Category Archives: Fire Towers

Belfry Mountain Fire Tower

A short walk to a great view!

Located halfway between the high peaks and Lake Champlain is perhaps the most accessible fire tower in the Adirondacks.  At just over a third of a mile and 137 feet of elevation gain, all on a dirt road, is tower makes for a great side-adventure if traveling through the area.

Tower History

In 1912 the first observation station was manned atop Belfry Mountain.  Originally there was no tower, rather the summit was used to graze caddle and thus was already cleared.  In 1917 a standard Steel Aermotor LS40 tower was installed.   The tower is 47 feet high from the base to the floor of the cab, which is the standard way to measure fire towers.

Originally the tower was on private land, but in 1933 the state purchased the summit and built an observer’s cabin in 1934.  Unlike many other Adirondack fire towers, the tower was not in continuous use until it closed in 1988.  From 1971 through 1982 the tower was unmanned. Unfortunately cabin was removed in the 1990’s due to vandalism.

Like many fire towers, their strategic location on smaller peaks with great views in all directions makes them also perfect candidates for radio equipment.  That, coupled with Belfry’s proximity to the highway, has meant that numerous radio antennas have been attached to it.  While it does not prevent using the tower, they are very noticeable.  Further there are a handful of other towers located on the mountain.

The Trail

County Route 70 Trailhead (.4 miles to summit): The trail (access road) is located on the west side of the County Route 70, but parking is easier across the road.  The access road is actively used, so do not block the gate.  The trail is quite obvious, following the access road to the summit.  About halfway, and just below the summit are two ‘Y’ intersections.  Take a left at both as a right leads you to private communication towers.  

The access road is private property and the landowner has given permission to use the road. Please stay on the road and do not explore the private buildings.

Return the same way. Hiking Time: 1 hour at a relaxing pace.

See Also

  • Rocky Mountain – A nearby short hike with great views, but less crowded.
  • Black Bear Mountain – A nearby longer hike (2 miles to summit)
  • The Adirondack Fire Tower Challenge

Camping

No designated sites along the trail or on summit. Most of the property except a small area around the tower is private property.  We do not suggest camping here.

Kids

The hike is relatively easy and most kids will not have difficulty with it. There are no large cliffs and only a few ledges near the tower (~5 feet tall).  Use caution if climbing the fire tower.

Pets

Bring them. It is an easy hike with few cliffs and scrambles.

What to bring

Depending on how long you plan to stay at the summit, bring a water bottle and perhaps a snack.  A jacket to protect you from the wind is useful if it is windy or cool.

Winter Concerns

The parking area (shoulder of road) is not always plowed in the winter — and it is on a curved section of the road.  Depending on the needs of the private towers, the road may be plowed with the gate open.  Use common sense when entering the area.  The tower is open year round, but can be very icy.  Use caution if attempting to climb.

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

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!

Wakely Mountain Fire Tower

A modest hike past a backwoods pond to a remote fire tower.

Hidden away in the south-central Adirondacks is one of the largest Adirondack Fire Towers still standing and due to recent restoration efforts, it is safely climbable too.  At an impressive 70 feet, those scared of heights need not apply.   After a dizzying 11 flights of stairs, full 360 degree views show distant places such as Blue Mountain, the High Peaks, Indian Lake, and more.

Trail

Trailhead (3.2 miles):  From the 20-car trailhead on Cedar River Rd, the trail begins by following  a slightly uphill former Jeep trail.  After two miles and 500 feet in elevation a spur trail leads to a back country pond, which is a good time to take a break.

From the pond, the trail begins to head northwest up the mountain, getting much steeper.   The remaining 1.2 miles climbs 1100 feet to the 3744 foot summit.

Expect your hike to be quiet, except on nice weekend/holidays where you will pass a handful of other hikers.  This is one of the least-hiked fire towers in the Adirondacks.

No views from base of tower.  Return the same way. Hiking Time: 3 hours at a relaxing pace.

Wakely Mountain Map
Wakely Mountain Map

History

Wakely’s prominence in the southern mountains made it an excellent candidate for a fire tower.  In 1911 a wooden tower was built on the summit.  This temporary structure was replaced with a 70 foot AerMotor LL25 tower.  This is the cabin that still stands today.

