Stissing Mountain is part of the Thompson Pond Nature Preserve and it has an elevation of 1,492-feet. According to Legend, Stissing is named for Tishasink, a Mahican (Eastern Algonquian Native American) who lived in the notch between Stissing and Little Stissing mountains. The trail to the fire tower is a short, steep, and rocky 1.5-mile trip that climbs almost 1,000-feet.
Begin your journey at the trailhead off of Lake Road, in Pine Plains, New York. The first part of the trail follows a moderate incline that sometimes doubles as a seasonal brook. An old road intersects the path shortly up the hill. It then turns south and continues to a two-way split in the trail. Take the left path for the quickest route to the top. (The right path offers a slightly longer and less steep route and another return option.) Unfortunately, there are very few markers, so it is sometimes difficult to identify the proper route. However, small arrows and rock stacks are scattered along the way, and it is fairly easy to see the signs of other people.
Upon reaching the summit you will be greeted by a massive 90-foot fire tower, one that is much taller than the other fire towers throughout the region, which are typically 60 feet or less. Many fire tower cabs are closed to the public, but this one is accessible. There is a roof on top, but the absence of windows makes this a very windy lookout. Climb up the stairs and gaze in all directions to see other nearby mountain ranges like the Shawangunks (southwest), Catskills (west), Taconic Ridge (east), and Mount Washington State Forest (northeast).
Stissing Mountain is composed of erosion resistant, pre-Cambrian gneiss that represents some of the Earth’s oldest surface rock. It is situated within a relatively flat peripheral plain of softer sandstones worn down 15,000 years ago. Below, the wetlands are the watershed headwaters for the Wappingers Creek.
This 507-acre Thomspon Pond Nature Preserve is managed by The Nature Conservatory and protected for its biological importance and for scientific and educational use. There are more than 387 species of plants in the preserve including pipewort, round-leaved sundew, St. Johnswort and cattails. The surrounding woods include oak, sugar maple, ash, hemlock, and hickory. Over 162 species of birds have been spotted here along with 27 types of mammals. Many adventurers like to combine this trip with Thompson Pond, a National Natural Landmark, and fantastic wildlife observation location just down the road.
The preserve is open from dawn until dusk, and dogs are not allowed. Picnicking, camping, and fires are prohibited as well as hunting, trapping, and fishing. The tower is maintained by Friends of Stissing Landmarks, a non-profit organization created to save and preserve the tower for public enjoyment.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.