Red Hill Fire Tower Hike in the Catskills

Observers cabin on Red Hill in the Catskills
Average read time 9 min

Red Hill Fire Tower, one of five restored towers in the Catskills, gives the hiker a relatively short 1.4-mile walk and a stiff climb of 860′ to some of the region’s most unique views. The trail climbs to the summit in a crescent shape through a wonderful forest. The summit meadow almost seems park-like with several picnic tables and a nice grass large area. With a pipe-fed spring along the way, it could be a great first camping trip. The tower and cabin are listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Red Hill is not in the Catskill 100 at 102nd highest but is 67th of the Catskill 67. Don’t let the rank fool you; it may be one of the best in the 67. It is a kid and family-friendly hike.

Table Of Contents

fiber_new

New Trail To The Tower! (11/28/20)

You can now hike the Red Hill Fire Tower from Denning Road across DEP property. Follow the directions as if you are going to the Denning Trailhead and the DEP parking area will be on your right several miles before the trailhead.
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The parking area looks like it has enough room for about 6-8 cars depending on how people park. The trailhead sign says it is 2-miles to the tower.
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Map to DEP land. Trail not yet shown on map, Red Hill ridge on the southern part of map but fire tower not.

Geeky Stuff

Elevation:2990′ (911 m)
Lat/Lon:41°55′25″N / 74°31′02″W
Year tower built:1920
Year decommissioned:1990
Year restored for viewing:2000
Current cabin built:1931
Seasons:Spring, Summer, Fall, (Winter ? Trailhead on seasonally maintained road)
Activities:Hiking, Fire Tower Challenge, Picnic, Camping
Nearest higher neighbor:Denman Mountain 1.86 mi (2.99 km) SSW
Line parent:Denman Mountain 1.86 mi (2.99 km) SSW
Key-col:2280′ (between Denman Mountain and Red Hill)
Prominence:710′
Range:Catskill Mountains > Southern Catskills
Land unit:Sundown Wild Forest
Summit forest:Hardwood
Maps and Guide:NY-NJTC Catskill Map Set
NY-NJTC Digital Trail Maps
ADK Catskill Trail Guide

The Dirt

The lands on Red Hill are administered by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The DEC works with numerous organizations to maintain the trail and, in this case, fire towers. In the Catskills, the maintenance is done by a volunteer force.

On many weekends and holidays, from Memorial Day to Columbus Day, there may be a tower steward on the summit to open the fire tower’s cabin and cab. It is a special visit as one can peer back in time. When there is no tower steward, the cabin and tower cab is locked. You’ll need to settle for the great views from the top of the tower stairs during this time. You can call the Catskill Interpretive Center at 845-688-3369 or see the Red Tape section on this page regarding the summit stewards.

The road to the trailhead is known as Dinch Road. However, it has been changed and is also called Coons Road. If you drive from Denning, you’ll need to head up Red Hill Road to reach the intersection with Dinch – Coons Road.

Trail Approach

Approach:Red Hill Trail from Coons (Dinch) Road
Easiest winter route:From Denning (see post)
Closest camping:You can camp at-large on state land. Camping is prohibited on the summit. The best spot to camp would be near the spring.

The trailhead is downhill on Dinch – Coons Road. Dinch – Coons Road is a gravel road that has been greatly improved over the years. From the turn onto Dinch – Coons Road, you’ll lose elevation as you approach the trailhead. The parking area is quite small, allowing for about 4-5 cars.

Trailhead sign for Red Hill Fire Tower
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Trailhead sign for Red Hill
Red Hill Fire Tower Parking area from road
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Parking area from road
Trailhead kiosk with yellow marker
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Trailhead kiosk with yellow marker

The hike from the parking area is a short 1.4-miles with 890′ climbing on the yellow marked Red Hill Fire Tower Trail. After signing in at the trailhead, you’ll quickly reach a stream that can probably be dry in arid conditions.

Stream about 300-400' from trailhead
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Stream about 300-400′ from trailhead

Along the way the forest reaches some nice moss covered rock ledges.

moss covered rock ledges
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Moss covered rock ledges
White birch growing on rock ledge
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking White birch growing on rock ledge

After a bit more climbing and at about 0.50-miles of hiking from the trailhead, the trail levels and you’ll find yourself entering an extensive area of ferns and on a wide footpath.

