The View from Clay Butte Lookout, Beartooth Highway

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For those who aren’t satisfied with the magnificent views from Beartooth Pass (and a hundred other spots along the Beartooth Highway), you’ll have one more chance to enjoy the spectacle of natural beauty in northern Wyoming at Clay Butte Lookout.  This old fire lookout tower is located just off US 212, and offers some lessons on forest fire management, along with that spectacular panorama.

Location

Clay Butte Lookout is located west of Beartooth Pass and the Top of the World Store, on US 212, the Beartooth Highway, in northwestern Wyoming.  Look for Forest Road 142 on the north side of the road.

My Visit

After taking a couple of hours to adjust to the altitude (translation – I took a nap in my motel room at the Top of the World Store), I began exploring the area, and headed west.  It was just a moment until I spotted the turnoff for Clay Butte Lookout, so I checked it out.

The dirt road leading up to Clay Butte is easy to drive and beautiful.  At the end of the road…

… you’re on top of a ridge, with the best views looking south and west.

Looking northeast, the views are blocked by this nearby mountain, but it’s also quite beautiful.

From the tower, you have a view of the Absaroka Range to the south and west.

If you’re lucky, the lookout will be unlocked, and staffed with volunteers who can answer some questions about its history.

Upstairs, you can get a look at the original Osborne Fire Finder.  This device allowed forest rangers to determine the exact location of fires by aligning the crosshairs with the smoke from the fire.  If two or more towers could see the smoke, they could coordinate their measurements to calculate exact coordinates.

Downstairs, you can check out displays that explain how firefighters tackle forest fires.

Clay Butte Lookout was built in 1942-43 and was used for fire-spotting until the 1960’s. It’s been staffed by volunteers since 1975.

After leaving Clay Butte Lookout, there’s one other spot nearby that might be worth a photo.

Just a bit further west on US 212, between Clay Butte Lookout and Chief Joseph Highway, you’ll find serpentine Forest Road 140.  This dirt road runs north from the Beartooth Highway, to Lily Lake Campground and Gilbert Creek.  Those destinations might be worthwhile, but I’d suggest that the dirt road itself is the main attraction.  You’ll be able to frame up some nice photographs of the road leading towards Pilot and Index Peaks in the distance.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s a look at the drive to and from Clay Butte Lookout, along the Beartooth Highway:

The Bottom Line

The scenic drive up to Clay Butte Lookout is definitely worth a brief detour from your drive on the Beartooth Highway.  If you’re lucky, the tower will be open and staffed with volunteers.

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