Fire towers are always fun to visit because they are often positioned in the most impossible places. Buck Rock Lookout is a great example. This lookout is perched high atop a rock outcropping, requiring a short hike and some stair-climbing to get there. It’s an impressive sight from spots all around Kings Canyon National Park, and the view of the park from Buck Rock is even more thrilling.
Buck Rock Lookout is located inside Sequoia National Forest, also known as Giant Sequoia National Monument — in between Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. From Kings Canyon, head south on California Highway 198. Just after passing the trailhead for Big Baldy Ridge, turn left on Forest Route 14s11 towards Big Meadow Horse Corral. Follow signs towards Buck Rock Campground, as well as signs for the lookout, which will take you on Forest Route 13s04. Watch for parking on both sides of the road, and the sign (seen below) for the trailhead to Buck Rock Lookout.
With a couple of hours to go before sunset, I was at Buena Vista Peak, enjoying the view, when something caught my eye. A few miles away, Buck Rock draws a lot of attention. But then, I zoomed in, and realized there was a fire lookout tower sitting atop the peak! I needed one more place to go before sunset, and I figured I had enough time to get there. So, I started figuring out how to get there.
Finding Buck Rock Lookout can be tricky. Those National Forest road signs aren’t always as obvious as the ones in a National Park. And, the road to Buck Rock Lookout isn’t in great shape, either. It’s probably safe to say it’s a 4-wheel-drive-only road. However, I did see one person in a compact sedan successfully navigating the bumps. I think that’s risky, you can do it. Check out the Drivelapse video of the drive to Buck Rock Lookout below, to see if you think you can handle it.
When you finally get to the parking area, you won’t have a view of the mountain, but you will see a sign at the trailhead. Get out and walk the rest of the way — it should only take a few minutes.
Buck Rock Lookout
That’s one heck of a place to construct a building. It’s also one of the best places in the Kings Canyon – Sequoia area to enjoy a 360-degree view. You can walk all the way up to the station when it’s open, and visitors are welcome.
There’s a good chance that this is one of the highest spots you’ll visit in Kings Canyon or Sequoia National Parks. By comparison, Moro Rock is only 6,725 feet high, while Buck Rock Lookout is at an elevation of 8,502 feet above sea level.
If you want to go all the way to Buck Rock Lookout, you’ll need to climb some stairs. The staircase that leads up to the lookout is almost as wild as the building itself.
Since I had arrived late in the day, the staff had already locked the giant steel door on the staircase. That was only mildly disappointing…
… because the view was already pretty great from there.
There are 172 steps leading up to the lookout. The staircase was built in 1942 and refurbished in the 1990’s. Before that, there were ladders, and before that, tree trunks with boards nailed to them.
Buck Rock Lookout would have been a great place to watch the sunset, but I worried about navigating that bumpy road after dark, so I chose another spot for my final stop of the day.
Here’s a look at the drive from Grant Grove to Buck Rock Lookout…
… and from Buck Rock to Panoramic Point:
The Bottom Line
If you have a vehicle that can handle a bumpy road, and you don’t mind navigating off the pavement, the drive out to Buck Rock Lookout is quite an adventure. Try to visit during the hours when Buck Rock is staffed, so you’ll be allowed to go all the way to the top. But if it’s too early or too late, don’t let that deter you. Any time is a good time to check out this viewpoint.