In the news today, it is common to hear about forest fires ripping through the midwestern and western states, but you rarely hear similar stories from the eastern side of the country. While the Adirondack Park has seen its fair share of devestating fires, their frequency and scale have been minimal in recent memory.
This can largely be attributed to measures that were put in place in the early 1900s after the region was threatened by some seriously destructive blazes.
Two “great fires” in 1903 and 1908 charred almost 1 million acres of Adirondack forest. They were the worst in a long line of conflagrations that broke out during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and they caused New York State to re-think its fire prevention and containment strategies.
In response, New York established fire districts complete with superintendents and patrolmen whose job it was to detect fires early and extinguish them efficiently. To simplify the detection process, fire towers were built on the top of mountains, which allowed trained observers to pinpoint the location of fires in the distance and alert those on the ground.
The first fire tower was erected in 1909 atop Mount Morris. It was constructed from logs, and similar towers went up on the summits of Gore, Hamilton, Whiteface, West, and Snowy that same year.
As more towers were built, observation stations were also constructed, with the first being built on Poke-O-Moonshine in 1912. These enclosed and covered spaces atop the towers provided observers with more protection from the elements while they scoured the horizon line for smoke.
Steel towers replaced the log structures in 1916, and were typically built between 40 and 70 feet tall. The observation stations contained a circular map of the Adirondacks and a pointer tool that enabled the observer to identify exactly where smoke was coming from. The stations also contained a telephone with which the observer would call to alert fire departments.
In addition to the towers, New York State also established a full-time brigade of Forest Rangers and Fire Observers who became integral pieces to the fire prevention and detection puzzle.
More than 120 fire towers were erected throughout New York State, with 57 of those standing within the Blue Line. The system worked wonderfully until the 1970s when use of aircraft to spot fires became more desirable and more cost effective than maintaining and manning the towers.
Staffing of the towers gradually decreased, and by 1990, none of those in the Adirondacks were actively used anymore. Some of the towers were torn down, while others stayed in place, but became rusted and unstable.
Hikers have been attracted to the fire towers over the years, and a hiking challenge was even established to encourage hikers to summit at least 18 of the fire tower peaks in the Adirondacks and 5 in the Catskills.
Of the 57 original steel Adirondack towers, 34 are still standing today. Groups that appreciate the historic significance of and breathtaking views from the towers have been working to restore the structures and make them safe and accessible to the public. Some of the peaks that have restored towers include Blue, Goodnow, Poke-O-Moonshine, Hadley, Kane, Snowy, and Mt. Arab.
In 2016, the Stillwater Fire Tower in the western Adirondacks was restored, along with a trail leading to the tower. Visitors are able to see amazing views of the High Peaks, Tug Hill, and Five Ponds Wilderness. Potential visitors should note that Stillwater Fire Tower is closed from October 11 through December 20 because of hunting season. The tower is on leased hunting club property, so hikers should not attempt to reach the tower during this time.
Other restorations are in progress, but the future of un-restored towers at this time appears to be grim.
Want more history? Learn about the mystery of Lake Placid’s Lady in the Lake »
You can find a lot of nasty things in the water when backpacking–water filtering systems are meant to eliminate most of these backcountry health risks. Just so you know what needs to be filtered out, here are some facts about diseases that come from drinking bad water:
“Giardia Lamblia” is a protozoan cyst that causes an intestinal infection known as giardiasis. Most people associate the sickness of giardia with severe diarrhea and they are correct in that assessment. Symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, pale and greasy stools, fatigue, bloating and weight loss. The onset of symptoms is usually immediate but it can take from 5-24 days for them to appear.
Historically, giardia was most commonly found in water flowing below beaver dams, and was given the name “beaver fever.” Giardia is now found in most bodies of water. The protozoa multiplies in numbers quickly, allowing the cyst to be easily transferred from one person to another.
