In 1933, Camp Seneca was established in West Virginia by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The program was established in the wake of the Great Depression as a jobs program for unemployed men. The work was often labor-intensive, as men were put to work building trucking roads, planting trees, and carving out hiking trails. They built state and national parks, and dotted them with structures—cabins, bridges, dams, and fire towers. Today, tucked away among the 12,884 acres of what is now Seneca State Forest, one of those fire towers now hosts campers in its second life as one of the forest’s overnight accommodations.
The Thorny Mountain Fire Tower was built in 1935 as protection and housing for fire lookouts, people who scanned the wilderness for signs of forest fires. As the years passed, the tower wasn’t needed for its original use and was decommissioned in 1988. It sat empty for years, falling into disrepair. But one of the state’s park officials had an idea: to turn it into one of the state’s most unusual accommodations. It was completely refurbished, taking six years of work to complete. That work included cutting down the trees that had grown and surrounded the tower, obstructing the view. The construction also included a new roof, new stairs, replaced windows, ceiling, and a new catwalk that circles the tower.
The tower opened up to visitors in 2015. When it opened, not only did it allow campers the opportunity to sleep 65 feet in the air surrounded by a (hopefully) star-lit sky, it also became the only fire tower east of the Mississippi available for vacation rentals.
The tower is sparse; just two cots, and room for four. There’s no electricity or running water. But it’s not the sleeping arrangements that bring the crowds. It’s the sky, mountains, and trees stretched out over the West Virginia’s oldest and biggest state forest. When the tower opened up to campers, a contest to pick its first overnight guest received over 6,000 entries.
The interest hasn’t died down over the years. Would-be campers reserve months in advance. In fact, the park recommends up to a year in advance to be sure you get your spot. The tower is open from May 1 to October 31, but as Superintendent Jeff Layfield told the Charleston Gazette-Mail, “We have a waiting list starting a minute after midnight on May 1.”
Know Before You Go
Open between May and October. It is often booked, and it is recommended that reservations are made up to a year in advance. There is no electricity or running water in the tower, but there is a campfire ring, picnic table, and outhouse at the tower’s base.