Adirondack Fire Tower Challenge

Hurricane Mountain part of the Fire Tower Challenge

Tower on top of Hurricane Mtn., part of the Adirondack Fire Tower Challenge

The Adirondack Fire Tower Challenge was created by the Glens Falls Saratoga Chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club. It’s goal is to educate hikers on an important chapter of New York State┬áhistory. It started with the book, Views from on High: Fire Tower Trails in the Adirondacks and Catskills by John P. Freeman. In his book, he lists the remaining 28 Fire Towers with history and directions about each one of them, as well as a broad history of the Fire Tower system in New York State.

Editors Note: Two additional mountains have been added to the challenge (Loon Lake and Stillwater Mountain). I heard rumors that the book may be updated to include these two mountains in the near future.

Rules of The Challenge

To meet the Adirondack Fire Tower Challenge, a person must hike 18 out of the 25 Adirondack Fire Towers and all 5 of the Catskill Park towers. Once you have completed this, then you will be eligible for the full color patch. For more information about obtaining the patch or submitting your application, see the Glens Falls Saratoga Chapter website.

Note that you do not have to physically climb each tower, in some cases it is not recommended due to the decay of the tower. If you are starting off with this challenge, I recommend setting up a log book or file on your computer where you can write down your trip information. While on a hike, be sure to log the date, weather, wildlife, companions and anything else that might be interesting. This information will be useful if you take many years to complete the challenge.

The History

The Forest Commission Act was signed in 1885 and placed all the wild forests in the Adirondacks and Catskills under the protection of U.S. Forest Commission. Part of the commission’s goal was to protect the state’s forest from from fire on both public and private land. Fires were an increasingly problem in the forests due to the increase in logging which used the practice of “topping”. Topping is leaving the highly flammable parts of the trees behind while the rest is┬áharvested. This made the forest floor a serious hazard in which fires could spread quickly due to farmers, berry pickers, iron manufacturers, and most importantly the railroads.

At first, the fire towers were built out of logs, some of which were from old survey towers used during the Verplanck Colvin’s survey of the Adirondack Wilderness. With the success of these towers and the increasingly popularity of New Yorks’ Wild Forest, more permanent ┬ástructures (steel) began construction in 1916. More comfortable cabins were built for the fire observers and telephone lines were setup for easy communication. The fire observers job wasn’t just to spot fires, but also to educate the public on fire safety and demonstrate the equipment.

By the end of the 1940s, The Bureau of Forest Fire Protection had 87 forest rangers, 13 district rangers and 84 fire observers and observation stations. After World War 2, the fire towers began to decline. The first observers began to retire, radio communication increased in distance and airplanes began patrolling the sky. Many towers were abandoned or only used during peak season. By 1990, the last of the towers were shut down. 52 of the towers were removed and the rest were left abandoned. The Department of Environmental Conservation and many local communities / groups raised money to restore the remaining fire towers so that generations from now, hikers could enjoy the majestic scenery and learn about a piece of New York State history. The Adirondack Fire Tower Challenge supports education and exploration of this part of our history.

Most information in this section comes from Views from on High: Fire Tower Trails in the Adirondacks and Catskills

Hiking List for the Fire Tower Challenge

Adirondack Fire Towers Catskill Fire Towers
Mt. Adams Balsam Lake
Mt. Arab Hunter Mountain
Azure Mountain Overlook Mountain
Bald Mountain Red-hill
Belfry Mountain Tremper Mountain
Black Mountain
Blue Mountain
Cathederal Rock
Goodnow Mountain
Gore Mountain
Hadley Mountain
Hurricane Mountain
Kane Mountain
Loon Lake
Lyon Mountain
Owl’s Head
Pillsbury Mountain
Poke-O-Moonshine
Snowy Mountain
Spruce Mountain
St. Regis Mountain
Stillwater Fire Tower
Vanderwacker Mountain
Wakely Mountain
Woodhull Mountain