Phoenicia - Mt. Tobias Wild Forest
The Phoenicia - Mt. Tobias Wild Forest serves as a bridge between three wilderness areas - Slide Mountain, Hunter-West Kill and Indian Head Mountain and includes more than 7,300 acres. The Tremper Mountain parcel (5,800 acres) contains the Tremper Mountain Fire Tower, a popular hiking spot accessed by a trail near Phoenicia (Ulster County), a historic travel crossroads of the Catskills. From the fire tower at Mt. Tremper, deep in the Forest Preserve, a visitor looks out over the tops of the Catskills' highest peaks. From there, a trail connects Mt. Tremper through the deep and isolated Warner Creek Valley to Silver Hollow Notch and State Route 214 in Greene County. Another trail connects to the hamlet of Willow. The second largest parcel of land in the Wild Forest is 1,300-acre Mt. Tobias, linked by a right-of-way (no developed trail) connecting to a 16-panel interpretive kiosk on Route 28 (about 5 miles east of Phoenicia).
This unit is excellent for hiking and snowshoeing. Cross-country skiing is best on the gentler slopes of the old woods road leading up to Mt. Tobias, elevation 2,544 feet. Limited access parking is available at the Route 28 Day Use Area and on a small unmaintained Forest Preserve access pulloff at Abbey Road, off County Route 40 within two miles of Kenneth Wilson State Campground.
Visitors to the Phoenicia 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 (191 kb PDF) and state land use regulation.
Report back country emergencies, such as lost or injured hikers, and wildland fires to the DEC Emergency Dispatch at 518-408-5850 or 1-877-457-5680.
Mt. Tremper Fire Tower Trail
A red-blazed trail connects the parking area at County Route 40 (go east from Main Street in Phoenicia) to the Mount Tremper Fire Tower (2.75 miles, el. 2740 feet), gaining 2000 feet in elevation. The trail is a continuous climb on a rocky old road, going past the Baldwin Memorial Leanto at 1.95 miles and a pipe spring at 2.05 miles (may be dry during periods of drought) before reaching the tower. The blue-blazed Warner Creek Trail to the yellow-blazed Willow Trail lead 3.65 miles from the fire tower to an undeveloped trailhead on Jessup Road through Willow (1,300-foot change in elevation).
Warner Creek Trail
From the fire tower you can continue on the blue-blazed Warner Creek Trail toward Willow for 1.5 miles to where the yellow-blazed Willow Trail continues to Willow. Stay on the Warner Creek Trail, descending into the Warner Creek valley, climbing up to Silver Hollow Mountain (el. 3,013 feet) and continuing 9.7 miles on the ridge past Silver Hollow Notch woods road to an intersection with Indian Head Wilderness Trails. From there it is 2.75 miles to the Devils Tombstone State Campground.
Mt. Tobias: Abby Road Trails
There is an old woods road through private land from Wittenberg Road to Mt. Tobias. An undeveloped parking area at Abbey Road provides access to this old road and the unmarked trails near the summit of Mount Tobias.
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 is also prohibited above 3,500 feet in elevation from March 22 until December 20 each year to protect the fragile summit environment.
- Groups of 10 or more must obtain a camping permit from the area Forest Ranger before entering state land. The Ranger for the area can be reached at 845-240-6756 or 845-256-3026 (daytime Ranger office)
- 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. 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 useful in wet rainy weather.
FIREWOOD ALERT - Don't Move Firewood
The importation of firewood into New York is prohibited by regulation 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.
Bringing your firewood with you? 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 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.</ li>
More information on how you can avoid spreading aquatic invasive species.
There are rivers and streams near the Wild Forest. The main water bodies are near the town of Phoenicia (Esopus Creek and Stony Clove Creek). Warner Creek, a tributary of Stony Clove Creek can only be accessed through a substantial hike into the valley through the Mount Tremper parcel. Anglers should check the current fresh water fishing regulations and know the statewide regulation and the regulations pertaining to specific waters.
Hunting & trapping
Hunting and trapping is allowed on all forest preserve lands. All hunters and trappers much comply with all applicable State laws and regulations (#37136).
While there are no trails designated for bicycles, some of the woods roads and trails on Mt. Tobias are suitable for bicycles. Please use caution and yield the right-of-way to pedestrians, regardless of where you bicycle.