Giardia is often unreported because its symptoms are similar to those of many other gastro-intestinal complaints. It is resistant to treatment by iodine and chlorine, and must be trapped by a water filter or killed with the newest chemical alternative, chlorine dioxide.
Cryptosporidiosis is a word that most people can%uFFFDt spell, so it is commonly shortened to crypto. Like giardia, it is caused by a parasite–“cryptosporidium partum.” It is much smaller than the protozoa that causes giardia, and is carried by livestock, wild animals, birds and humans.
Symptoms include the same gastro-intestinal maladies as giardia, but can also include headache, vomiting, and fever. It is resistant to iodine and chlorine. So, like Giardia, “crypto” must be filtered out or killed by chlorine dioxide.
Bacteria are microscopic one-celled organisms that most people know by the name of germs. Some are actually used by humans for good but others are causes of diseases. You cannot see bacteria just as you can not see parasites. Bacteria range in size from 0.2 to 10 microns.
Most bacterial infections are not life-threatening but do need to be treated with antibiotics. There are exceptions, however, and one, E. coli, has drawn attention and fear world-wide. E. coli is short for “Escherichia coli,” the name of a very large group of bacteria. There are many strains of E. coli but most of them are harmless. Some can cause diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory and other diseases. The E. coli reports that most people hear about refer to E. coli 0157, a kind of E. coli that causes infections by producing the Shiga toxin. E. coli that has its origin in untreated water is usually caused by animal or human feces.
In most countries and North America it is practically impossible to contract a virus from drinking water. That is why for most purposes, a water filter can meet the needs of backpackers. To become ill from a virus you would have to drink water contaminated by virus-borne human feces. This is not highly likely in the backcountry unless a human carrying a virus had personally defecated upstream.
Viruses from water are still common in poor, underdeveloped countries where sanitary conditions can be iffy at best. Other causes can be an untreated sewage plant, septic system, or a poorly placed outhouse. Viruses can only be killed by chlorine, iodine, by boiling water for 30 minutes, or by a water purifier. There are iodine and chlorine-based filters, and a newer design which uses ultra-violet light.
Note that for water filters and purifiers, 0.2 microns is the current EPA standard for removal of cysts, disease bacteria and viruses.
Some of your most important gear for a multiday hike (or any camping trip) is a sleeping bag and pad. While quality bags don’t have to break the bank, be sure to purchase a quality bag from a reputable outdoor retailer, as this will not be a bag for a child’s sleepover but an important piece of gear that could quite literally be a lifesaver.
When shopping for a sleeping bag, the main factors to consider are: rating, fill, and shape.
- Rating – When deciding what temperature rating to choose, make sure to give yourself at least 10 degrees leeway on the low end. So, if the average temperature for your favorite trail is 30 degrees at night, purchase a sleeping bag rated to at least 20 degrees.
- Fill – Bags are filled with either down or synthetic fill to keep you warm. Down is durable, light, and efficient but is useless when wet and is difficult to dry out. Synthetics are a bit heavier and don’t compact as well, but remain warm when wet. For moist, coastal regions, a synthetic fill bag, although slightly heavier, is usually a better choice.
- — Synthetic sleeping bags can be again divided into short fiber and continuous filament. Short fiber mimics down and is the preferred industry standard .
- — Down sleeping bags are classified by how many feathers are in a pound of the material used. For example, a bag with a 600 count has 600 down feathers in one pound. Higher quality bags have more insulating down plumage and fewer of larger, non-insulating feathers.
- Shape – most sleeping bags today are cut in what is called a “mummy” shape. This reduces weight and increases warmth. For people who may feel constrained in such a bag, rectangular bags are also available. Another alternative that’s growing in popularity is the sleeping quilt. These are based on the idea that since the bottom part of a traditional bag is compressed, its warming properties are lost. Therefore the bottom can be eliminated. These quilts save weight and typically wrap around your sleeping pad. If you’re considering this option, be sure you have a quality sleeping pad that is comfortable to sleep on.