One of the unique artifacts of this tower was that is was one of the first ten built in the Adirondack Park.  The towers were adapted from windmills, which did not need daily access, and had a vertical ladder on the outside of the tower.  All later towers across the park were built with the standard staircase we now see.  The original ten were eventually refitted with “modern” stairs (1930), but only this tower still has the original vertical staircase attached.  The lower section was removed to prevent climbing.

Wakely is the tallest of the original ten LL25 steel towers and the third tallest tower still standing (fourth ever).

There has been three cabins built for an observer, with the current cabin built in 1972-1973.  The 25′ x 25′ helicopter landing platform was built to assist with the 1972 cabin installation.

Recently, Friends of Wakely Mountain have assisted in rehabilitating the tower and site.  Also a radio repeater and solar panels have been attached to the tower.

See also

  • Cedar River Headquarters
  • Cedar River Flow
  • The Adirondack Fire Tower Challenge

Trailhead Directions

This very remote trailhead is difficult to get to and uses seasonal roads.  Bring a map.

From East/South: Coming from the hamlet of Indian Lake, take NY-28 N/NY-30 S/State Hwy 30 S for 2.1 miles west out of town.  Turn left on Cedar River Road (across from Cedar River Golf Course). It is another 12 miles to the trailhead.  If you reach the Cedar Flow Dam area, known as “Headquarters”, you’ve gone slightly too far.

From West: Coming from Blue Mountain Lake, take NY-28 N/NY-30 S/State Hwy 30 S for 9 miles and turn right on Cedar River Road (across from Cedar River Golf Course). It is another 12 miles to the trailhead.  If you reach the Cedar Flow Dam area, known as “Headquarters”, you’ve gone slightly too far.

From West (Alternative): An alternative route though Moose River Recreation Area is possible, but follows a slow, 4×4 dirt road for over 20 miles.  Enter the Moose River Recreation Area in Inlet, just north of 5th lake, Limekiln Rd.  Follow it to the end at Cedar River Flow (“Headquarters”).  From here it is about 0.2 miles along Cedar River Road to the trailhead.

GPS Address: 43.731061, -74.472622  – Be careful if coming from the west that it does not take you through the Moose River Recreation Area, unless that is your plan.

Camping

No designated sites along the trail or on summit. Either create a legal site in the woods (150 feet from trail and water) stay at nearby hotel or campground.

Nearby (south of trailhead) is Cedar River Headquarters, with many car camping sites.

Kids

The hike is reasonably long and the last part is steep, but has few difficult scrambles and cliffs.  Most active kids should make it to the top if taken slowly. Caution should be exercised if climbing the fire tower — it is tall!

Pets

Bring them. It is a moderately-long hike with few cliffs and scrambles.

What to bring

Water, lunch and a jacket for the summit.

Winter Concerns

Cedar River Road is a seasonal road and winter access is difficult.

Blue Mountain and Fire Tower

A steep hike to a panoramic view of Blue Mountain Lake and the western high peaks.

At 3,759 feet, Blue Mountain towers over all its neighbors and provides magnificent views in all directions.  The High Peaks, the southern peaks, Blue Mountain Lake, Lake Eaton, Raquette Lake and many other locations are visible from the summit and fire tower.  Justifiably, Blue Mountain is one of the most popular hikes in the Adirondacks with about 15,000 hikers annually.

Trail

Trailhead (2 miles to summit – 1,400′ elevation gain) The trailhead is where State Route 30 / State Route 28N travels over Blue Mountain on its way to Long Lake.  There is parking for about 20 cars.  From the parking lot there are two trails, one leading towards Blue Mountain (red markers) and another towards Tirrell Pond (yellow markers).  The register is in the back right of the parking long, with clear arrows towards the trail.

Blue Mountain Trail Topo
Blue Mountain Trail Topo

The trail starts gently meandering along a former logging road before turning up.  The trip up is reasonably steep for about 0.5 miles.  Fortunately there is a break at this point (halfway up mountain) and the trail goes around the mountain gaining no elevation (0.4 miles).

From here it is another reasonably steep 0.5 miles before the trail begins to level off near the summit.  A final gentle summit walk leads to the fire tower.

