Views From The Mount Coolidge Fire Tower
- GPS: 43.7449, -103.48139
The Mount Coolidge Fire Tower sits at 6,023 feet making it the highest point in the central part of Custer State Park. It can be found 3 miles south of US Hwy 16A along SD Hwy 87 (I put GPS coordinates above).
The Civilian Conservation Corps built the stone lookout tower and caretaker’s quarters in 1939. Local stone was used in the construction. This historic tower was one of last projects completed by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Before receiving it’s current name as Mount Coolidge it went by the monikers Lookout Mountain and Sheep Mountain. The Fire Tower is still in service today. It is now used as a fire lookout and dispatch center for Custer State Park operations.
The 1.2 mile gravel road leading to the tower is open 9 AM-5 PM from Memorial Day into late September. If the gate to the road is open you may go up.
The road is curvy and narrow with multiple blind curves so drive very cautiously when making the drive up and down. There are no guardrails and there’s a steep drop-off on one side. I was kinda of terrified and so was Jamey, because he hates driving these kinds of roads.
DO NOT bring motorhomes, trailers, large vehicles or buses up this road. They are not permitted.
Once you reach the top of the mountain you can walk the two flights of stairs to reach the top of the shortest fire tower we’ve ever been too. Jamey likes fire towers so we have seen one or two. This one is tiny, but hey still in operation and most we have seen aren’t. Interpretative signs on the outside deck of the tower tell the story of the Galena Fire in 1988.
When standing on the fire tower on a clear day, you can see the Badlands nearly 60 miles away in the east. They say you may also spy Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. We did not have a clear day though.
Wildfire smoke from the northeast obstructed most of our views. I can imagine though that the panoramic views from the top of the fire tower on a clear day are pretty breathtaking.
So is it worth traveling up that scary, curvy, narrow gravel road to see the fire tower?
I would say no unless you really like fire towers. Jamey does so we went. We have explored much better fire towers in our time and I’m not sure the constant pounding in my chest I had driving up that road was worth the payout. I mean If we would of had clear skies that day it would of been a bit better, but I still don’t think it was worth it.