Finally, while it seems like common sense, be sure that your sleeping bag fits. Nowadays, sleeping bags are made in a variety of shapes and sizes to fit men, women, tall people, and short people. If you want the best night’s sleep on the trail, get a bag that is comfortable to you.
Since significant heat can be lost through contact with cold ground do not underestimate the value of a good sleeping pad.
The cheapest and lightest pads are closed-cell foam pads. These pads are durable and can double as a quick seat during a brief rest on the trail or during a meal.
The alternative is an inflatable pad. Many hikers find these to be a little more “deluxe” than a closed-cell foam pad, providing a more comfortable sleeping surface. These can be heavier, however, and you must stay aware of your surroundings to avoid a puncture in the pad.
So take a hike, and be sure to sleep tight in a sleeping bag that meets your needs.
Adirondack Canoe Route/Northern Forest Canoe Trail
- The Adirondack Canoe Route is part of the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT) (leaves DEC website) which links the waterways of New York, Vermont, Québec, New Hampshire and Maine.
Adirondack Mountain Reserve (AMR) (aka Ausable Club)
- The Adirondack Mountain Reserve (link leaves DEC’s website) web page provides information about the unit and its recreational opportunities.
- The public easement agreement only allows for hiking on designated trails and roads. Do not trespass on AMR lands and waters or participate in any unauthorized activities. (2017)
- Dogs are prohibited on the AMR. (2017)
Boreas Ponds Tract
- Boreas Ponds Tract web page provides information on access and outdoor recreation opportunities available on these lands and waters including links to maps.
- An Interim Access Plan for the Boreas Ponds Tract identifies access and recreational opportunities (PDF 773 KB) that are available prior to the classification of the tract and development of a unit management plan.
- The lower gate on the Gulf Brook Road is open to public motor vehicle use. Gulf Brook Road provide access to three interior parking areas along the road. The Gulf Brook Road Upper Parking Area is near a gate that bars public motor vehicles use beyond the parking area. LaBier Flow is 2.5 miles beyond the gate and Boreas Ponds is 3.5 miles. (2017)
- The public is prohibited from trespassing in and around leased hunting camps. (2017)
High Peaks Wilderness
- The two trails through the Elk Lake Easement lands connecting to the High Peaks Wilderness and the Dix Mountain Wilderness, will be closed to the public beginning, Saturday, October 21. The trails will remain closed throughout the regular big game hunting season and reopen on Monday, December 4. (10/13)
- Cold Brook Trail is not a designated DEC trail and is not maintained. The trail has not been a designated trail since Tropical Storm Irene. (9/14)
- The trail across private lands to the summit of Owls Head is closed to public access on weekends. (2017)
- Lake Arnold/Feldspar Brook Trail wet and muddy but passable. (8/31)
- Store ALL food, toiletries, and garbage in bear resistant canisters. Bear resistant canisters are required in the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness and recommended throughout the Adirondacks. (2017)
- The high water bridge on the Calamity Brook Trail is unsafe and unusable and should not be crossed. Crossing Calamity Brook without using the bridge can be difficult – especially with high water levels. On rainy days water levels in the brook will be higher, plan accordingly. The East River Trail (aka the Opalescent River/Hanging Spear Falls Trail) can be used to access the Flowed Lands and Lake Colden. It is an additional 3.7 miles one-way to reach the Flowed Lands using this route. DEC will work to stabilize and repair the high water bridge later this season. (2017)
- Alternate routes using other trails in the area can be used to avoid the trail. DEC is working to find a permanent solution to this section of trail in the near future. (2016)
- The bridge over Ouluska Brook on the Northville-Placid Trail has collapsed into the brook. Due to low water conditions, crossing the brook is still possible. (2016)
