Hurricane Mountain Summit

Hurricane Mountain and Fire Tower

A popular hike with an unforgettable view.

Just east of the high peaks region stands Hurricane Mountain and the Hurricane Mountain Fire Tower.   Unusual for its 3,694-foot summit, the summit is bare and provides 360 degree views.  Hiking to the summit via the main trial is a moderate 2.2 miles with 2,000 feet elevation gain.

High Peaks from Hurricane
High Peaks from Hurricane

Trails

There are three trails up Hurricane Mountain.  The the most popular and direct trail begins from Route 9N.  Alternatively you can follow the old road up east side of the mountain, but the trail is no longer maintained.  Finally you can ascend from the north-west side of the mountain.

Hurricane Trailhead (2.3 miles to summit –2,000′ elevation gain – Red Markers) The trailhead is located on State Route 9N about halfway between Elizabethtown and Keene.  There is not a dedicated parking lot, so look for the small trailhead sign on the north side of the road.

From the road, the trail climbs up a staircase to the trail register.  From here the trail climbs steeply to the top of a knoll, before leveling out among some backcountry ponds.  From here the trail continues to gently climb before an extended climb to the summit.

Just prior to the summit there is a trail intersection in a small clearing.  Turn right to the summit.

Return the same way.  Hiking Time: 4-5 hours due to the elevation gain.  Less if you are comfortable hiking at such a steep grade.

Hurricane East Trail (2.0 miles to summit – 1,700′ elevation gain) This trail follows the old jeep road up the mountain for 1.2 miles to the site of the old observer’s cabin (only foundation remains).  From here the trail continues along a more traditional trail.

Until recent times, capable vehicles were able to drive a significant way up the old road, meaning the hike was shorter than the now-popular Route 9N trailhead.

Today the last part of the road is closed to public traffic, making the Route 9N trail more convenient and scenic.  If you chose to take this trail, the beginning of this trail (former road) is private property.  Be sure to be courteous and to obey all signs.  Do not pass the gate, even if it is open.

Hurricane North Trail (2.7 Miles ‐ 1,600′ elevation Gain) This trail is longer, but begins at a higher elevation that then route 9N trailhead. This shorter and longer trail makes make it a bit more relaxing pace.

The trail begins as the “Crow Clearing” trailhead, at the end of O’Toole Road.  From here the trail begins up the Gulf Brook Trail for 1.1 miles, before turning right and heading up to the summit.  The final push becomes steep.  Just before the summit the trail joins with the trail from Route 9N.

A lean-to is located near the trail intersection.

Return the same way.  Hiking Time: 4-5 hours.  Less if you are hiking at a faster pace.

Early History

Hurricane Mountain’s unique position close to the high peaks, yet with a view of Lake Champlain made it an important viewpoint for the Verlanck Colvin – the early Adirondack surveyor and proponent of protecting the Adirondack Mountains.  Using lighthouses with known locations on Lake Champlain, Colvin was able to triangulate the location of the summit in July 1873.  Once Hurricane Mountain’s position was located, dozens of other peaks were then located.  Additional surveys were conducted, with a pole survey tower erected in June 1876.

Unfortunately this survey work came at a cost.  Hurricane Mountain has not always been a bald mountain.  To gain  full 360-degree views, Covin’s team clear cut the summit.  Unfortunately that lead to significant erosion.  Since then, the summit has not fully restored itself.  Similar summit clearings were performed on Blue Mountain, St. Regis Mountain (fire out of control), Ampersand Mountain (already partially cleared) and many others.  It is somewhat ironic how many of today’s best hiking destinations have suffered significant environmental destruction.

Fire Tower History

Following extensive forest fires in 1903 (428,180 acres) and 1908 (368,000 acres), in 1909 the state initiated a fire detection system, with a station (but not a tower) on Hurricane Mountain.  Given the splendid views, a tower was not built until 1919, partially for the purpose of providing the spotter a durable shelter.

The tower is a standard AerMotor Model # LS‐40 Fire Tower, with 5 flights of stairs and 35 feet from the ground to the floor of the cab – the standard way to measure towers.

Originally, fire observers stayed in large tents.  In 1916 a log structure was built, but only used for a single year.  The following year another cabin was built.  In 1928, a standard 12×16 cabin with covered porch was built.  The cabin was located on the East trail where it crosses Falls Brook.

Following the use of airplanes in fire spotting, the tower was last manned in 1982.  The cabin and related outbuildings were after 1982.  All that remains of the cabin site are parts of the stone foundation and miscellaneous pieces of wood.

The tower is currently on the National Historic Lookout Register and
was listed in 2007 on the National Register of Historic Places.  Recently the land surrounding the tower has been designated a Historic Area.  The Friends of Hurricane Mountain Fire Tower are working towards renovating the tower and opening it back up to the public.

The lower stairs have been removed as a safety precaution and the tower cannot be climbed.

See also

Trailhead Directions

From South: Take State Route 73 through Keene/Keene Valley towards Lake Placid.  Upper and Lower Cascade Lakes will be on your left near the summit of the four-mile uphill drive out of Keene.  Just past Upper Cascade Lake the trailhead is on your left.

From East/North East: Take 9N towards Keene, then head north on Route 73 (Keene) from  towards Lake Placid.  Upper and Lower Cascade Lakes will be on your left near the summit of the four-mile uphill drive out of Keene.  Just past Upper Cascade Lake the trailhead is on your left.

From West (Lake Placid):  Take Route 73 out of Lake Placid towards Keene.  You can follow signs for Mount Van Hoevenberg.  The trailhead is 1.3 miles after the main entrance to Mount Van Hoevenberg on the right.  If you reach Upper Cascade Lake you went too far.

GPS Address: Latitude: 44.246, Longitude: -73.698

Camping

There no designated sites from the Route 9N trailhead or the eastern trailhead.  The trails are steep and not a great candidate for overnight camping.  From the Crow Clearing trailhead, there is one lean-to located at approximately 1.1 miles.   Alternatively you may create a legal site in the woods if you wish to spend the night (150 feet from trail and water).

Kids

The hike is modest, with few difficult scrambles and cliffs.  Most active kids should make it to the top if taken slowly.

Pets

Bring them. It is a moderate hike with few cliffs and scrambles.  Expect to see other people and dogs.

What to bring

Water, lunch, camera and a jacket for the summit.

Winter Concerns

The summit is very exposed.  Extra wind protection is suggested.  The trail can be steep so crampons (standalone or alpine snowshoes) are recommended.

If you have anything to add, please leave it below.  Feel free to ask a question too.  Happy Journeys!

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