There are not too many overlooks along the trail, except very near the summit.  Our recommendation is skip overlooks near the summit (would need to bushwack to get a good view anyways), and see it all at once from the summit.

Despite it popularity, most hikers do not realize that most of blue Mountain is private lands, including the trails.  Annually the private landowner, Upper Hudson Woodlands (ATP) , grants permission for trail usage. There is only one public trail up Blue Mountain (described above).  The roads up the mountain are not for public use, including hiking on them.

Other notes:

  • No fires allowed on the summit.
  • Located in the Blue Mountain Wild Forest

History

Blue Mountain dominance over its surrounding made it an ideal place for a fire tower.  In the 1870s geographical surveys were conducted from the summit.  Originally the summit was covered in trees, but many were removed so that sightlines to other peaks could be created.  Additionally a survey tower and leantos was built on the summit.  A survey benchmark can still be found near the tower.

The survey tower eventually collapsed and  a new tower was built in 1907.  The 35′ wooden observation tower was built by of owner Blue Mountain Hotel for his guests.  In 1911, when New York State began its fire observation program, the wooden tower was a part of it.

In 1917, like many wood towers across the state, it was replaced by an AerMotor LL‐25 Fire Tower.  It was also 35 feet tall, but made of durable galvanized metal and still stands today.

With fire observers also comes the need for cabins.  Four were been built on the summit of Blue Mountain over the years, with the latest one built in 1975.  It still standing on east side of the tower, but is not open to the public.

The tower was one of the last towers in operation.  It closed in 1990 and was left to rot.  It would not go unmaintained for long though, in 1993 plans began to rehabilitate the tower for recreational use.

Blue Mountain Fire Tower was the first public-private preservation partnership and has served as a model for similar tower restorations across the state.  In 1994 the DEC, with the help of others, restored the fire tower.  That same year, the first paid fire tower steward in the state was hired – a SUNY ESF student.  Today the Friends of Blue Mountain lead restoration efforts.

Blue Mountain is also important for communications.   Many state and local organizations use it, including: DEC Law Enforcement, Fire Management and Administration, the Division of State Police, Department of Transportation, Hamilton County Sheriff, Emergency Medical Services, Hamilton County Highway Department, and National Public Radio.

Formerly a Cold War radar facility topped Blue Mountain for use in national defense.  The large concrete slabs are all that remain.  Also, the summit has high voltage power and emergency backup generators.  The power poles/lines can be seen looking north/northwest near tower. The summit cabin is one of the few across that state that has power.

See also

Trailhead Directions

From South/Southwest: Coming from Old Forge, continue on State Route 28 into the hamlet of Blue Mountain Lake.  Continue through town staying straight (left) at the route 30 intersection.  You will now be heading north on State Route 30/28N and headed steeply up Blue Mountain.  When you reach the summit, the trailhead is on the right.

From South/Southeast: Coming from Indian Lake / North Creek, continue on State Route 28/30 into the hamlet of Blue Mountain Lake where you will reach a stop sign (small gas station on left).  You will now be heading north on State Route 30/28N and headed steeply up Blue Mountain.  When you reach the summit, the trailhead is on the right.

From North: Coming from Long Lake, take State Route 30/28N south towards the hamlet of Blue Mountain Lake.  You will see the mountain many times as you travel south.  There are a few signs to watch for, particularly “Trailhead ahead” and “Blue Mountain Lake”.  Also immediately before the trailhead is a sign telling trucks steep grade ahead, use low gears.  Trailhead is on your left.

GPS Address: Easiest is use: 9097 New York 30, Blue Mountain Lake, NY 12812, which is the Adirondack Museum, a few hundred feet south of the trailhead.

Camping

No designated sites along the trail or on summit. Either create a legal site in the woods (150 feet from trail and water) stay at nearby hotel or campground.

Kids

The hike is reasonably long and steep, but has few difficult scrambles and cliffs.  Most active kids should make it to the top if taken slowly. Caution should be exercised if climbing the fire tower.

Pets

Bring them. It is a moderate hike with few cliffs and scrambles.  Please leash your dog for this one, particularly on a popular weekend day.  Expect to see other people and dogs.

What to bring

Water, lunch and a jacket for the summit.

