Hiking in the Catskills is challenging. Add some fire tower steps and this boosts the experience. Every now and then climbing a fire tower is as exhilarating as the hike itself. As one starts up the wide stairway at the tower foot well below the canopy the ascent quickly becomes more narrow and the tree tops get closer. As the visitor ascends near or above the canopy fantastic views begin to show and the hiker experiences the gusty winds that buffer these high elevation observation towers. However, on calm days, gentle breezes caress you. In the refuge of the tower cab, some of the Catskills finest views are laid out before you.
In the past, the fire towers played a key role in Catskill conservation through fire management. Even then, the towers were places hikers visited and the observers were always ready to greet and educate the visitor. Today these historic towers play a different role, one of history & recreation! Although not manned as much, on many weekends in the spring, summer and fall you may find a tower interpretive volunteer to enrich your experience. Take a hike and step back in time to visit one of the Catskills great backwoods historic features.
After completing the towers show your achievement by buying a hat or patch and support the project that keeps these great landmarks open and in great condition!
Summit elevation: 4040’
4 Routes to Tower varying from 4.2 – 8.5 miles (out and back or loops, check map for options)
6.8 miles round trip
Trail-head: Spruceton Road, West , NY 12492 – https://goo.gl/maps/YslLw
Upon reaching the summit after the long walk along the relatively level summit ridge which is bordered by balsam fir you see the restored fire tower and observer’s cabin. The summit is a wide open meadow surrounded by large balsam fir. The air is filled with the fragrance of their smell. The fire tower that crowns Hunter was built in 1917 which replaced a wooden structure erected in 1909. The old wooden tower was a fancy structure which boasted a second floor privy with a one level drop! The original fire towers rested about one-third mile below the summit (4,000’) at the junction of the Becker Hollow Trail and the Hunter Mountain Spur Trail. The steel tower which replaced the wooden structure was relocated to its current location in 1953. At sixty feet it has the distinction of being the highest fire tower in New York.
Unique route: Colonel’s Chair Trail (take a ski lift to trail-head)
Hardest Routes: Becker Hollow or Devil’s Path & Hunter Mountain Connector Trail
Balsam Lake Mountain
Summit elevation: 3780’
3 Routes to tower varying from 3.5 to 13.7 miles round trip
Dry Brook Ridge Trail
5.9 miles round trip
Trail-head: Mill Brook Rd, Margaretville, New York https://goo.gl/maps/xVtFD
Like Hunter Mountain, the final walk along the relatively level summit ridge is bordered by balsam fir and you get a glimpse of the restored fire tower along the way. Balsam Lake Mountain was home to the first forest fire tower in New York State and was erected in 1887. This first wooden tower was built by the Balsam Lake Club, and it endured until 1901 until it burned. It was replaced with another wooden tower in 1905. The first steel tower was assembled in 1919, and the current tower (47 feet tall) was put up in 1930. If you’re lucky as we were on one visit you may see Bald Eagles flying in the area from the tower.
Hardest Routes: Alder Lake Loop and Mill Brook Ridge Trail
Other routes: Dry Brook Ridge Trail & Balsam Lake Trail from the south. (short with steep spots)
Summit elevation: 3140’
2 Routes to Tower varying from 4.6 to 11.1 miles round trip
Overlook Spur Trail
4.6 miles round trip
Trail-head: Meads Mountain Road, Woodstock, New York https://goo.gl/maps/RNtS1
Hiking an old carriage road and visiting the ruins of the abandon Mountain House a turn of the century Catskill resort hotel makes the hike to this fire tower one of the most interesting of all five. Having been at its present location since only since 1950 makes this the newest of the Catskill fire towers. In spite of this, the tower itself is a lot older as it was formerly constructed in 1927 on Gallis Hill. The Overlook tower attains a height of 60 feet. As it sits a top of a rocky ledge and the only trees about it are smaller the tower feels much higher! It offers stand-up views of Devil’s Path and the Hudson Valley. If you are looking for a wilderness experience you won’t find it on Overlook as it is the most developed of all the peaks with fire towers in the Catskills. Plan to share the trail with many others, including trail runners, mountain bikers, and dogs. Watch out for rattle snakes.
Hardest Routes: The Devil’s path & Overlook Trail (Overlook Turnpike) from Prediger Road (you can add a side trip to Echo Lake)
Summit elevation: 2724’
3 Routes to tower varying from 6.1 to 17.4 miles round trip
Long Path from CO RT 40 Phoenicia
6.1 miles round trip
Trail-head: CO RT 40, Phoenicia, New York https://goo.gl/maps/wcJCK
Hiking a jeep road which passes two lean-tos plus a large quarry will make an otherwise business-like hike interesting. The old jeep road switchbacks up the mountainside until it levels and reaches the summit ridge where the walking becomes more pleasant. This is the only of the 5 towers not to have an observer’s cabin. The fire tower is believed to be the original structure built circa 1917 and was used for fire observation until 1971. The central location affords view unlike all the other towers with Devil’s Path to the north and the bulk of the southern Catskills to the south. The tower just rises above the canopy and the hiker may feel higher off the ground than they really are as the tower is only 47’. The summit elevation is the lowest of all 5, but don’t let this fool you as you’ll climb almost 1,900’ from the trail-head!
Due to Mt Tremper’s easy access and proximity to a Catskill town and major road, plan to share the trail with many other hikers. Watch out for rattlesnakes.
Hardest Routes: From the north on the Warner Creek Trail from Silver Hollow which includes a road walk from PA on RT 214 & Inn Road (17.4 miles RT)
Other Route: Willow Trail (7.6 miles RT)
Summit elevation: 2990’
1 route to summit
Red Hill Tower Trail
2.86 miles round trip
Trail-head: Old Dinch Rd Grahamsville, NY 12740 https://goo.gl/maps/bQtSP
Red Hill is the most southern of the fire towers. The Red Hill Fire Tower stands 60 feet tall, has nine flights of stairs, and was assembled in 1921. This tower presents the hiker with an unmatched vista of the Catskill high peaks to the west and north, and the Rondout Reservoir to the southeast. It was the final fire tower staffed in the Catskills, shut down in 1990. The summit has a wide open grass meadow with picnic table and observers cabin. It is a beautiful place to spend a summer afternoon!
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