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Catskills Fire Tower Challenge

Take the Catskills Fire Tower Challenge!

For nearly a century, observers watched the forests of New York State--including the Catskill and Adirondack forest preserves-- from more than 100 fire towers perched atop the highest peaks, searching for the dangerous, telltale signs of forest fires. The Catskills Fire Tower Challenge encourages experienced hikers to visit the region's remaining five historic fire towers, as well as a new sixth fire tower that was opened at the Catskills Visitor Center in the fall of 2019.

Participants are encouraged to practice Leave No TraceTM Principles and Love Our New York Lands by recreating safely and sustainably, hiking in suitable conditions based on weather and experience level.

How to Enter
  1. Visit all six Catskill Fire Towers between January 1, 2022 and December 31, 2022. (You do not need to climb up to the cab).
    • Overlook Mountain - Woodstock, NY
    • Hunter Mountain - Hunter, NY
    • Red Hill Mountain - Denning, NY
    • Balsam Lake Mountain - Hardenburgh, NY
    • Tremper Mountain - Shandaken, NY
    • Upper Esopus - Mt. Tremper, NY
  2. Fill out the log of completed hikes along with one favorite photo. Download the Catskills Fire Tower Challenge log (PDF) and email it to catskillschallenge@dec.ny.gov. This can also be submitted via mail to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Outdoor Recreation, 625 Broadway, Albany, New York 12233-1010. Entries must be postmarked by January 7, 2023.

Limit one entry per person.

You'll receive a commemorative patch and be entered to win great outdoor prizes including hiking accessories.

For complete rules, read here.

Completed? Congratulations! Download and print the certificate of completion (PDF).

Fire Tower Locations

Overlook Mountain

Woodstock-Elevation 3,140 feet

This is the newest of the five towers remaining in the Catskill Park, having been at its present location since 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.

Hunter Mountain

Town of Hunter-Elevation 4,040 feet

This tower has the unique distinction of being located at the highest elevation of any fire tower in New York State. The original tower on Hunter Mountain - constructed of logs - was built in 1909, and was the first of three fire towers constructed in the Catskills that year. The original tower was 40 feet tall, and was replaced with a steel tower 60 feet high in 1917. That tower was originally placed at an elevation of 4,000 feet - a third of a mile from the true summit - but was removed and reset at its present site on the true summit in 1953.

Directions: Take the Spruceton Trail marked with blue disks, from Greene County Route 6 (Spruceton Hollow Road) in the hamlet of Spruceton. A seven-mile moderately-difficult round trip hike. Or take the yellow-marked trail from the Hunter Mt. Sky Ride when it is open, a moderate four-mile round-trip hike.

Red Hill

Denning-Elevation 2,990 feet

The Red Hill Fire Tower stands 60 feet tall, has nine flights of stairs, and was constructed in 1921. Follow the blue-marked Red Hill Tower Trail for 1.4 miles from the trailhead on Denning Road in Claryville, NY which will accommodate up to 10 cars. Follow the blue-marked Red Hill Tower trail for 1.4 miles where it intersects with the yellow-marked trail. Turn right and stay on the blue-marked trail for .6 mile that leads to the summit. Moderate 4 mile, round-trip hike. Elevation gain is approximately 1200′.Trailhead address is: 2205 Denning Rd, Claryville, NY 12725 GPS coordinates: 41.935139, -74.529389

Directions: Follow the yellow-marked Red Hill Tower Trail from Coons Road (formerly Dinch Road) just outside of Claryville-a moderate, three-mile, round-trip hike.

Balsam Lake Mountain

Hardenburgh-Elevation 3,723 feet

The first forest fire tower in New York State was erected on Balsam Lake Mountain in 1887.

Built of wood by the Balsam Lake Club, it survived until 1901 and was replaced with another wooden tower in 1905. Telephone lines, a small observer's cabin, and a road to the summit were added in 1909, when the state took it over. The first steel tower was erected in 1919, and the present steel tower (47 feet tall) was built in 1930.

Directions: Follow the blue-marked Dry Brook Ridge Trail located on Mill Brook Road outside the hamlet of Arkville - a moderate, six-mile, round-trip hike.

