Overlook Mountain Wild Forest
The Overlook Wild Forest is a small area of 900 acres near the Town of Woodstock, Ulster County. It borders the 16,800 acre Indian Head Wilderness Area in the 300,000-acre Catskill Forest Preserve. This wild forest is unique, including a historic fire tower, mountain house ruins and impressive views of the Hudson River Valley and the central Catskills. Viewed from the Hudson River, the eastern escarpment, including Overlook Mountain, appealed to many writers and artists making the area famous and laying the foundation for a wilderness concept and ethic in the United States. The sole trail to the fire tower as well as the trail to Echo Lake may be used by hikers, mountain bikers and hunters.
Hiking, snowshoeing, mountain biking and hunting are all permitted in the area accessed by the historic woods road which now leads to the communication tower. The trails are not open to horses.
Visitors to the Overlook Wild Forest should be properly prepared and equipped for a remote, wildlands experience. Visitors should expect to assume a high degree of responsibility for their own welfare and for environmentally sound use of the area. Know safe hiking practices, camping rules, how to avoid getting lost (PDF) (191 KB) and state land use regulations.
Report back country emergencies, such as lost or injured hikers, and wildland fires to the DEC Emergency Dispatch at 1-877-457-5680 or call 911.
This woods road/trail is a steady climb on an old carriage road that once transported guests in the late 19th century to the Overlook Mountain House. There are nice views through the trees on the way up, except in summer. At 1.6 miles you see the massive castle-like ruins of the latest and never completed Overlook Mountain House (elevation 2,900 feet), begun in the 1920's, and now being reclaimed by nature (Please observe the ruins from the outside for your safety). Nearby is a privately-owned tower for which the dirt road is maintained. Please respect private property. You then move on to the fire tower at el. 3,150 ft. The spur trail to the right of the ground cabin takes you to a ledge with a magnificent view of the Hudson River, Ashokan Reservoir, the Central Catskills, and up to five states. Ledges and drop-offs require care. The hike is long for children, but the rewards are great. Stay on the paths, snakes have been seen. Round trip distance - 4.8 miles. Ascent gradual but a nonstop incline- 1370 feet. 13-acre Echo Lake is an additional 4 miles round-trip (elevation drop of 1000 feet) from just above the ruins of the Overlook Mountain House.
General information on fire towers includes historic and current uses of fire towers and links to other locations with fire towers
Woodstock-Elevation 3,140 feet
This is the newest of the five towers left in the Catskill Park, having been at its present location since only 1950. However, the tower itself is much older as it was originally constructed in 1927 on Gallis Hill, just west of Kingston. The Overlook tower reaches 60 feet in height, and offers incredible views of the Hudson River Valley, Ashokan Reservoir, and Devil's Path.
Directions: Take the red-marked Overlook Spur Trail from Meads Mountain Road, just outside of downtown Woodstock-a moderate, six-mile, round-trip hike
Back country camping is allowed in most areas of the Catskill Preserve. Please see below for some of the rules for primitive camping. Information on DEC Campgrounds in the area is available on DEC's Camping page.
- To protect back country resources, state law requires all campsites to be at least 150 feet from any road, trail or water source, except at sites designated by DEC. A designated site is either a lean-to or a campsite marked with a yellow "camp here" disc.
- Camping permits are required when camping 4 or more nights or with a group of 10 or more. Contact the Forest Ranger for a permit at 845-256-3026 or 845-240-6756.
- Campfires are permitted below 3,500 feet in elevation, but only dead and down wood may be used. In a designated campsite, use the existing fire ring and burn wood no larger than that which can be snapped in your hands-it's sure to be dead, dry and will burn down to ash. Never leave a fire unattended and make sure your fire is cold before breaking camp.
- Bear Precautions - Using nylon cord, hang all food, garbage and toilet articles a minimum of 15 feet above the ground and an additional 10 feet from any adjacent tree trunks or overhead limbs and a distance of 150 feet from camp.
- Keep a clean camp. Wastewater should be taken a minimum of 150 feet from any water source and gently sprayed into the underbrush as against pouring it into a sump hole. Cooking water should be strained of any food particles and treated in a similar fashion. This distributes rather than concentrates the dirty water, dispersing both the impact and related odors that attract wildlife. All food waste should be packed out.