Winter Concerns

Ice, Ice and more ICE!! Unless very snow-covered (not that often), expect the trail to be primarily ice-covered.  The trail is worn to bedrock in many places and water seeps from the surrounding soil onto the trail, where it then freezes.  It is not uncommon to see ice over a foot thick.  Further the trail is on the south-western part of the mountain which is warmed by the afternoon sun, then freezes at night.

There are no significant scrambles, rather many long ice flows.    Crampons should be considered mandatory.  Yaktrax or similar work if there is little snow.  Otherwise the crampons on a good pair of shoeshoes should be worn.  The tower itself is open year round, but can be very icy.  Use caution if attempting to climb.

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

Bald Mountain Fire Tower (Rondaxe Mountain)

A quick and easy hike with a great view for the entire family.

Bald Mountain is one of the most popular hikes in the Adirondacks, and the most visited fire tower, with well over 15,000 people visiting annually.  This is a short and easy hike with a 360 degree view from the 2350 foot summit overlooking the Fulton Chain of Lakes.

Tower History

In 1912 the first tower atop Bald Mountain and made of wood.  It stood twenty-foot feet high and had no cab, just a few square foot ‘deck’ for the observers to watch from completely exposed to the elements.

In 1917, today’s steel tower replaced the wooden structure.    Higher at 35 feet, it is the standard AerMotor LS‐40 Fire Tower.

The Observation Tower closed in 1990 along with the three remaining towers still staffed: Blue, Hadley, and St. Regis Mountains.  With modern advances in satellite, radar and aerial observations, they were no longer needed.

The tower was left to rot, but beginning in 2002 Friends of Bald Mountain began a multi-year restoration project.  They begin tackling safety and general maintenance issues, and since have even installed a replica circular map in the cab.

The friends are still active and maintenance work is regularly on both the tower, trail system and informational signage at the trailhead.

The Trail

Rondaxe Road Trailhead (1 mile to summit):  The trail is a relatively easy at a bit under a mile and only 500 feet elevation gain.  The trail largely follows the ridge to the summit.

Bald Mountain Trail
Bald Mountain Trail

The trailhead is on Rondaxe Road just east of Old Forge.  From Old Forge, take State Route 28 north towards Inlet.  From Enchanted Forrest Water Safari it is 4.4 miles to the left turn on Rondaxe Road.

Rondaxe Road is clearly marked by large signs.  Once on Rondaxe Road the trailhead is on the left at about 1000 feet, again clearly marked with DEC signs.   There is space for about 30 cars, which is not uncommon on a summer weekend.

A side note.  There once was a trailhead on route 28 itself, but it closed many years ago due to trail degradation.  Please use the Rondaxe Road Trailhead.  Why not? it’s a higher in elevation!

The trailhead is in the back right side of the parking lot with a covered register and informational board kiosk.  From here the trail begins as a wide and slightly uphill ascent.

After 0.3 miles the trial turns steeper, climbing to the top of the ridge.  Fortunately this section is short (0.15 miles).  Once it has flattened out again, there is a good resting spot (lunch?) is the open overlook directly on the trail.

The trail follows the ridge rolling up and down a bit to the summit.  The grade is easy, but it does follow some rather narrow rock structures.  Be sure to have a close watch of very young children.The tower comes into view just as the trees begin to open up and show the lower Fulton Chain.

Once at the fire tower, climb on up!  On a busy weekend you may have to wait for others to leave.  The cab of the tower is small, only room for a handful of people, so if it is a busy day, limit your time to about five minutes.  You can always go up later if it empties out, so go eat lunch on the rocks.

Go beyond the tower if you are looking for a quieter spot to eat lunch.  The remains of the old observer’s cabin are also located beyond the tower by about 150 feet.

Return the same way. Hiking Time: 1-2 hours at a relaxing pace.

Is it ‘Bald’ or ‘Rondaxe’ Mountain?

Both really…the original name of the mountain was Bald Mountain, but there is also a ‘Bald Mountain’ north of Stillwater Reservoir in Croghan.  To prevent confusion, since both mountains had fire towers built upon them, this mountain was renamed to Rondaxe Mountain (and Rondaxe Mountain Fire Tower) in 1912 by the state.

