Have you ever hiked to a fire tower? When in the area you should try one of the 5 Catskill Park Fire Tower hikes. Fire Towers have become one of our favorite hiking destinations. They are a big part of the fire service history of the United States. Being a part of the fire service family for over 30 years (my husband is a volunteer fireman) we appreciate early efforts of firefighting and how it changed over the years.
The Catskill Mountains, about 150 miles north of New York City, housed 19 of more than one hundred fire towers in New York State. Today there are only 5 remaining in the Catskill Park area. Many volunteers of The Catskill Center of Conservation & Development and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation restored these towers. They have become a tourism destination. On weekends during the warmer months (from May to October) volunteers staff these towers and open the cabins for visitors.
The Catskill Park Fire Tower hikes are some of the most beautiful and crowded in the area with stunning panoramic views. Parking areas fill up early so keep this in mind when planning your visit.
Balsam Lake Mountain Fire Tower
Arkville, NY, Ulster County, Elevation 3,723′
This is my favorite hike in the Catskills and I’ve done it several times. This was the first fire tower in NY build in 1887. The original structure was wood and ironically burnt down in 1901. It was again rebuilt with another wood structure in 1905. This tower was reconstructed 4 times with the current steel one built in 1930 and is 47 feet tall. In 1988, this tower was closed. A half mile away is a lean-to which you can also visit on this adventure.
Follow the blue trail markers for the first mile, then make a hard left following red markers, on this 6-mile round trip moderate hike. The spacious parking area is located on Mill Brook Road just outside Arkville. You follow the signs for the Dry Brook Ridge Trail which takes you to this historic fire tower.
Red Hill Fire Tower
Denning, NY, Ulster County, Elevation 2,990′
This 60 feet tall steel tower, which was built in 1921, was the last fire station staffed in the Catskills. It officially closed in 1990 and was reopened in 2000 and is listed on the National Historic Lookout Register. This very enjoyable hike to the top brings you to beautiful views of the Roundout Reservoir and several stunning Catskills mountain peaks.
So follow the yellow markers for this 3-mile round trip easy to moderate hike. It does get steep at the top. When you reach the cabin you know you’re there. Take a break at the picnic table and it’s always nice to visit the outhouse if needed. (You don’t get to see that many of them in the middle of the woods).
You can find this gem on from the Red Hill Tower Trail located on Coons Road (formerly known as Dinch Road) near the town of Claryville.
Tremper Mountain Fire Tower
Shandaken, NY, Ulster County, Elevation 2,740′
This original steel 47-foot structure was built in 1917 and was used as a fire lookout station until 1971. It was restored and opened to the public in 2001. This tower was constructed at this location because this area of the forest couldn’t be observed, from the Hunter or the Belleayre fire towers, making it necessary for the protection of the Phoenicia area. There is a 360-degree view which includes Devil’s Path Range and Burroughs Range.
Follow the red marker along the Phoenicia Trail which is on County Road 40. This is a 6 mile moderate to difficult hike up a steep old Jeep trail. There is a parking lot that fills up and you can also park along the road but read the signs as you will be ticketed if parked illegally.
Although seen by few, watch out for Timber rattlesnakes as they make their home in the rocky area of this trail.
Overlook Mountain Fire Tower
Woodstock, NY, Ulster County, Elevation 3,140′
In 1950, this 60-foot steel tower was the last one built in the Catskills. It closed in 1988 and was the first of the five towers to reopen in 1999. You can see incredible views including the Hudson River Valley and in the other direction all the way to the Berkshires. Also, you can get a view of the Ashokan Reservoir and the Devil’s Path Range.
The trail to this tower is on the Overlook Spur Trail; follow the red markers for this 6 mile moderate to difficult hike. The trailhead is located on Meads Mountain Road. Parking is only available in the parking area as the surrounding area is a tow away or ticket zone so you will have to get there early to hike this one. We have been here twice already and couldn’t park so this one is still on our bucket list!
As with the Tremper Tower hike, you will also need to keep an eye out for those rattlesnakes!
Hunter Mountain Fire Tower
Hunter, NY, Greene County, Elevation 4,040′
This is the highest elevation fire town in New York State at over 4000 feet. It’s also the longest of the five Catskill tower hikes at 7 miles round trip. The original tower was made of logs in 1909 and in 1917 the existing 60-foot steel tower was built a third of a mile away from the original one. In 1953 the structure was moved to its original location on the summit of Hunter Mountain.
There are two ways to get to the summit. The Spruceton Trail located on County Road 6 (Spruceton Hollow Road in the town of Spruceton. This is a moderate to difficult hike with blue markers. It’s a wide dirt road for about 2 miles then makes a right turn to a steep rough road. Continue following the blue markers to the fire tower.
For a shorter hike, when available you can take the Hunter Mountain Scenic Sky Ride and then follow the yellow markers to the tower. If you are afraid of heights, like I am, you may not want to take the alternative. There will also be a cost of $14.00 for an adult and $8 for juniors 7 to 12 for the sky ride. Children 6 and under are free but must be 36″ to ride. This moderate hike is 4 miles round trip.