AMC Outdoors Web Exclusive, April 2002
Do you like the added motivation of a breathtaking vista to get you to the top of a mountain? In addition to providing vantage points for spotting conflagrations, fire towers are great lookouts that reward hikers with super views.
Fire towers, or "lookouts," originated out West during the 19th century. The first lookout in the East was reportedly built on Maine's Squaw Mountain in 1905, though some historians believe New Hampshire's Croydon Station fire tower may have been erected at least two years earlier. And while the great majority of the towers constructed in the first half of the 20th century were either destroyed or dismantled, many remain. Some are still used, while others have been donated for public enjoyment.
We've highlighted a few towers that you can check out yourself...
Mount Olga Fire Tower
The View: Perched high in southern Vermont, this tower offers a view of four states: Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and New York, and, with its location in the Green Mountains, is a great place to gaze down on awesome fall foliage. One of the coolest things to see from this tower is the stars on a moonless night, but you'll have to stay overnight at the park's campground to experience this, as the park is closed to others at night.
Getting There: Molly Stark State Park is on Route 9 East in Wilmington, Vt. (near Brattleboro). The Mount Olga Trail, a moderately strenuous loop trail, leads from the park's Ranger Station to the tower.
When to Go: Molly Stark State Park is open from mid-May to mid-October.
For More Information: Call 800-299-3071 or check out the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation's Molly Stark State Park Website.
Mount Cardigan Fire Tower
The View: Situated above treeline atop the rocky peak of 3,121-foot Old Baldy, this tower offers sweeping 360-degree views. Highlights include the White Mountains, particularly 4,680-foot Mount Carrigain and 6,288-foot Mount Washington, Mount Sunapee to the south, Newfound Lake, and even Vermont on clear days.
Getting There: Hikers have a number of trail choices from the AMC's Cardigan Lodge on the eastern boundary of the park, the most popular being the steep Holt Trail and the meandering Manning Trail (which winds around nearby Firescrew Mountain). (See our online directions to Cardigan Lodge.)
When to Go: The "cab" at the top of the tower is generally staffed from April through October, depending on fire risk conditions. Call the New Hampshire Division of Forests and Lands at the number below before you go to make sure that the cab will be open to visitors.
For More Information: Contact the New Hampshire Division of Forests and Lands at 603-271-2217 or check out the division's Website.
Hunter Mountain Fire Tower
The View: A 60-foot tower atop a 4,040-foot mountain, this tower is the highest in the state of New York, affording spectacular views of the North Black Head Range, the Hudson River Valley, and — on a clear day — all of the Catskills.
Getting There: The Hunter Mountain Wild Forest can be accessed from N.Y. Route 214. Many trails lead to this tower, including a very steep one, the Becker Hollow Trail, which begins at a trailhead on Route 214, just north of Devil's Tombstone Campground. The Spruceton Trail is an easier, though longer, route. To get to the Spruceton Trailhead, take Route 42 to Spruceton Road in West Kill, then drive 6.7 miles to the parking lot.
When to Go: The tower is open year-round. The "cab" at the top is only open when staff are present, but the stairs and lower platforms are open at all times.
For More Information: Call the DEC's Forest Preserve Management Office at 607-652-7365, or check out the New York Dept. of Environmental Conservation's Hunter Mountain Wild Forest Website.
Dover Fire Tower
The View: From the 60-foot Dover Fire Tower, a.k.a. the Ralph MacAllister Tower, on a clear day visitors can see Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire, the rolling hills near Hartford, Conn., the Boston skyline and Boston Harbor islands, and Mount Ascutney in Vermont. The view of Maine to the north, ironically, is blocked by Boston.
Getting There: To get to Dover, take Route 109 into the center of Medfield, Mass. Turn right on North Street, then right again onto Pine Street just after the fire station. Take Pine Street for approximately 3 miles until you see the sign for the Ralph MacAllister Snow Hill Fire Tower. The dirt road that leads to the tower and scout camp is criss-crossed by a number of walking trails.
When to Go: The tower is generally open from March to October. The public is welcome to visit, except on days when weather conditions create a high risk of fire. Call the Fire Warden's office the day before you wish to go to make sure that you will be able to go up (508-543-5850). In the fall, the tower offers beautiful views of bright red and yellow foliage.
For More Information: Contact the Norfolk County District Fire Warden's office at 508-543-5850.
Bearfort Mountain Fire Tower
The View: This 68-foot tall fire tower, built in 1934, offers panoramic views of the Highlands, which include some of the oldest rock formations in the Appalachian Range, sugar maples that explode with color in autumn, plus white pine, chestnut oak, and sweet birch. Vistas also include Cedar Pond and the New York City skyline. Hawk sightings are common, especially in the fall.
Getting There: This tower can be accessed by a brisk hike of just under two miles along the ridgelines of the Highlands Trail. Take I-80 to I-287 North to N.J. Route 23 North. Turn right at Union Valley road, then right onto Gould Road (3.3 miles). Access to the Highlands Trail is roughly a third of a mile on the north side of the road.
When to Go: The tower is open year-round, but a hiking permit is required. Call the Newark Watershed at the number below.
For More Information: Call the Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corporation at 973-697-2850. The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference (212-685-9699) offers maps and a description of the Highlands Trail.
Also, try an Adirondack Mountain Club book, Views from on High: Fire Tower Trails in the Adirondacks and Catskills, which describes 28 fire tower trails (1-800-395-8080; $10.95).