The Blue Mountain Fire Tower is perhaps one of the most well-known towers in the Adirondacks. Over 15,000 visitors flock to this mountain throughout the year to experience its stunning 360-degree views over the surrounding Adirondack landscape. The trail to the summit is a 4.2-mile round-trip route that climbs a little over 1,500 feet, with picturesque views that are well worth the climb.
A sign for the trailhead can easily be seen on the right side of Route 28/30 while driving north. There is a fairly large parking area here, and note that there are two trailheads. The yellow-marked trail to the left of the parking area goes to Tirrel Pond, and the Blue Mountain path, with red trail markers, is the one on the right of the information kiosk and registration box.
The beginning of the path is set on a dirt road that was formerly used for logging. These lands are actually owned by Finch, Pruyn and Company, Inc., private landowners who grants public access to the trails in the area. From the start of the hike, there is a steady climb through pine trees and northern hardwoods as the path takes on a rough characteristic with large roots and rocks. This continues until you are about halfway up the mountain. A series of extended wooden planks will provide some stability for your footing as you rise and dip over a few minor ridges.
In the hike's second mile, the climb steepens. The path is still wide, but the rocks you will have to scramble over become even larger. In some sections, there are intricate rock steps that have been built into the mountainside to help you along your way. At times there are long and large slabs of bedrock that the trail has been worn down to. These flat sections of rock can be very slippery with even the least bit of moisture, so watch your step! Take a moment to look back down the hill as you climb up. In parts you can just make out a view down to Blue Mountain Lake appearing over the tree line.
In the final quarter mile, the path levels off with a gentle approach to the summit. A serene walk through a forest of scented pines will lead you to a large clearing and the 35-foot steel Aerometer tower. There is a wide gravel road that approaches the mountain opposite to this area, but it is privately owned and restricted to the public. Large concrete slab foundations serve as a reminder of the military radar station that was once located here during the Cold War.
Climb the steps of the fire tower to take in the expansive views of the surrounding landscape. You will have to look past various radio towers and communication structures used by local emergency and enforcement agencies, but beyond that, large lakes, marshes and ponds stretch off into the distance, creating a serene blend of land and water. Some of the nearby peaks include Tirrell Mountain, Tongue Mountain, Vanderwhacker Mountain, and Kempshall Mountain, among many of the high peaks. Once you have absorbed enough of the splendid views, return back down the mountain on the same trail.
Blue Mountain’s prominence over the region made it an ideal place for an observation station. Like the other towers of the region, the original structure was constructed in 1911 and built out of wood logs. In 1917, it was replaced with the current Aeromotor LL‐25 Fire Tower by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). One of the last operating fire towers in the state, it was closed in 1990.
In 1994 the DEC, along with various support groups, restored the tower and opened it to the public. Access to the tower was permitted through the first public-private preservation partnership, which has served as a model for similar tower restorations across the state. Today, Blue Mountain Fire Tower is a part of the National Historic Lookout Register and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Friends of Blue Mountain continues to lead restoration efforts and watch over this regional icon.
For almost a century, observers staffed more than 100 fire towers throughout New York State, located primarily on the highest peaks in the Catskill and Adirondack regions. This was in response to the intense logging and tannin harvesting operations that would leave virgin forest barren, dried, and very susceptible to fire. Rangers would often reside in nearby cabins while keeping a regular lookout for smoke and flames throughout the surrounding valleys. If a fire was spotted, a message was sent to the nearby town and the location of the suspected fire would be triangulated and confirmed by other fire towers in the area.
Beginning in the 1980s the towers were systematically closed as monitoring from planes became more cost-effective. Some towers have been dismantled, others remain in disrepair, while a select few have been revitalized by the DEC, or purchased and renovated by the general public. Restorations continue throughout the state and there are many assistance programs you can join to help support and maintain these historic icons. Each tower offers a new and unique perspective of New York, and serves as a monument to forest protection throughout the state. Challenge yourself to visit them all!