While there are no trails designated for horses, some of the woods roads and trails on Mt. Tobias are suitable for equestrian use. Most trails or old woods roads on the Mount Tremper parcel are too steep or stony for horses (with the possible exception of Silver Hollow Road). Please use caution and yield the right-of-way to pedestrians, regardless of where you ride.
Skiing & Snowshoeing
Snowshoeing is allowed on all trails. However, due to topography, cross-country skiing is best limited to the Mt. Tobias parcel.
Tremper Mountain has two leantos, the Baldwin Memorial Leanto (and privy) at 1.95 miles up the Mt. Tremper Fire Tower Trail and one near (within sight of) the summit fire tower. A spring 2.05 miles from the Baldwin Memorial Leanto may be dry during drought periods. The trailhead off County Route 40 holds about 10 cars.
Neighboring DEC Lands & Facilities
Nearby state-run Kenneth Wilson Campground (845-679-7020) has 76 tent and trailer sites; picnic area with tables and grills; flush toilets; hot showers; baseball and soccer fields; trailer dump station; recycling center; mobility impaired accessibility; bathhouse; pay phones; mountain bike trail; boat rentals; horseshoe pits. Completely surrounded by mountains with panoramic views creating a picturesque setting, Kenneth L. Wilson Campground is 5 miles northwest of the village of Woodstock. A lake at the campground has fishing. Likely species include: largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, chain pickerel, yellow perch, bullheads, white sucker, shiners, and sunfish. No motor boats are allowed, but rowboats and canoes permitted. Canoe and kayak rentals are available.
The Fire Tower
The fire tower that sits atop Tremper Mountain is the original steel structure erected in 1917. The 47-foot tall tower was placed here because parts of the Forest Preserve were invisible from the Hunter and Belleayre (since removed) towers. The tower was closed in 1971, giving way to airplane surveillance during times of severe drought. Fire observers would spend each day from April 1 to October 31 in the cab of the tower, and sleep in the ground cabin (removed in 1977). When smoke was spotted, the observer would radio to the other three nearby towers and be able to triangulate the location. Observers were alone most of the time, so they welcomed visitors with stories, interpretive information on local history and the views from the tower. They often kept registers and had visitors sign in. Three fire observers spent summers in the tower - William Smith (1917-1930), Roy Erikson (1931-45) and Harry Baldwin (1946-1970). The tower was reopened in 1999, after 30 years, when volunteers, the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development and the DEC partnered to raise money and make needed repairs. The tower is kept open through the efforts of volunteer interpreters, fundraisers and maintainers. Please contact the Friends of the Catskill Fire Towers at the Catskill Center, Arkville at 845-586-2611 for more information.
The Mount Tremper Fire Tower Trail begins in the valley with hemlock, yellow birch and beech trees characteristic of valley forests, but by the time the summit is reached, there is a change to oak trees. In the late 1800's after most hemlock trees were removed for the tanbark industry, milling and timber cutting were so prevalent that no first growth or 'virgin' forests remain in the immediate vicinity of Tremper Mountain. A large furniture factory in Chichester from 1840-1939 had a great influence on the areas forests.
The Warner Creek Trail runs through one of the most isolated valleys in the Catskills. Few forest preserve units contain riparian wetlands and stream valleys. The moist soil, floodplain and streamside habitats are rare in public ownership and provide sites for wild leeks, geraniums and other locally distributed species. The Warner Creek valley has smooth thick glacial drift which makes a distinct "step" in the valley bottom on the Greene-Ulster County line. At one time a glacial stream of considerable size flowed down into this gap forming a lake at approximately 1740 feet in elevation. Farther on the trail, on the Silver Hollow Mountain Ridge, the first red spruce and balsam fir trees between the Esopus Creek and the Indian Head Wilderness appear.
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.
From Thruway Exit 19 at Kingston - take first right turn off traffic circle to Route 28 west, proceed approximately 21 miles west on Rte. 28 to Mt. Tremper, turn right on to Rte. 212, 1/2 mile to 4-way intersection. Turn right again on Wittenberg Road (County Rte. 40). Abbey Road is about 2 miles on the left side, and the Kenneth Wilson Campground is approximately 4 miles on the right side.