Level and wide footpath
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Level and wide footpath
Ferns on Red Hill
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Ferns on Red Hill

The trail will be level for a bit, then climb at varying grades to a side path leading to a pipe-fed spring reached about 1-mile. The spring is about 200′-300′ down the path. One could camp near the spring for a nice quick overnight.

Junction of trial and spring
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Junction of trial and spring
Fresh mountain water from spring on Red Hill
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Fresh mountain water from spring on Red Hill
Looking down stream from the Spring
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Looking down stream from the Spring

You’ll climb the last 300′ up the northwest ridge between the spring and the summit, reaching the summit at 1.4-miles from the trailhead.

You’ll see the observer’s cabin on your right as you reach the summit meadow with a privy/storage shed on the left.

Red Hill observer's cabin and privy
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Red Hill observer’s cabin and privy from meadow

The summit meadow has the feel of a suburban backyard with a cut lawn and three picnic tables. It’s a great place to sit and eat a meal. Keep in mind that fire towers are generally popular hikes; expect to share the summit with others! If you’re out with the kids, bring a blanket and find a spot on the lawn to picnic. There’s no camping or fires allowed at this place.

Red Hill summit and fire tower - no camping, no fires, trimmed grass
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Red Hill summit and fire tower – no camping, no fires, trimmed grass

Tower Views

But do what you came to do climb the 60′ tower! The views are unique and wonderful. Red Hill is the southernmost of the Catskill fire towers and provides views other towers don’t.

Doubletop, Graham, Balsam Lake Mountains
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking View to the north – Doubletop, Graham, Balsam Lake Mountains

Looking north, you’ll see Fir, Big Indian, Doubletop, Graham, Balsam Lake, High Falls Ridge, Woodpecker Ridge, and The Beaver Kill Range.

Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking View to the northeast – Slide and a conglomerate of high peaks

To the northeast is Slide some 8.5-miles away (bearing 52 degrees).

To Slide’s right, you can see Cornell, Dink, Friday, Lone, Table, and Peekamoose. Across the Bush Kill (Peekamoose) Valley are Ashokan High Point, Little Rocky, and Mombaccus Mountains. In front of Friday and Lone are Woodhull and Van Wyck Mountains, respectively.

To Slide’s left are Little Slide, Part of The WildCats, Hemlock Mountain, and Spruce Mountains.

The Rondout Reservoir and South Hill
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking The Rondout Reservoir and South Hill

To the east and south are the Shawangunk Mountains or The Gunks. To the south is the large southern ridge of Red Hill, which the original jeep road and trail ascended with the tiny Sugar Loaf Mountain peeking up, and a bit of the Rondout Reservoir and South Hill behind. On the distant horizon are mountains of northern New Jersey, some 50-miles away.

Sun setting over Denman Mountain
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Sun setting over Denman Mountain

Looking southwest Denman Mountain dominates the scene. It is Red Hill’s Nearest higher neighbor, just barely at 3084′. On the distant horizon, peaks of the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania can be seen when conditions are good.

Red Tape

info

Notice and Updates

**UPDATE summer 2020: the Fire Towers of the Catskill Park (Overlook, Hunter, mount Tremper, Balsam Lake, Red Hill, and Upper Esopus) Have reopened to the public. to maintain everyone’s safety during COVID-19, Please wear a face mask when visiting a tower, and use hand sanitizer before and after climbing a tower to protect other hikers and Catskill center volunteers.
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The Hunter Fire Tower top cab is open on weekends and Holiday Mondays, and the Mount Tremper Fire Tower top cab is open 7 days a week (unstaffed). the other fire towers (Overlook, Balsam Lake, Red Hill, and Upper Esopus) are open just below the top cabs.
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Coons (Dinch) Road is not maintained from November to May. Snow and ice may prevent vehicles from reaching the trailhead. This would add about 1-mile to the hike.

Contacts and Map

Sundown Wild Forest
Contact Information:DEC Region 3 New Paltz Office:
Phone: (845) 256-3000 (M-F 8:30AM - 4:30PM)
Email: r3admin@dec.ny.gov
Emergency, Law Enforcement & Rangers: (518) 408-5850 or 911
Location: Towns of Denning, Wawarsing, and Olive in Ulster County and Town of Neversink in Sullivan County
Map: Sundown Wild Forest recreation map
Amenities:See Ulster County web site
Weather:Ashokan High Point Weather

Click the map or here for an interactive version of the map

Red Hill Trail Map
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Red Hill Trail Map
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