For nearly 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 New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, 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 each serves as a monument to forest protection throughout the state.
Today they are managed by the Catskill Center, which opens up the cabins and tower in the summer months for visitors to enjoy. If you are interested in volunteering on the Catskill Fire Tower Project, please complete the volunteer form. Challenge yourself to visit them all!
Hunter Mountain has a peak that’s 4,040 feet in elevation. It’s just short of the tallest summit in the region, second only to Slide Mountain (4,180 feet). Located in Greene County, it has hosted a fire tower for over a century with incredible 360-degree views that reach out to and beyond the Catskill Mountains. The blue-blazed Becker Hollow Trail is the steepest path to the summit; it's roughly a 5-mile round-trip hike that gains over 2,200 feet in elevation.
Overlook Mountain is positioned in Woodstock as the gateway to the nearly 1-million-acre Catskill Forest Preserve. While it falls short of the 3,500-foot Catskill High Peaks, its historical and spiritual significance give this 3,140-foot summit a special value to the local community. Embrace this southeast limit of the Catskills that uniquely stands like a fortress wall against the backdrop of rounded mountaintops molded by glaciers 15,000 years ago. Local Native Americans once identified this place as a home to great spirits, and its location provides an excellent outdoor opportunity for young explorers as well as experienced adventurers.
Red Hill is a 2,990-foot mountain nestled in the Neversink Highlands and the Sundown Wild Forest. This 27,000-acre parcel forms the southeasterly border of the Catskill Park and acts as the Watershed divide between the Delaware and Hudson River basins. This peak’s fire tower stands 60-feet high and was constructed in 1921 to fill a missing link in the region’s forest fire detection network. It was the last staffed fire tower in the Catskills.
Balsam Lake Mountain is the 17th-highest peak in the Catskills, reaching 3,731 feet in elevation. At its summit there is a 47-foot fire tower that offers 360-degree views. It is located within the Balsam Lake Mountain Wild Forest, which consists of more than 13,500 acres and includes miles of hiking trails, lean-tos for camping, water bodies for canoeing, and streams for fishing. This mountain is located in Delaware County, and the trail follows the original fire road to the top.
Mount Tremper, previously called Timothy Berg, is located between Ashokan High Point and Overlook Mountain. This 2,740-foot summit is located near Phoenicia, New York, in the hamlet of Shandaken, and is primarily recognized for its industrious and commercial history in the 19th century before being purchased by New York State in the 20th century. The Dutch originally referred to this mountain as Oleberg, which means “oil mountain.” This could refer to the plentiful white walnut trees (the walnuts were pressed for oil) that once covered the land, or the oily sheen found within the local rock throughout the Catskills.