While the name was understandably changed for fire tower records, the name change did not sit well with locals and hikers and they continue to this day to refer to it as Bald Mountain.  Even the DEC signs refer to it as Bald Mountain, but the Rondaxe Fire Tower.

Today the other Bald Mountain is in private hands (essentially always was), with the tower torn down, so there is no confusion any longer.  Locals and hikers use the name Bald Mountain.

See Also

  • Rocky Mountain – A nearby short hike with great views, but less crowded.
  • Black Bear Mountain – A nearby longer hike (2 miles to summit)
  • The Adirondack Fire Tower Challenge

Trailhead Directions

From South/West: Show

From Old Forge, take State Route 28 north towards Inlet.  From Enchanted Forrest Water Safari it is 4.4 miles to the left turn on Rondaxe Road.

GPS Address:  Rondaxe Rd, Old Forge, NY 13420

Camping

No designated sites along the trail or on summit. Either create a legal site in the woods (150 feet from trail and water) stay at one of the many nearby campgrounds.

Kids

The hike is relatively easy and most kids will not have serious difficulty with it. There are only a few cliff ledges and no difficult scrambles.  Use caution if climbing the fire tower.

Pets

Bring them. It is an easy hike with few cliffs and scrambles.  Please leash your dog for this one, particularly on a popular weekend day.

What to bring

Water, lunch and a jacket for the summit

Winter Concerns

The hike into the fire tower is relatively protected and does not contain too much ice.   The trail is good for snowshoes, but not skis as it is too uneven.  The tower is open year round, but can be very icy.  Use caution if attempting to climb.

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

Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain and Fire Tower

A short, steep hike up panoramic views of the Champlain Valley, Giant Mt and Whiteface.

With beautiful 360 degree views of the High Peak and the entire Lake Champlain Valley, Poke-O-Moonshine is a must hike.  Despite its short 2,180 feet and 1.2 mile trail, the trail’s relentless steep grade makes the hike modestly difficult.

Overview

Located in the northeastern corner of the park, seconds from The Northway (Interstate 87), Poke-O-Moonshine is a popular destination for hikers, photographers, rock climbers and ice climbers.   A quick but strenuous hike is rewarded with great views.  Rock and ice climbers come from miles around due to it’s large open cliffs.  A state campground at the base of the cliffs, but has remained closed in recent years due to budget cuts.

Hikers have two options, either the 1.2 mile Ranger’s trail, starting at the southern end of the state campground or the longer 2.4 mile former Jeep trail used as access to the Observer’s Cabin – now called the Observer’s Trail.  The first is steep with one very nice overlook.  The latter is more modest (same elevation change, twice the distance) but without any overlooks.  Parking for this trail is just short of 1-mile south of the campground/Ranger’s Trail on Route 9.

Both trails converge at the old Observer’s Cabin, since torn down but with the foundation partially remaining.  From here the trail climbs towards the summit, with a nice High Peaks overlook.  The final push to the summit is rewarded by a majestic view to the south and after climbing the fire tower – 360 degrees.

From the fire tower the mountains quickly flatten and the city of Plattsburgh can be seen on most days, noticably the runway of the former US Air Force Base.  If it is exceptionally clear, views to Montreal and it’s surrounding hills are possible.  Towards the east is Lake Champlain with the hillside city of Burlington visible in front of the Green Mountains.  To the west Giant and Whiteface are the most prominent High Peaks, with many others visible too.

The fire tower was restored and if climbed while a steward is on duty provides a glimpse of how observers pin pointed fires in the days before GPS, planes and cell phones.

Trails

Two trails are available.  Most use the Ranger’s Trailhead from the south end of the campground.  The observer’s trail is far gentler (grade and footing) and makes a nice ski trail in the winter.

Ranger’s Trail (1.2 miles to summit): Located just south of exit 33 off The Northway, parking is along the roadside.   There is ample parking for parking on both sides of the road, but be sure to be well off the road as this is a state highway.  We trail-side has a steep embankments so be careful not to pull off too far, though additional stone was recently added.

The trail register is at the south end of the campground near the end of the chain link fence.   A well-defined foot trail can be seen around the fence.  While registering, grab a information phamplett provided by the Friends of Poke-O-Moonshine.

