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Olson Observation Tower

Olson Observation Tower is one of the few remaining fire towers in Monongahela National Forest. Olson is located at the southern end of Backbone Mountain northeast of Parsons in Tucker County, West Virginia.

, WV
- Backbone Mountain was the site of the first fire tower in the State of West Virginia. Originally built in 1922 by the state, it was later transferred to the Monongahela National Forest.  It was used until 1963 when it was replaced and named Olson Tower.

The tower is dedicated in honor of Ernst B, Olson in appreciation of his 28 years of devoted service in forest fire control and conservations programs on the Monongahela National Forest.

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Olson Tower is located on Backbone Mountain in Tucker County.  The elevation is approximately 3,736 feet above sea level. It is accessible most of the year by a dirt road. The road is not maintained in the winter months.

Open yearly, however, in the winter months the tower is accessible by x-country skis or snowshoes only. The fire tower sits on the mountaintop. Climb the 133 steps for breathtaking views. Although the cabin is closed to the public, you are welcome to climb to just below the cabin structure.

You find breathtaking views of the town of Parsons, Blackwater Canyon, Otter Creek Wilderness, Canaan Mountain, the Cheat River watershed, and even the Mount Storm Power station can all be seen from the tower heights.

There is a small family picnic area with 3 tables, garbage cans, and a vault toilet located 0.1 miles below the tower parking lot.

From Parsons, you will travel approximately 7 miles north (east) on 219N.  Turn right on Forest Road 18.  Travel 0.4 miles and stay to the right at the Y intersection.  This is FR 717.  Continue on FR 717 1.6 miles to the parking lot below the tower.

Driving FR 18: 
This drive is recommended for the truly hardy folks who are traveling with a high clearance vehicle and who don't mind a rough dirt road. The drive accesses trails and scenic views overlooking the Blackwater Canyon area.

Big Run Overlook:
This scenic overlook is located approximately 1.5 miles from the junction of FR 717 and FR 18. The views are spectacular, but the road to get there is extremely rough and passenger cars are not recommended (see above Driving FR 18).

Hiking/mountain biking: There are several trails in the area.

  • Flansler Trail #118. Which is 1 mile in length and begins at the picnic sites below the tower.
  • Canyon Rim Trail # 117 Is 3 miles in length and begins 0.1 miles below the picnic area.
  • Limerock Trail # 142 Is 4.1 miles in length and located along FR 18.

There are no fees.  Reservations are not accepted at this site.

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