- The Blueberry Horse Trail between the Calkins Creek Horse Trail and Ward Brook Horse Trail in the Western High Peaks contains extensive blowdown, is grown in with vegetation and is poorly marked. The trail is impassable to horses making it impossible to complete the Cold River Horse Trail Loop. DEC intends to work on the trail this fall. (2016)
- The high water bridge over Slide Mountain Brook on the Phelps Trail between the Garden and Johns Brook Lodge is broken and unusable. (2016)
- The use of wood burning stoves is prohibited in the Eastern High Peaks. The ban on campfires applies to any type of use of wood as fuel to protect the trees and other vegetation from being damaged. (2016)
- The first and second foot bridges on the Bradley Pond Trail has been damaged and are unusable. The stream can be forded /rock hopped most of time on the down stream side of the bridge sites. (2015)
- Many of the herd paths found on Mount Marshall and some of the other trail-less peaks meander around the slopes of the mountain without reaching the peak. Those climbing these peaks should navigate with a map and compass rather than follow the paths created by others. (2013)
- Fixed ropes, harnesses and other equipment are often abandoned in the Trap Dike. Due to the age, weatherizing and wearing of these materials they are unsafe and should never be used. (2012) The Calkins Creek Horse Trail has two bridges out, making it impassable for horse drawn wagons and difficult for horses. (2011)
Dix Mountain Wilderness
- The Dix Mountain Wilderness web page provides information about the unit and its recreational opportunities.
- The Boquet Lean-to on the Dix Mountain Round Pond Trail has been moved away from river and repaired by volunteers from the Adirondack 46ers (leaves DEC website). (2017)
Giant Mountain Wilderness
- The Giant Mountain Wilderness web page provides information about the unit and its recreational opportunities.
- A trail re-route has been constructed around the flooded area on the North Trail to Giant Mountain just past the lean-to. (2017)
Hurricane Mountain Wilderness
- The Hurricane Mountain Wilderness web page provides information about the unit and its recreational opportunities.
- Nothing to report.
Jay Mountain Wilderness
- The Jay Mountain Wilderness web page provides information about the unit and its recreational opportunities.
- Nothing to report.
McKenzie Mountain Wilderness
- The McKenzie Mountain Wilderness web page provides information about the unit and its recreational opportunities.
- Nothing to report.
- The Northville-Placid Trail Chapter (leaves DEC website) of the Adirondack Mountain Club provides the latest trail conditions and information for planning a hike on the trail – whether a through-hike, section-hike or weekend-hike.
- The bridge over Ouluska Brook has collapsed into the brook. Due to low water conditions, crossing the brook is still possible. (2017)
Sentinel Range Wilderness
- The Sentinel Range Wilderness web page provides information about the unit and its recreational opportunities.
- Beaver activity has flooded some parts of the Jack Rabbit Trail. (2017)
Click each of the fire tower names for detailed trail map and hiking guide, courtesy of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference.
BALSAM LAKE MOUNTAIN – TOWN OF HARDENBURGH – ELEVATION 3,723′
- History: The first fire tower on the top of a mountain in New York State was placed at the summit of Balsam Lake Mountain in 1887. The existing 47-foot tower was erected in 1919, closed in 1988 and reopened by the Catskill Fire Tower Project and the NYSDEC in 2000.
- Hiking Directions: Follow the blue-marked Dry Brook Ridge Trail located on Mill Brook Road outside the hamlet of Arkville 2.2 miles to the intersection with the Balsam Lake Mountain Trail. Follow the red-marked Balsam Lake Mountain Trail 0.75 miles to the Fire Tower and the summit of the mountain. Return via the same route for a moderate, six-mile, round trip hike.
RED HILL – TOWN OF DENNING – ELEVATION 2,990′
- History: This 60-foot fire tower was constructed in 1921 and is listed on the National Historic Lookout Register and has been nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. The Red Hill Tower offers an unsurpassed view of the Catskill High Peaks to the west and north, along with the Roundout Reservoir to the southeast. The tower was reopened to the public in 2000.