The trail begin to go up quickly, interpretive marker posts numbered 1-11 along the way (see pamphlet) roughly coincide with the tenths of a mile.  The first 8/10ths of a mile are the steepest, so go slow and rest at the various lookouts.  Between markers 4 and 5, the trail is relatively exposed and particularly dangerous in icy conditions.  Once over the scramble, take a minute to enjoy the first major overlook.  You are now on top of the first layer of cliffs.

From here the trail grows steeper without break until marker 8  and the former Observer’s Cabin.  Take your time and watch your footing.

From the old Observer’s Cabin to the summit is far more relaxed with a very nice view of Whiteface and the High Peaks just shortly after the cabin.  You can walk this overlook for about 150 feet before regaining the trail.  This makes for a nice picnic spot if the open summit is too windy.

The summit can sometimes be very busy.  The eastern side of the summit contains additional, quieter overlooks with gorgeous views of Lake Champlain and Vermont.

Observer’s Trail (2.4 miles to summit):  Approximately a mile south of the campground/Ranger’s trailhead and double the length of the Ranger’s trail, the Observer’s trial is a significantly gentler hike.  Due to it’s roots as a jeep trail, the hike is wide with few washouts.  Unfortunately that comes at the cost of overlooks, but the trail does pass two beaver ponds before meeting the Ranger’s Trail at the Observer’s Cabin.

Camping and Outhouses

Located near the old Oberserver’s Cabin is the Upper Tiers lean-to.  This makes a good spot to camp to view the morning sunrise.   There are no other designated camping spots along the trail and given the steepness of the terrain there are few spots that make good legal site 150 feet from trail/water.

There is an outhouse located near the lean-to/Observer’s Cabin.  Marked with directional signs, it is located a short walk down the Observer’s Trail.

Owl’s Head Mountain and Fire Tower

A long, moderate hike to a remote fire tower.

At a height of only 2,780 feet and an easy and gentle 3.1 mile hike, Owl’s Head is an easy-to-moderate hike well worth the 360-degree views from the restored fire tower.  This is a modestly popular mountain, consider it on popular days to get away from the crowds at the nearby Blue Mountain Fire Tower.

Overview

The trail is wide and rolling hills for most of its way, only turning steep within the last mile. Wild flowers are abundant and 360 degree views from the top of Long Lake Village, Blue Mountain, Mt. Marcy, Racket Lake and more. The remains of the old observers cabin are along the trail below the summit.  The mountain is located in the Sargent Ponds Wild Forest, Hamilton County.

Owl's Head Trail Map
Owl’s Head Trail Map

Trails

Two routes are available.  Most use the Endion Road Trailhead while campers staying at the Lake Eaton State Campground can take the alternate trail starting at the campground and following the north side of the lake.  For those coming from the Endion Road Trailhead, there is also a quick side trip to Lake Eaton.

Endion Road Trailhead (3.1 miles to summit):  There is space for about 6 cars in the well-defined parking lot, with more space along the road if necessary. Be mindful of the blind corners/hills while parking. The sign-in register is at the edge of the parking lot, and within it are information pamphlets provided by the Friends of the Owl’s Head Fire Tower.

From the trailhead the trail follows an old jeep trail for most of the way, which means the trail is rather straight and wide compared most Adirondack trails. This makes for a quick hike.  After steadily hiking up about 100 feet in elevation, the trail rolls gently for the next two miles with the occasional bog bridge.  At mile 1.0, the intersection with the Lake Eaton Campground trail comes in from the right. Stay left for the fire tower, following the DEC signs.  About a quarter-mile following this intersection is another intersection with an old snowmobile trail.  A well-worn DEC sign marks the intersection.  Stay right for the summit.

At mile 2.1 the trail changes noticeably.  The trail begins growing steeper and meanders up several ravines.  After reaching the summit of this section, the trail goes up and over a false summit, or more accurately between two false summits.  The trail dips down about 80 feet in elevation to the remains of the old Observer’s Cabin.

From the former cabin, the trail noticeably narrows and steepens.  Three scrambles later the fire tower and summit will appear at once through the trees. The view is to the south-west from the partially open summit.  360 degree views are available from the fire tower.

