In addition to the Adirondack 46er challenge that I’m working towards, I’ve also decided to try and tackle the Fire Tower Challenge. This challenge applies to mountains in both the Adirondack Park and the Catskills. There are 23 mountains to summit and fire towers to climb in the Adirondacks and 5 more in the Catskill Park.
The coolest part of this challenge, in my opinion, is climbing the fire towers. First of all, their history is just incredibly interesting; observers used to watch over the trees from these posts for forest fires and many mountains have their own stories to tell if you researched them. Second, although many of the fire towers have been restored, they’re still quite old and there is something so thrilling to me about climbing up a creaking, swaying fire tower to (third reason) earn a stunning view of the surrounding area.
I have really taken the Fire Tower Challenge as an opportunity to continue my passion for the outdoors throughout the winter season. I love the High Peaks but don’t necessarily have the time to drive all the way up to meet them during the winter months. My extremities also do not fare well in extended cold weather so spending a ton of time out on the trail or an overnight trip to tackle some high peaks just isn’t in my cards. Many of the Fire Tower Mountains are much closer to home and easier hikes than their 4,000+ foot brethren which makes them just right for winter hiking!
We began our Fire Tower Journey in 2016 about an hour north of where we live on the outskirts of Utica, New York. Bald Mountain is a quick 10 minutes north of Old Forge; here you can climb a very easy 500-foot ascent in just about a miles distance to Rondaxe Fire Tower. This is a great starter mountain and would be a great hike for families with small children considering it’s difficulty level and length. The hike begins as a mere stroll through the woods before you encounter your first, and steepest incline of the climb. The eroded ridgeline can be slippery in ice and if wet, however, the ascent itself is not difficult. After this short climb, the trail continues on with more casual ascents and descents. There are many viewpoints along the way so be sure to stop and enjoy the view; the trail itself has a charming sense of solitude in the winter season that you will almost certainly not experience in the busy months.
Bald Mountain’s 2350 foot summit provides a great view of the Fulton Chain of Lakes through the Old Forge Region. The summit is ‘bald’ and wide which supports picnics and impromptu gatherings of all kinds! In the summer and autumn months, the trail and summit will be very busy, however, during our winter hike we only encountered about 5 other hikers from start to finish. A quiet few hours on the mountain made for a short, but beautiful February day that we wouldn’t trade for the world.
From the intersection of Route 30 and 28 in Blue Mountain Lake, follow Route 30 toward Long Lake for around 1.5 miles uphill to the trailhead parking on the right. The trailhead is at the top of the long hill just beyond the Adirondack Museum. A fairly quick, and relatively well-trafficked trail that provides beautiful views of blue mountain lake from the fire tower; enjoy the snowman shaped Long Island! Certainly gets rocky and steep towards the summit so be prepared. If you like to paddle you can camp on many of the islands on Blue Mountain Lake.
After a short drive through the village of Lake Luzerne and about 1.5 miles down Tower Road, which is gravel, you will come to the parking lot and trailhead for this mountain. This short hike includes a steadily steep incline leading to a summit with gorgeous views of the southern Adirondacks and the Great Sacandaga Lake; be sure to climb the fire tower for 360 views and enjoy the scenery along the way!
Owls Head Mountain
Follow route 30 from Long Lake up towards Tupper Lake; after making a left onto Endion Road the trailhead is about 2 miles down on your right. When you’ve reached the remains of the observer’s cabin in the col between one of Owls Head’s smaller peaks, you are very close to the summit! Keep Pushing! With beautiful views of Long Lake and Blue Mountain from the partially open summit and 360-degree views await in the fire tower.
Heading north on Route 30, from Speculator, the parking lot for Snowy Mountain is on the right side of the road; you will need to cross the street to find the trailhead and register. This is certainly one of the more strenuous hikes I’ve done, and it’s certainly even tougher when breaking trail in snowshoes. A long, beautiful, peaceful hike with a fairly gradual incline until the final mile and a half or so. Please be reminded that we were breaking trail, in at least 4 feet of snow, up this beauty so it was tough but well worth the effort even without a view! It is one of thirteen mountains in New York State with over 2000′ of prominence, so be ready to work hard for your views in any season.
St. Regis Mountain
A long, steady climb to a wonderful summit! You won’t need to climb any steel stairs to see the beautiful views from this mostly bald summit. Easy to find trailhead in the heart of Paul Smiths off of Keeses Mill Road; follow the access road at the back of the parking lot to the trailhead on your right. The snowpack was real so we only required microspikes to summit, however, carried our snowshoes the whole way just in case! After a fresh snowfall, this was the perfect trail for some butt sliding. It is long and steady until the last half mile or so where it becomes a little steeper. Enjoy an absolutely beautiful trail from start to finish!
From the intersection of Route 28 and Route 30 in Indian Lake follow Route 28/30 toward Blue Mountain Lake. Continue for just over 2.25 miles to Cedar River Road on the left. Continue on Cedar River Road for around 12 miles to the trailhead on the right. The drive to the trailhead is rugged and you will question if you’re in the right place more than once but keep going! Home to the tallest fire tower still standing in the Adirondacks and one of the Adirondacks 100 highest peaks, you won’t regret this hike! It is worth it. Be aware, if you’re hiking during hunting season, be sure to differentiate yourself from an animal with bright clothing. **Not often hiked in winter seeing as Cedar River Road is seasonal**