- Human Waste - If available, use the privy. If not, dig a "cat-hole" 6-8 inches deep, a minimum of 150 feet from any water source. Cover waste with soil and leaf litter. Minimize the use of toilet paper and burn or pack it out. When appropriate, use leaves instead. Treat feminine products as you would all other garbage and pack out as well.
- Drinking Water - The department cannot ensure the purity of any water source. Giardia lamblia is a water borne parasite which can cause severe and prolonged intestinal disorder and has infected the water supply as a result of poor human sanitation habits. Boil all water for 2 minutes, filter or treat chemically.
- If you Bring Your Pet - Your pet must be under your control at all times. When others approach, particularly small children and other animals, leash your dog. Keep your pet quiet. Remove droppings from the trail and camping areas.
Observe all campfire safety practices. Use only dead and down wood. Don't leave garbage in the fire pit. Better yet, carry a portable stove. Stoves heat more quickly, are easier to clean and do not leave blackened rocks and partially burned firewood. They are also useful in wet rainy weather.
Beware! You could be helping the spread of invasive pests, plants and diseases without knowing it!
Firewood Alert - Don't Move Firewood
There is a regulation that prohibits the import of firewood into New York unless it has been treated to kill pests. The regulation also limits the transportation of untreated firewood to less than 50 miles from its source. Read more about firewood and invasive insects.
Most people don't realize they move bugs along with their firewood. You could be spreading diseases or insects that can quickly kill large numbers of trees. Our forests are at risk from the transport of firewood infested with tree killers.
Here's how you can help STOP THE SPREAD of these pests:
- Leave firewood at home-do not transport it to campgrounds or parks.
- Only purchase firewood that has been harvested in New York State or treated for pests.
- Burn all firewood brought to the campsite.
To help stop the introduction and spread of invasive plant species, always check clothing, shoes, tires (of bikes, ATV's, and other vehicles), and animal companions for burs seeds and insects before using and leaving the area. Remove hitchhikers if found.
Prevent the Introduction and Spread of Aquatic Invasive Species
INSPECT your fishing and boating equipment and remove all mud, plants and other organisms that might be clinging to it.
- DRY your fishing and boating equipment before using it on another body of water.
- CLEAN your fishing and boating equipment if it cannot be dried before its use in another body of water.
- Read more information on how you can avoid spreading aquatic invasive species.
There are no water bodies on the Overlook Mt. Wild forest. The 13-acre Echo Lake in the Indian Head Wilderness Area is the nearest State land with fishing opportunities. Anglers should be aware of the current fresh water fishing regulations and the regulations pertaining to specific waters.
Hunting & Trapping
Hunting and trapping are allowed on all forest preserve lands. All hunters and trappers must comply with all applicable State laws and regulations.
Permitted on Meads Mt. Road Trailhead to Overlook Fire Tower trail and continuing onto Prediger Road (Overlook Turnpike Primitive Bicycle Corridor). Please refer to the Indian Head Wilderness for details.
Skiing & Snowshoeing
Permitted on all trails.
Overlook Mountain Fire Tower is open year-round, but tower cab is closed except for most weekends from Memorial Day to Columbus Day when staffed by volunteer interpreters. Ground observer's cabin with historical, Forest Preserve and fire tower displays is also open most weekends from the end of May to October.
The tower on the summit, elevation 3,140 feet, is the youngest of the five remaining Catskill fire towers, having been at this location since 1950. However, parts of this tower are much older, since it was originally constructed in 1927 on Gallis Hill, just west of Kingston. The tower is a 60-foot Aermotor galvanized steel structure with a 7' by 7' metal cab. The tower was closed in 1989 when fire prevention turned to aircraft surveillance in times of drought. It was reopened in 1999 through the fundraising and maintenance efforts of the volunteer Overlook Fire Tower Stewards. To reach them for information, or to volunteer, call the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development, Arkville, NY at 845-586-2611. Their website is listed in the right column of this page.
