. Might as well sleep in comfort.
- Camp stove & propane, if you want to eat
- California Campfire permit if you want a fire
- Lights (highly recommend the Luci Pro and String Lights). There’s no electricity and no propane, especially if you’re used to posher lookouts like Calpine.
- Layers, it got surprisingly chilly. Holes exist in all the walls, so you’re never fully closed off from the environment
- Water. There’s no water at all.
What to do at Girard Ridge Fire Lookout
The Mt. Shasta area is an absolute gem when it comes to outdoor adventure. Use the Girard Ridge Lookout as a home base to explore the Shasta area, or just stay cozied up inside. You can’t lose either way.
- Hike (or climb) at Castle Crags State Park
- Hike the Pacific Crest Trail! It runs 3 miles north of the lookout.
- Read. When we went, the weather was pretty iffy. (It even snowed!) We cozied up and read all day in the lookout.
- Paint with watercolors. It’s so beautiful, you might as well exercise your inner Bob Ross and capture the environment around you by hand.
- Check out Hedge Creek Falls.
- Hike to Heart Lake for stunning views of Mt. Shasta.
For more, visit my post on How to Spend a Weekend in Mt. Shasta.
How to Book the Girard Ridge Fire Lookout
The Girard Ridge Fire Lookout is only open for reservations between June and October. Reservations release 6 months in advance on a rolling basis. Girard Ridge is $75 per night, bookable on Recreation.gov.