Diamond Butte Lookout is a fire lookout in southeast Montana, about 40 miles from Broadus. The structure was originally located at Yager Butte, but in 1958 it was moved 20 miles south to Diamond Butte, where it was an active fire lookout until 2001. It's available as a rental, and we stayed there on the nights of December 24 and 25, 2021. You can find more information about the lookout, and/or book a rental, at the Recreation.gov website.

Christmas Eve at Diamond Butte

Getting There

The route on the rental web site involves multiple small roads and turns, and takes you south of the lookout and then back north to it. We took the more simple and straightforward route: from Highway 212 turn south on Sonnette Road about 24 miles west of Broadus, and then take Sonnette Road south ~25 miles. You'll see the lookout on the left from a mile or two away, and then you turn left on clearly labeled Diamond Butte Lookout Road.

The first glimpse of the lookout from Sonnette Road, about 22 miles south of Highway 212.
The view from where Diamond Butte Lookout Road turns off Sonnette Road. The arrows mark the parking area and vault toilet – you have to carry your gear up from there by hand.

Pluses

If you're looking to get off the grid, Diamond Butte is great. The only other buildings nearby are at a ranch a few miles up Sonnette Road, and in two days and nights stay there we never saw or heard evidence of another human in the area except when we took a drive into Broadus.

"Off the grid" is a bit of a misnomer, in that there is intermittent cell coverage. We found it would come and go, but we had good enough coverage to upload a few photos a few times.

The propane heater and lights worked great. We kept warm at night with the heater set to 1 (out of 5) and a window cracked, with outside temperatures around 10 degrees.
Propane range and oven for hot meals. There's also a refrigerator, which isn't plugged in or operational, but works as a handy cooler inside the cabin.
A view of the foothills of Wyoming's Bighorn Mountains.
Beginning to clear after some snow. When it's snowing, sometimes there is no visibility at all, and it feels like you're floating high in the air.
We got one brief glimpse of the stars between clouds, around 3AM on the second night. Other than that, it was foggy with limited visibility at night. I'm not sure what that orange glow is – there are no towns within 70 miles in that direction. Somebody suggested it could be from the oil fields in Wyoming that start about 20 miles that direction.

Minuses

The biggest minus at Diamond Butte is the steep little hill between the tower and the parking area and toilet. And it's also a very exposed spot that gets a lot of wind and cold and snow. It never dropped below 10 degrees while we were there, but the forecast low for the night after we left was -8, with -17 in the forecast later in the week. Add some wind and that's dangerous cold, with the nearest hospitals (Billings, Montana and Gillette, Wyoming) several hours away on winter roads. It's not a place for the unprepared or careless.

Going Back

We enjoyed our stay, but going to the bathroom was a bit brutal at times when the wind was strong with snow and sleet. So we've booked another visit in late spring, when the weather should be milder, and if we're lucky maybe we'll have clear skies for some night photography far from light pollution.

Our family photo at Diamond Butte on Christmas Day. This is taken from the lookout's walkway, facing south – there's a small rocky peak at that end of the hill with steep sides all around.
We'll be back!