From east to west the tower panorama spans the Berkshire Mountains, the Hudson River, Kingston, the Taconic Mountains, the Ashokan Reservoir, The Shawangunk Mountains and the Catskills. If you would rather not climb the tower, take the trail to the right of the cabin at the summit to the cliffs for an impressive view of the Hudson Valley and the Reservoir.
Fire has had a strong influence on the mountain's trees. The area has had a long and complex fire history and is among the most severely disturbed in the Catskills. A few balsam fir and red spruce trees dot the summit. They are the survivors of fires and human disturbance, today outnumbered by red oak, birch and maple trees. However, two hundred years ago, Overlook had a small crown of dense primeval spruce-fir.
Rules and Regulations
The public must abide by all state land use regulations when recreating on the forest preserve or conservation easement lands open to the public.
DEC Forest Rangers are primarily responsible for search and rescue, wild land fire suppression and enforcing state land use laws and regulations. DEC Environmental Conservation Officers are primarily responsible for enforcing hunting, fishing, trapping and pollution laws and regulations. Both are state law enforcement officers and, as such, can and do enforce all state laws.
The Overlook Mountain Fire Tower trail is accessible by car from Interstate I-87 (NYS Thruway) Exit 19 in Kingston (Route 28). Take Route 28 west approximately 6 miles to a right on Rt. 375, then left on Rte 212 to the Woodstock Village Green. At the Village Green, in the center of town, make a right on Rock City Road, continuing past the 4 corners intersection to Meads Mountain Road. The parking lot is on your right about 2 miles up Meads Mountain Road. Or you can take Exit 20 (Saugerties), Rte 212 west, to the Woodstock Village Green, and then follow the above directions.
Other Sources of Information
Ulster County Tourism (800-342-5826),the Rondout Visitors Center (800-331-1518), and the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce (845-679-6234) can provide information about recreating in this area and other amenities. Use the links provided in the right column of this page to access their websites.
Numerous guide books are available with information on the lands and waters in this area. These can be purchased at most outdoor equipment retailers, bookstores, and on-line booksellers.
DEC has interactive maps that can be used to print maps showing state lands, trails and facilities for this area or any location within New York State.
There are also excellent printed maps and computer map programs from the United States Geological Survey (USGS), National Geographic and other sources. These are sold in outdoor retail shops, bookstores and on the internet.
Tanning was the first large human disturbance in the area. Hemlock trees were cut. Their bark was then used to color and cure ("tan") leather. The industry had its greatest influence between 1820 and 1860 and declined rapidly after the Civil War.
Bluestone, a fine-grained sandstone, was used for early gravestones, in some houses and many houses of local communities, as well as larger cities like Kingston, Albany and New York. By 1850, bluestone was being shipped by river throughout the United States and as far as Havana, Cuba. Many fine mansions in Kingston date back to the fortunes made in bluestone. For more information, stop at the Urban Cultural Park Visitors Center on the Rondout or in upper Kingston.
About two miles up the mountain from Meads Mountain Road Trailhead you reach the ruins of the third and last mountain house. The first mountain house, built in 1871 was destroyed by a chimney fire in 1875. The second mountain house, built in 1878, resembled a sanitarium for lung and tuberculosis patients, taking advantage of the high altitude clean air. In 1917 it was sold to financier Morris Newgold, but was again destroyed by fire in 1924. This time, it was rebuilt in concrete to become a grand hotel. However; it was never completed - a victim of World War II, changing public tastes, and the automobile. Since 1940, when it was boarded up, theft, vandalism, and nature have brought it to its present condition. It has been left as a ruin, slowly being reclaimed by nature. Please heed the warning signs and stay away from the structure
DEC manages these lands in accordance with activities described in the Overlook Mountain Wild Forest Unit Management Plan.
Important Phone Numbers
Forest Fire, Search and Rescue: 518-408-5850 or 1-877-457-5680 (24 hours a day) or dial 911
State Land Regulation/Backcountry Law Enforcement: 1-877-457-5680, 518-408-5850 or 845-256-3026
Environmental Law Enforcement: 1-877-457-5680
Turn in Poachers and Polluters: 1-800-TIPP DEC (1-800-847-7332) - call the TIPPs hotline to report any environmental violations or report it online.