Tag Archives: Hiking

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!

Bear Canisters: A Buyers and Renters Guide

Bears are strong, curious, smart and hungry.  It was once a safe bet to hang your food in a tree, but curiosity and intelligence taught bears that “rope = food” — your food!  The next evolution of bear defence was necessary, the bear canister.

Why use a bear canister?

No one benefits from bears getting your food – you have to pack out sooner than expected and the bears begin to rely on human food.  This lead to serious overcrowding of bears and higher than normal bear-human encounters.  Worse yet, bears were more sensitive to starvation since the peak season of camping ends in late August…well before the winter hibernation.

So, use a bear canister to protect your food and to protect the bears.  This helps you on your trip, everyone on future trips and for the long-term management of the bear population.

When to (and not to) use a Bear Canister

First, canisters are required while camping in the Eastern High Peaks Zone for all food, food containers, and toiletries (April 1st – November 30th).  In general outside the high peaks, they are useful on camping trips when bears are out of hibernation.  They protect your food from bears and also from smaller, pack-chewing rodents (field mice!).

  • They are only required if you are camping overnight – not on day hikes.
  • Camping an island far from mainland – this one is your call.  I’d still hang my food to protect from smaller animals and mice.

What to look for in a bear canister

There are a handful of manufacturers of bear canisters, with nearly a dozen models, so what should you look for?

  • Size: How much food do you need to carry? One person’s food or two?  How long?  Containers come in sizes for 2-3 days, 4-5 days and 6-7 days.  Your canister needs to be large enough for your longest outing, times two if you will have food for two people. Expert Tip: You do not need your first day’s food to fit in the bear canister since you will eat it before nightfall.
  • Weight: The big drawback of bear canisters are they are HEAVY.  Small canisters weigh about 2 pounds while larger ones weigh over 3 pounds.  Consider the weight carefully when purchasing.  If you can deal with the small size, the 3-day Bare Boxer Contender is the absolute lightest on the market at 1.6 pounds.
  • Ease of use: What is required to open the canister? Tools or just your hands.  This is a major benefit of BearVaults, since they open relatively easily without tools.  Others require having a screw driver-like tool with you.
  • Translucent or Black Sides: Transparent sides make it really easy to grab something from the bottom of your canister.  Black sides make it very difficult to see what is inside since your only viewpoint is through a small opening.  Worse, once your hand is in the opening, little light makes it in either.  Some mention that the clear canisters can heat up in the sun, which is true, but so do the all-black canisters.    Don’t let this bother you, no matter your canister, keep it out of the sun.
  • Hard or Soft sides:  Your vision of a bear canisters is likely the rigid-sided variety, but there are also soft-sided models available.  Ursack makes a canister out of bullet-proof fabric that prevents bears from getting at your food.  The benefit of the Ursack is that it is lighter and packs easily since it is flexible.  The downside is that the bear cannot eat your food, but will squish your food, slobber all over it, and make it essentially inedible.  This means you will have to leave the back country early to get more food.  For this reason the Eastern High Peaks Zone requires a hard-sided canister.
  • Cost: Most canisters range from $60 to $100, but the carbon fiber Wild Ideas Expedition costs $300!  Our suggestion is to look at the $60 – $100 canisters and chose the one that works best for you.  The good news is they all will last a long time, after all they are designed to be bear-proof so how can you break them?

Smaller Models – 2-4 Days

There are four models designed for a weekend (ordered by size):

Bare Boxers Contender ($55+s/h, 1.6 lb): The smallest and lightest bear canister.  This makes a great weekend canister if you can pack carefully. More…

Lighter1 Lil’ Sami ($85+s/h, 1.8 lb): A creative design that combines a bear canister and pan into a single item.

BearVault BV450 ($67 locally, 2.1 lb): A smaller version of the popular BV500 designed for 3 days worth of food.  BearVaults are the only canisters that do not need to use a tool.  See the note below on the BearVault Brand.

UDAP No-Fed Bear ($70+s/h, 2.4 lb):  In essence a larger model of the Bare Boxer contender, but smaller than the Garcia Backpacker’s Cache.

Wild Ideas Scout ($232+s/h, 1.8 lb): Made out of carbon fiber, this canister is both light and large (nearly twice the size of the bare boxer).  This comes at a price though – $232.  Factory direct rentals available by mail.  More info

Larger Models – 5-7 Days

Bare Boxer Champ ($70 + s/h, 2.7 lb): A larger version of the Bare Boxer above – difficult to find.

Backpacker’s Cache Garcia Model 812 ($70 locally, 2.7 lb): A proven, time-tested bear canister that is also extremely popular as a rental.  Available a most local retail outlets.

Wild Ideas Weekender ($249 + s/h, 1.9 lb): A larger version of the carbon fiber scout.  Very lightweight of its size, but expensive too! Factory direct rentals available by mail.

Lighter1 Big Daddy ($90 + s/h, 2.7 lb): A larger version of the Lil’ Sami, this unique design has a lid that doubles as a pan.

BearVault BV500 ($80, 2.6 lb): Clear with a wide opening…this was a popular canister that competed in popularity with the Garcia.  BearVaults are the only canisters that do not need to use a tool.   Unfortunately its security came into question and local retailers stopped carrying it.  See the note below on the BearVault Brand.

