Harkness Peak Fire Lookout, CA 2019
Harkness Peak Fire Lookout, CA 2019

Harkness Peak Fire Lookout, CA 2019

Harkness Peak Fire Lookout, CA 2019


Lassen Volcanic National Park is rarity in abundance: active volcanoes, strange and magnificent hydrothermals, and an historic fire lookout still in use today. This project’s made for the adventurous preservationists among us!

PROJECT PARTNER:  Lassen Volcanic National Park

SESSION DATES:  September 15-20  |  September 22-27

PROJECT DIFFICULTY:    This project receives an “orange” difficulty rating because of the steep hike to and from the jobsite daily.

SITE INFORMATION:      Tent camping only   showers available  Hike in Required

LOCATION:  Our campsite was located on on the edge of the wilderness that contains the lookout, and we hiked up to the lookout each day, carrying our own water and personal gear. The path to the lookout is steep – climbing 1,300′ over 1.5 miles. An adequate level of physical fitness was required for this project. Email volunteer@historicorps.org with any questions.

HistoriCorps does not charge for its volunteering projects. The majority of project costs are covered by our project partners and grants, but as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, HistoriCorps relies on donations to continue engaging volunteers to save significant historical sites across America for generations to come. Your donation of any amount will make an incredible difference! Increase your impact – make a generous gift today.

Project Site Description & History

When we got the chance to preserve an active fire tower lookout located just inside a wilderness in this Northern California national park, we couldn’t say no! According to the National Park Service, “Lassen Volcanic National Park is home to steaming fumaroles, meadows freckled with wildflowers, clear mountain lakes, and numerous volcanoes.” Though most historic fire lookout towers are not in service anymore, the Mount Harkness lookout is still staffed and utilized. We plan to camp near the trailhead to the lookout, and hike in to the project site daily (about 1.5 miles one way). The path up to the lookout is steep, and volunteers should ensure their physical fitness is adequate for this project before registering.

Lassen Volcanic National Park amazes and perplexes visitors with its incredible array of geologic and other and environmental features. The park’s jagged, seemingly unsteady landscape is entirely formed by volcanic eruptions. In fact, each rock in the park originated from a volcano. The park’s volcanoes have been active for more than three million years, and they aren’t dormant yet: only one hundred years ago, Lassen Volcano erupted! Check the park’s real-time seismic activity as measured by USGS here.

If volcanoes aren’t enough to attract you, the park also boasts hydrothermal areas. Just reading the park’s list of these natural features – “roaring fumaroles (steam and volcanic-gas vents), thumping mud pots, boiling pools, and steaming ground” – will remind you of the science-fiction classic, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea. Be sure to take time before or after your project session here to enjoy a long hike through this stupendous park! 

The goal of this project was to preserve the park’s Harkness Peak Fire Lookout Tower. Though most historic fire lookout towers are not in service anymore, the Mount Harkness lookout is still staffed and utilized. 

Scope of Work

Volunteers worked alongside expert field staff to learn the skills necessary to undertake and accomplish this significant preservation project.

  • Remove and repoint failing mortar – 50%
  • Replace deteriorated running boards on catwalk – 30%
  • Repair deteriorated window trim – 10%
  • Repair deteriorated door frame and door jamb – 10%

The fire tower has gained some modern features, like solar panels, but its historic character has been preserved over the decades!

The unforgettably-named Bumpass Hell is a popular natural feature in the park. Photographed by Flickr user Don Graham.

Brokeoff Peak towers over the park, just one of many stupendous features. Photographed by Flickr user Don Graham.