The Martis Peak Lookout was built in 1914 as part of the newly formed U.S. Forest Service’s efforts at forest fire suppression.
The lookouts were connected by telephone lines to a central dispatch station so that smoke sightings could be reported. The lookout was taken out of service in the early 1980s and unfortunately was vandalized. The structure was refurbished and reopened in 1997 and is now staffed in the summertime by volunteers.
When not actively in use, the lookout cabin can be visited. Inside it preserves a plane table, used for getting the azimuth (the angle clockwise from north) of a smoke sighting. In conjunction with measured azimuths from other lookouts, the smoke location could be obtained by triangulation.
Around the inside of the lookout, up toward the ceiling, are labeled outlines of the mountain skyline visible across Lake Tahoe. This is of obvious use in geographic orientation.
The lookout cabin is open for overnight use in the winter for ski or snowshoe trips.
Know Before You Go
The lookout is off US Forest Service Road 16N92, the Martis Peak road, which intersects California State Route 267 on the east about 1/2 mile north of Brockway Summit. This road is partially paved. It winds around, but at any branches stay on the pavement.
After 3.2 miles you come to a left (north) turn, which may be signed for the lookout. Take this turn to go the last 0.6 miles to the lookout. Parking is limited by the lookout, and it may be necessary to park at this turn (where there is ample parking) and walk from here.
This road is closed to wheeled vehicles in the wintertime but can be followed by ski or snowshoe. It is also open to snowmobiles, however, so foot traffic needs to be careful.
The lookout is also accessible from the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT), which has a trailhead on the east side of SR-267 about 0.4 miles south of Brockway Summit. The TRT comes to the edge of the big parking area at the final turn to the lookout.