Tremper Mountain

Shandaken-Elevation 2,740 feet

the Tremper Mountain Hill Fire tower shot from below looking up at the sky

This fire tower is believed to be the original structure built circa 1917, and was used for fire observation until 1971. The 47-foot tower was placed in its present location because of the vast sections of forest preserve not visible from either the Hunter or Belleayre fire towers.

Directions: Follow the red-marked Phoenicia Trail located on Ulster County Route 40 just outside of Phoenicia - a moderate to difficult, six-mile, round-trip hike.

Upper Esopus

Mt. Tremper

Located at the Catskills Visitor Center (leaves DEC website), the newest addition to the Catskills Visitor Center is a newly restored '80 fire tower. Views from the fire tower include the Esopus Valley, nearby Mt. Tremper, Ashokan High Point, and the Phoenicia East Branch Trail. Access to the Fire Tower is available via the Interpretive Loop Trail. The Catskills Visitor Center building is open every day EXCEPT Tuesday from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The grounds are open to the public every day during daylight hours. Stop by on your way to the fire tower for latest park news, local maps and info, and more!

Directions: The Catskills Visitor Center is at 5096 Route 28 in Mt. Tremper. To access the Fire Tower, take the Interpretive Loop Trail around the back of the building.

Partner Agencies

Founded in 1969 as a member-supported, nonprofit organization, The Catskill Center for Conservation & Development (link leaves DEC website) is a regionally based advocate for the environmental and economic health of the Catskill Mountains. Their website has more detailed information about the fire towers of the Catskills, including directions, trail maps, profiles, photographs, history, and fire tower merchandise and volunteer forms to sign up to support restoration efforts.

The Forest Fire Lookout Association's website (link leaves DEC website) has more information on historic fire towers and lookouts across the country.

Terms and Conditions
  1. ENTRY: No purchase necessary to enter or win. Contestants will enter by submitting a log of their hikes to the six Catskills fire towers along with their name, address, email address and photo from one of the hikes to catskillchallenge@dec.ny.gov, via the designated PDF form, or by mail. Hikes must be completed between January 1, 2022 and December 31, 2022. Entries must be postmarked by January 7, 2023. Fire towers included in this Challenge can be found on DEC's website. Limit one entry per person.
  2. ELIGIBILITY: This contest is open to all except Employees of New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and New York State Empire Development Corporation and their families are not eligible for prizes. Void where prohibited by law. Any person submitting falsified log or photo will be disqualified and deemed ineligible for prizes.
  3. WINNER SELECTION: Employees of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation will administer the contest. Two winners and one grand prize winner will be randomly selected from eligible contest participants.
  4. PRIZES: Winners will receive a gift of luxury hiking equipment accessories selected to enhance the hiking experience. Note that upon completion of the Challenge and entry as described above, all participants will receive access to a downloadable certificate, a commemorative patch, and a one-year subscription to Conservationist magazine.
  5. WINNER NOTIFICATION: Winners will be notified within 14 days after the determination date via email. Inability to contact a winner may result in disqualification and selection of an alternate winner.
General Conditions:

ELIGIBILITY: Winners will be required to execute and return a Certificate of Eligibility, Consent and General Release form within 14 days of notification. Non-compliance within this time period may result in disqualification and selection of an alternate winner. Any income tax liability is the sole responsibility of the winner.

  1. USE OF CONTEST INFORMATION: The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and New York State Empire State Development Corporation reserve the right to use any and all information related to the contest, for editorial, marketing and any other purpose, unless prohibited by law.
  2. CONDUCT: All contest participants agree to be bound by these Official Rules. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in its sole discretion, reserves the right to disqualify any person it finds to be tampering with the entry process, the operation of its web site or is otherwise in violation of these rules.
  3. LIMITATIONS OF LIABILITY: The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is not responsible for late, lost or misdirected email or for any computer, online, telephone or technical malfunctions that may occur. If for any reason, the contest is not capable of running as planned for any reason, including but not limited to pandemics, epidemics or viral outbreaks, infection by computer virus, bugs, tampering, unauthorized intervention or technical failures of any sort, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation may cancel, terminate, modify or suspend the contest. Entrants further agree to release the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation from any liability resulting from, or related to participation in the contest.
  4. WINNERS LIST: The names of the winner may be obtained by sending a self-addressed stamped envelope to: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Outdoor Recreation, 625 Broadway, Albany, New York 12233-1010.