July 7th Update: Spotlight on The Elba, MN Fire Tower (Winona-Whitewater Route)

The Elba Fire Tower was constructed by the CCC in 1936 and is the farthest south of Minnesota's fire towers. No longer manned by the State Division of Forestry, the lookout is located on Division of Wildlife land immediately adjacent to Whitewater State Park, in Elba, Minnesota, high on a bluff overlooking the town. The 110-foot tower, with a 7- by 7-ft. cab, was transferred to the Division of State Parks for restoration and use as an interpretive site.

The tower, managed by the Minnesota DNR, is one of the few surviving fire lookouts that were once common across Minnesota. But its purpose was different from most. Instead of providing early detection of wild forest fires, the Elba tower was built so that officials could spot fires purposely set by farmers trying to clear the steep hills for grazing. Long-term conservation efforts put an end to that practice, and planes became a better way of spotting fires anyway, so the tower was abandoned. In fact, the tower was a target for demolition about 20 years ago, when the Elba Booster Club launched an effort to save it.

Thousands of people make the no-cost climb every year, but it's not for the faint of heart. A stairway of sturdy railroad ties, built by participants in Winona County's Sentencing to Service Program, curves through the thick woods up the bluff, with benches for resting at steps 147 and 490. The stairway offers its own grand views through the trees northward along the river, but you're not at the the bluff top until you've cleared step 637. And, that only brings you, after a short walk on a flat dirt path, to the base of the tower itself.


If you are brave enough to climb the 135 steps up the rickety, shaking, swaying tower itself, you will be rewarded with amazing views.

This is one of the stops on The Driftless Challenge, so don't forget to get your picture while you visit and send it in! The July contest is underway. Congratulations to June's winner John W!!

Have a great week!

Dale and Renee

133 views0 comments