- Hiking Directions: Follow the yellow-marked Red Hill Tower Trail from the trailhead on Coons Road (formerly Dinch Road) just outside of Claryville. Return via the same route for a moderate, three-mile, round trip hike.
TREMPER MOUNTAIN – TOWN OF SHANDAKEN – ELEVATION 2,740′
- History: The Tremper Mountain Fire Tower is believed to be the original structure that was built in 1917 and used for fire observation until 1971. It was reopened to the public in 2001. The 47-foot tower offers a spectacular 360-degree view that includes the Burroughs Range, Stony Clove, Deep Notch and the Devil’s Path Range.
- Hiking Directions: Take the red-marked Phoenicia Trail from the trailhead parking lot on Ulster County Route 40 to the Tremper Mountain Fire Tower. Return via the same route from a 3.4 mile, moderate to difficult hike. Note that the parking area at the trailhead fills quickly. Additional limited parking is available on pull offs along County Route 40, but please observe all posted traffic and parking signs as illegally parked vehicles can be ticketed.
- Caution! Timber Rattlesnakes have made the rocky areas of Tremper Mountain their home. Be on the lookout and be sure to keep your pets under close supervision and on a leash to avoid any problems.
OVERLOOK MOUNTAIN – TOWN OF WOODSTOCK – ELEVATION 3,140′
- History: The Overlook Mountain Fire Tower is the newest of the five remaining fire towers in the Catskill Park, having been built in its present location in 1950. The tower closed in 1988 and was reopened in 1999, making it the first tower to re-open to the public in the Catskills. The 60-foot tower offers incredible views of the Hudson River Valley across to the Berkshires, Taconics and Litchfield Hills, the Ashokan Reservoir and the Devil’s Path Range.
- Hiking Directions: Take the red-marked Overlook Spur Trail from the trailhead on Meads Mountain Road to the Overlook Mountain Fire Tower and return via the same trail for a 4/6 mile, moderate to difficult hike. Note that the parking area at the trailhead fills quickly. Parking is only available in the parking area, please observe all posted traffic and parking signs, otherwise your vehicle may be ticketed.
- Caution! Timber Rattlesnakes have made much of the rocky higher elevations of Overlook Mountain their home. Be on the lookout and be sure to keep your pets under close supervision and on a leash to avoid any problems.
HUNTER MOUNTAIN – TOWN OF HUNTER – ELEVATION 4,040′
- History: The Hunter Mountain Fire Tower has the unique distinction of being located at the highest elevation of any fire tower in New York State – on the summit of Hunter Mountain at 4040 feet. The original tower was constructed from logs and the current, 60-foot steel tower was constructed in 1917 about a third of a mile from the present location. In 1953 the tower was relocated to its current location on the summit of Hunter Mountain
- Hiking Directions: Take the blue-marked Spruceton Trail from Greene County Route 6 (Spruceton Road) in the hamlet of Spruceton for a seven-mile moderately difficult roundtrip hike. Or take the yellow-marked Colonel’s Chair trail from the top of the Hunter Mountain Sky Ride, open select summer weekends–a moderate four-mile roundtrip hike.
- TIP: Be sure to have a good trail map for your Hunter Mountain Fire Tower climb. There are a number of trails that crisscross Hunter Mountain and it can be easy to get turned around and end up at the wrong trail head a long way from your vehicle if you aren’t paying attention.
DEC TO TEMPORARILY RELOCATE TRAILHEADS FOR CASCADE, PORTER AND PITCHOFF (WEST) MOUNTAINS DURING BUSY COLUMBUS DAY WEEKEND
Temporary Trailhead to be Located at ORDA’s Mt. Van Hoevenberg Sports Complex
To Ensure Public Safety, State Route 73 Pull-offs will be Closed and Roadside Parking Prohibited during Holiday Weekend
In an effort to ensure public safety with increased traffic anticipated during the Columbus Day/Canadian Thanksgiving Day Holiday Weekend, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will temporarily relocate the trailhead and trailhead parking for Cascade Mountain, Porter Mountain, and the Pitchoff Mountain West to the Olympic Regional Development Authority’s Mt. Van Hoevenberg Sports Complex, 1.3 miles west of the current trailhead.
DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said, “DEC is committed to ensuring New Yorkers and visitors alike have safe access to our state’s world-class natural areas, and during busy holiday weekends we must take steps to ensure public safety. By offering an easily accessible parking area with connections to current trails, this temporary trailhead relocation will help ensure all interested hikers can safely enjoy the opportunities this area has to offer.”
Beginning at dusk on Thursday, October 5, through dusk on Monday, October 9, the pull-offs along State Route 73 near the current trailhead will be closed to parking, and roadside parking in the area will be prohibited. New York State Police and the Essex County Sheriff’s Department will enforce the parking prohibition during this temporary closure.
Roby Politi, Supervisor, Town of N. Elba said, “The Cascade Mt. trailhead is presently a parking hazard and nightmare. I’m pleased DEC is taking action to address this public safety need by relocating the trailhead to the Mt. Van Hoevenburg Sports Complex.”
New York State Police Troop B Commander Major John Tibbitts cautions the public about observing the parking ban: “The New York State Police will be patrolling the area to ensure motorists are obeying the parking restrictions. Those who are not in compliance may be ticketed or their vehicles may be towed.”
Hikers planning to climb the summit of Cascade or Porter mountains can park in parking lots at the Mt. Van Hoevenberg Sports Complex at no cost. Volunteer stewards will direct hikers to a 2.0-mile marked route on the complex’s cross-country ski trail system. The ski trails are smooth and gently roll through the forest making for an easy hike. The route links to a newly constructed 0.4-mile connector trail between the ski trail and the Cascade Mountain Trail. The connector trail joins the Cascade Mountain Trail approximately 0.6 mile from the current trailhead. A roundtrip hike to the summit of Cascade Mountain will be 8.6 miles long, an addition of 3.8 miles to the round trip from the current trailhead.
Hikers seeking to climb the summit of Pitchoff Mountain will start on the same route across the complex’s cross-country ski trail system. After 1.7 miles, the route to Pitchoff Mountain leaves the ski trail and traverses 0.3 mile across a private driveway to State Route 73. Hikers will then walk 0.15 mile and cross State Route 73 to the current trailhead for the Pitchoff Mountain Trail. A roundtrip hike to the summit of Pitchoff Mountain will be 8.4 miles long, an addition of 4.4 miles to the round trip from the current trailhead.
Mike Pratt, President, ORDA said, “ORDA welcomes hikers to the relocated trailhead at Mt. Van Hoevenberg Olympic Sports Complex and encourages their use of facilities present there.”
In addition to a safer place to park, Mt. Van Hoevenberg Olympic Sports Complex located at 220 Bobsled Lane, Lake Placid, NY, will provide hikers with other amenities not available at the current trailhead, including bathrooms and food and drink. The concession at the Cross Country Lodge is open 11:00 am to 4:30 pm daily. Visitors can also enjoy bobsled ride, mountain biking, or a bus tour of the complex. (www.mtvanhoevenberg.com/ for current rates and reservation information)
Hikers will also be able to hike 3.2 miles round trip through the Sports Complex up Mt. Van Hoevenberg. The trail ascends 840 feet from the parking area to the summit which provides amazing views of the High Peaks Wilderness and its many mountains.
Hikers seeking shorter hikes can check Hikes Outside the High Peaks (www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/9163.html) on the DEC website for hikes that will provide a similar experience and scenic views.
Hikers are encouraged to be prepared for these and all hikes by:
- Wear hiking shoes or boots
- Dress in layers of non-cotton clothing
- Carry a map and compass and know how to use them
- Carry a flashlight or headlamp with fresh batteries.
- Carry plenty of water and snacks