From Thruway Exit 19 at Kingston - take first right turn off traffic circle to Route 28, proceed approximately 23 miles west on Rte. 28 to sign for Phoenicia, make a right onto Main Street (County Route 40). Go east about 3 miles on C.R. 40 to the Tremper Mt. Trailhead
Or take Route 28 to about 19 miles west of Kingston, make a right onto 212 (just before you cross the Esopus Creek) and go 0.5 mile to CR 40. Make a left onto CR 40 and go west west for about 3 miles to the Tremper Mt. Trailhead.
Other Sources of Information
Ulster County Tourism (800-342-5826) and the Rondout Visitors Center (800-331-1518), the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce (845-586-3300) and the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce (845-679-6234) can provide information about recreating in this area and other amenities. Use the links provided near the bottom of the right column to access their websites. I Love New York Travel Guides are also available.
The nearby village of Phoenicia offers tubing and fishing on the Esopus Creek, antiques, restaurants, railroad museum, art galleries, gift shops, and shopping. The village of Woodstock offers art galleries, craft shops, golf course, fine restaurants, entertainment, antiques, and shopping. Also within a half hour drive are the Belleayre and Hunter Mountain Ski Centers, which offer sky rides, and music and craft festivals. In addition, at Belleayre, you can ride the Ulster & Delaware Railroad to and from the ski center, take a trolley ride to the sky ride, the villages of Pine Hill and Fleischmanns, and Belleayre's day-use area.
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.
Maps are available for downloading from this web page. Use the links at the top of the page to view the map or download a map for printing. The DEC State Land Interactive Mapper can be used to print maps showing state lands, trails and facilities for this area or any location within New York State. Additional information is available via Google Maps.
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. Additional information, outdoor equipment, trip suggestions and guided or self-guided tours may be obtained from outdoor guide and outfitting businesses. Check area chambers of commerce, telephone directories or search the internet for listings.
The Catskill Forest Preserve was created in 1885 to protect the area's water resources, as well as to provide public outdoor recreational opportunities. New York City alone relies on the Catskills to provide nearly 90 percent of its drinking water supply.
Management of the Forest Preserve stems from the "forever wild" provision of the state's Constitution, which states:
"The lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be leased, sold or exchanged, or be taken by any corporation, public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed or destroyed ..."
Recreational use of this area began in the nineteenth century when summer resorts and boarding houses first opened, and flourished with the development of the Ulster and Delaware Railroad. A number of guides sprang up during this period, many of whom were excellent woodsmen who laid out and maintained the trails they used. Tremper Mountain was originally named Timothyberg Mountain until it was renamed for Major Jacob Tremper of Kingston, who was the co-owner of the Tremper Mountain House (with Captain William Romer).
The tanning of hides for use in the leather industry (1820's-1880's) required the bark of hemlock trees that were abundant in the Catskills. These giant trees (up to 150 feet tall and 5 feet in diameter) were felled and the bark peeled and used, leaving 95 % of the tree to rot. There were at least seven tanneries in the Town of Shandaken, two of the most notable were the Landew Tannery and the Phoenix Tannery, from which Phoenicia derives its name.
'Bluestone' is a type of sandstone once used in gravestones, houses and sidewalks throughout the United States, as far as Havana, Cuba. The eastern Catskills are full of this bluish-gray stone, and were extensively mined from 1840 to the turn of the century. Many quarries were located on Tremper's slopes - the largest along the fire tower trail from County Route 40.
A large 130-room hotel, called the Tremper Mountain House, stood on a terrace, 1000' elevation, near the southwesterly corner of the Mount Tremper parcel. Completed in 1879, it relied exclusively on the Catskill Mountain Railroad connection to the station in Phoenicia. From 1882-1936, a branch of this railroad connected Stony Clove to Hunter. By 1904 the Tremper Mountain House had become the Nordrach Milk and Rest Cure for patients with non-infectious diseases. As most Catskill Hotels, its fortunes declined and it burned down in 1908.
DEC manages these lands in accordance with the Phoenicia-Mt. Tobias Wild Forest Unit Management Plan.
Important Phone Numbers
Forest Fire, Search and Rescue: 1-518-408-5850 or 1-877-457-5680 (24 hours a day) or dial 911
State Land Regulation/Backcountry Law Enforcement:1-518-408-5850, 1-877-457-5680 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.