Return the same way. Hiking Time: 3-4 hours at a relaxing pace.

Owl's Head Mountain Trail Elevation Profile
Owl’s Head Mountain Trail Elevation Profile

Two more informal intersections are near the Lake Eaton Intersection if you look for them closely.  South of the intersection there was a trail to Forked Lake.  North of the intersection is a heard path used by Lake Eaton campers looking for a shortcut to the summit.

Lake Eaton Campground Trailhead (6.0 miles to summit): Campers staying at the Lake Eaton State Campgrounds can hike directly from their campsite.  The trail follows the north shore and intersects with the main trail above.

The trail leaves campground between sites 27 and 28 (north side).  Taking a left at the snowmobile intersection and following the lake on a winter snowmobile trail.  The trail is wide and relatively flat.  It is 3.8 miles to the trail intersection mentioned above.  Use directions above from here.

Return the same way. Hiking Time: 5-6 hours at a relaxing pace.

Lake Eaton Side Trip: If traveling from the primary Endion Road Trailhead, Lake Eaton is a brief 0.25 mile side trip.  The trail leads to the undeveloped side of the lake (far from the campground) and an opening provides a nice spot to picnic or take a quick swim.  Follow signs at trail intersection, return same way. Trail is wide and relatively flat.

Return the same way.  Side trip time: 20 minutes

History

Following extensive forest fires in 1903 (428,180 acres) and 1908 (368,000 acres), a lookout station was established in 1911.  First a wooden tower erected by the Commission Corps in September of 1911, followed by the current 35′ steel Aermotor LS40 tower in 1919. Observers originally stayed in tents until the Observer’s Cabin was built below the summit, the latest being built in 1929.  A phone line ran up the mountain (the small poles still visible along the trail, many hanging trail makers).

Aerial detection by planes and radar have replaced the need (cost) for manning fire towers across the state. The tower closed at the end of the 1970 season and the Observer’s Cabin was burned in 1979 as “non-conforming” to the natural state of the forest. The bottom set of stairs were removed as well to prevent access to the tower.

The late 1990s and early 2000s, 30 years since being closed, left the tower in disrepair. Many towers across the state faced the same issue, either maintain them or tear them town. Like many towers local groups gather together to save the tower and in 2004 the tower was resurfaced with new paint and wood.

The tower by Steel Aermotor LS40 tower stands 35 feet from the top of the concrete footers to the bottom of the 7×7-foot observation cab.  There are 5 sets of stairs, with recently updated wood, paint and fencing.

See also

  • The Adirondack Fire Tower Challenge
  • Long Lake
  • Lake Eaton Campground

Trailhead Directions

From South/East: From Blue Mountain Lake, take State Route State Route 30 north towards Long Lake.  The mountain is visible on the left across Long Lake shortly after the sharp right turn when long lake becomes visible.  Following State Route 30 through town (turn left before Stewart’s) and across the Long Lake Bridge.  From the bridge crossing it is 0.7 miles to Endion Road.  Turn left on Endion Road and the trailhead is clearly on the right at 1.5 miles.

From North: Driving south on State Route 30 from Tupper Lake, you pass Lake Eaton Campground (1.5 miles before turn), and turn right on Endion Road.  If you hit gas station, you went too far.  Once on Endion Road it is 1.5 miles to the clearly marked trailhead.

GPS Address: Endion Rd, Long Lake, NY 12847 ‎

Camping

No designated sites along the trail or on summit. Either create a legal site in the woods (150 feet from trail and water) stay at nearby Lake Eaton State Campground.

Kids

The hike is relatively easy and most kids will not have serious difficulty with it. There are only a few cliff ledges and scrambles.  Caution should be exercised if climbing the fire tower.

Pets

Bring them. It is a moderate hike with few cliffs and scrambles.

What to bring

Water, lunch and a jacket for the summit

Winter Concerns

The hike into the fire tower is relatively flat and protected, which makes it an ideal winter snowshoe or ski.  The final push to the summit from the former Observer’s Cabin leads to three icy scrambles.  Crampons are needed here or an alterative path through the woods should be followed.  The tower is open year round, but can be very icy.  Use caution if attempting to climb.

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