Counter Assault Bear Keg ($80, 3.5 lb): Similar to the Garcia, but slightly larger and heavier.  If you do not need the extra size, stick with the popular Garcia.

Wild Ideas Expedition ($300,  2.3 lb): Lightweight carbon fiber makes this huge canister easy to carry.  It is 50% larger than Garcia, but nearly a half pound lighter than the Garcia!  The price tag though makes this only for the most serious large group hikers.  Factory direct rentals available by mail.

Renting – Vendors, Considerations and Costs

Renting a bear canister for a 1-weekend per year trip can be a significant cost saver.  Most outdoor stores rent them by the day, weekend and/or week.

Vendors include nearly every outdoor store in the Adirondacks, Interpretive Centers (north and south side of high peaks), plus nearly every EMS store outside the park.  Call ahead to reserve it and updated rental prices.  Standard prices are around $5/day, but cost varies widely.  Call ahead to reserve and for more details.

Another consider to keep in mind is that you need to pick up and drop off the canisters when the stores are open.  This might mean starting your trip later in the day or arriving the previous night early enough to get to a store before closing.  Also consider the extra cost of gas/mileage and time before making your decision to rent rather than purchase.

Locations:

  • The Mountaineer (Keene Valley): $3 per night
  • High Peaks Interpetive Center (ADK Loj): $5 for 2 nights, $10 for 3-4 nights, $15 for 5-6 nights, $20 for 7+ nights.
  • Cloudsplitter (Newcomb): $5 first night, then $3 for each additional night
  • Adirondack Buffalo Company (North Hudson): $5 per night
  • Hoss’s (Long Lake): $5 per night
  • Blue Line Sports (Saranac lake)
  • Adirondacks Interpretive Center (Newcomb)
  • EMS Stores: Price varies but is generally more expensive than above.

Please add a comment below or mail [email protected] for any list updates.

BearVault Issues

Talk about bear canisters with someone and you might hear stories of ingenious bears breaking into bear canisters, and how BearVault canisters are “illegal” in the Adirondacks.  Let’s set the facts straight (as of Spring 2014).

The BearVault line-up of bear canisters revolutionized the bear canister market in the early 2000s.  The clear sides, huge opening  and no need for a tool to open it are big improvements over the Backpacker’s Cache Garcia, which is the otherwise most popular canister on the market.

Fast forward to 2007 and enter a skittish, tiny 125-pound bear named Yellow-Yellow, named for her two yellow DEC ear tags.  Through trial and error she learned to open the canisters much like a human would.  Utilizing her incisor tooth, she pushed the stop bump and spin the lid open.

This caused quite the commotion for five years, which mythical stores abound.  Was she the only bear? Did she teach her cubs to open the canisters?  False reports of bears opening improperly closed canisters.  Yellow-Yellow is a legend.

She died in fall 2012 and since then there have been no known bear break-ins of BearVaults in the Adirondacks.  Therefore BearVaults no longer carry the warning in the high peaks.

Most local outlets no longer sell the BearVaults, so finding one is difficult, but you have an old one or are given one from a friend/relative for a trip, go ahead and use it.

Other Thoughts

  • Use it as a stool!
  • Do not attach anything to the canister.  For example if you wrap a strap around the canister, a bear will happily pick it up and walk away with it.
  • Consider how you will carry the canister when purchasing.  In the pack? Outside the pack?  They are large and can be difficult to carry.  Some carrying bags are available to make it easier to strap to the outside of your pack.
  • A benefit of the hard-sided canister, compared to a soft-sided canister like a Ursack, is that your food will not get squished and force you to leave the back country early.

Porter Mountain

The second easiest High Peak.

Porter Mountain is the  38th highest peak at 4,059 feet, with a 2.2 mile trail and 1,940 feet elevation gain to an open summit with 360-degree panoramic views of other High Peaks.

Trail

Trailhead (2.8 miles to summit – 2,000′ elevation gain) The trailhead begins just north of Upper Cascade Lake on Route 73.  From the road, the trail dips briefly before starting the ascent to the summit.

Once the trail begins climbing, the trail consistently gains elevation the entire hike up.  Just before the summit of Cascade Mountain (0.2 before the summit) there is a trail junction.  The left trail heads to the summit of Cascade and right trail heads to Porter.  Keep right for Porter’s summit.

The trail dips down before the final push to Porter’s summit.  Porter’s summit is narrow and long.  There is not a single place with 360-degree panoramic views, but multiple overlooks that offer great views.

Return the same way.  Hiking Time: 2-3 hours due to the elevation gain.  Less if you are comfortable hiking at such a steep grade.

Cascade and Porter Mountain Map (west)
Cascade and Porter Mountain Map (Download PDF)

Other notes:

  • Consider taking the side trip to Cascade Mountain.  It is only an extra 0.4 miles, and you are already near 4,000 feet, so there is little elevation gain.
  • No camping or fires allowed above 4,000 feet.

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: 44.218, Longitude: -73.887

Camping

No designated sites along the trail or on summit.  Create a legal site in the woods if you wish to spend the night (150 feet from trail and water).

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.

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

The summit is very exposed.  Extra wind protection and crampons are suggested.

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.

NOTICE: As of May 2017, the fire tower was found structurally unsafe and both the trail and tower are closed for the foreseeable future.  This is in addition to the closure of the tower itself in December 2016.

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.

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!