As the days become shorter and the nights cool, trees blush as summer green drains from their leaves. Autumn triggers apple picking, county fairs, and weekends spent tramping through dappled woods in search of foliage-studded vistas. Fire lookouts, once used for spotting smoke and flames, are now vantage points for spying the vibrant oranges, reds, and yellows of the hardwood forests that encircle them. The seven hikes that follow lead to unfettered, bird’s-eye views of autumn’s display.
Mount Agamenticus Lookout
The largest tract of intact coastal forest between Acadia National Park and the New Jersey Pine Barrens can be surveyed from the tower on 691-foot Mount Agamenticus. Look for the yellow and brown foliage of shagbark hickory and chestnut oak, trees at the northern end of their range, before spying the Atlantic Ocean or the faint outline of the White Mountains. Several multi-use trails and a paved road lead to the summit. Take the Ring and Witch Hazel trails through a knitted canopy of color overhead.
Kearsarge North Tower
The hike on the Mount Kearsarge North Trail to the summit, also called Mount Pequawket, is a moderate ascent swaddled in trees until the summit’s ledges are reached. At 3,268 feet, the views then rival those on many of the area’s higher peaks. From the wooden fire tower’s balcony, the Presidentials dominate the horizon to the north, while smaller peaks, like Mount Chocorua and the Moat Mountains to the south and west, are no less vibrant while cloaked in the colors of fall.
Moore’s Hill Fire Tower
Fifteen miles of mixed-use trails snake through Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) State Forest in the Berkshires. Several of these trails lead to the fire tower on 1,697-foot Moore’s Hill, which looks out upon green conifer forests bundled with their more bedazzling northern hardwood cousins. Views include the lush Connecticut River Valley, its farmlands, fields, and forest, southward into Connecticut and northward into New Hampshire.
Distance: From 1 to 2 miles, depending upon trail selection
Info: Massachusetts Trail Guide, 8th ed. (AMC Books)
Soapstone Mountain Lookout
Red maples, red oak, and gray birch display a rich palette of colors in Shenipsit State Park. Eastern Connecticut’s only public observation tower sits on 1,075-foot Soapstone Mountain, just a 30-minute drive from Hartford. Tower views include the Connecticut River Valley and Mounts Greylock and Monadnock. There is a road to the summit, but several easy to moderate trails pass under the forest canopy. Park at Gulf Road and take the blue-blazed Shenipsit Trail to the tower for a short, scenic hike.
Distance: 1 mile round-trip (longer routes available)
Info: Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection; Connecticut Walk Book East, 19th ed. (Connecticut Forest and Parks Assoc.)
Sterling Forest Lookout
The site of more than a century of iron ore mining, Sterling Forest State Park is now 20,000 acres of protected hardwood forests and wetlands. Mining ruins are abundant, but the fire tower is the true gem. Accessible when a forest ranger is present, the fire tower reveals 360-degree views of now-undisturbed forests and lakes and horizons shaped by the Catskills and the New York City skyline. Begin on the Sterling Lake Loop Trail to the Fire Tower Trail. Return on the Sterling Ridge and Sterling Valley trails.
Distance: 7.5 miles
Info: AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the Catskills & Hudson Valley (AMC Books); Sterling Forest State Park Visitor Center, 845-351-5907
Apple Pie Hill Fire Tower
A knob rising above 2,250 square miles of unbroken wildlands, 205-foot Apple Pie Hill is the highest point in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. A 60-foot fire tower sits atop the hill and overlooks a vast, level sea of pine and oak forests, laced with cranberry and cedar bogs, that laps at the horizon’s edge. Take the Batona Trail from the Carranza Memorial to reach the tower. The trail is viewless but watch for fragrant water lily blossoms and other plant life as you meander through dense cedar swamps.
Distance: 8 miles
Info: Nature Walks in New Jersey, 2nd ed. (AMC Books); Batona Hiking Club
Snowy Mountain Fire Tower
South Mountain, Pa.
Michaux State Forest, once heavily logged for charcoal, is now a second-growth forest that includes stands of ash, poplar, and oak. Thirty-nine miles of the Appalachian Trail pass through this forest, skirting the steel fire tower atop 2,064-foot Snowy Mountain. Pick up the AT at the Old Forge picnic grounds and stop 2 miles in at Chimney Rocks for quartzite cliffs and substantial valley views. The fire tower, another 2 miles north, looks out on the town of South Mountain and the ridges and woodlands around it.
Distance: 4 miles
Info: Pa. Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources