If you’re looking for a fun adventure this year, join the Catskills Fire Tower Challenge! We did the challenge last year in the summer and completed it in two days. This time we did it in the winter but took our time completing them. So, what exactly is this fire tower challenge? For almost a hundred years, forest watchers would observe and look out for fires in the NY State forests. This includes the Catskills and Andirondacks. Fire observers were also given a new duty during WWII. Their new role was being Enemy Aircraft Spotters. By 1980s the DEC started to phase out fire spotters. By 1990, all the 19 Catskill fire towers were closed.
Once they started to deteriorate, volunteers started to initiate a move to keep the towers restored. Not only would they help keep the history alive, they would help boost tourism in the communities. Thanks to the efforts of these people, including DEC staff and local government officials, a lot of the towers in the Catskills and Andirondacks were restored. Now, we can all enjoy the six Catskill fire towers and 25 in the Andirondacks.
The Six Towers
Right now, there are six Catskill Fire Towers that you can visit and need to complete in order to get your badge. Once you complete all six towers between the first of January until December 31, 2022, you need to fill out the form and send it in by January 7, 2023. The six Catskills Fire Tower Challenge are:
Balsam Lake Mountain Fire Observation
This was the first fire tower that was built in the Catskills in 1887. It was a wooden tower which was rebuilt in 1905. Then in 1919 it was replaced by a steel tower that we see today. It was closed in 1988 and reopened to the public in 2000. Balsam Lake Mountain fire tower has elevation of 3,723 feet. In my opinion, this was one of the easier tower challenges. Round trip was a little over six miles.Hiking Balsam Fire Tower YouTube Video
Hunter Mountain Tower
Hunter Mountain fire tower was built in 1909 out of logs and stood at 40 feet tall. In 1917 it was rebuilt out of steel, standing 20 feet higher than the previous tower. The tower was originally placed at 4,000 ft elevation but it was moved in 1953, and stands at 4,040 ft now. This was probably the hardest of the fire tower challenges for me. We climbed from the camp site parking lot and our round trip was a little over eight miles.Hiking Hunter Fire Tower YouTube Video
Tremper Mountain fire tower was built in 1917 and used until 1971. The 47 foot tall tower sits at 2,740 feet in elevation and is a little over six miles hike, round trip. In the summer I complained about this hike but it was a steady and easy incline during winter.Hiking Mt. Tremper Fire Tower YouTube Video
The Red Hill fire tower is an impressive 60 feet tall structure and was built in 1921. It stands at 2,990 feet elevation and was a nice short four mile hike round trip. We parked at the new parking area and climbed the steep climb up into the woods. The trail is challenging and we chose a really cold day but it was fun.Hiking Red Hill Fire Tower YouTube Video
Overlook Mountain tower was first constructed in 1927 and placed on Gallis Hill. It was moved to it’s resting location in 1950 and stands at 3,140 feet. I feel like these three miles to Overlook tower are challenging since it’s all an uphill. But the good news it’s all downhill and you get to walk through what could have been a magical hotel, once again-again.Hiking Overlook Fire Tower YouTube Video
Upper Esopus is a newly reconstructed tower. It was complete and open to the public in 2019 at Catskills Visitors Center. While not a lot of information is known about the tower, it came from Venice, Florida. It’s estimated that the tower was built around 1940s. This Catskill fire tower challenge does not require any mountain climbing. You could enjoy the short loop trail across the visitors center or climb up the steep trail to the picnic tables and sunset views.Hiking Upper Esopus Fire Tower YouTube Video