Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Hiking Guide to Tremper Mountain and the Tremper Mountain Fire Tower in the Catskill Mountains

Warner Creek Trail Hike
Mount Tremper is located just south of the village of Phoenicia in the Catskill Mountain.  The trailhead is located on County Route 40 (Old Route 28).  The Trail generally follows the old jeep access road for the fire tower so it is not an overly difficult hike, but is rewarding with great views of the Esopus Valley and the high peaks of the Catskills to the north and the south.

Along the approximately 2.75 mile trail from Route 40 in Phoenicia to the mountain's summit, you'll make your way up at a route that climbs steadily but is not all that steep or difficult. Near the summit you'll pass two leantos or shelters where you can camp along with a spring for water. On the mostly flat summit you'll walk through an oak forest and then come upon the Fire Tower. Here you can climb almost 50 feet on the tower to get a 360-degree view above the trees of the surrounding Catskill region.

Getting ready for you hike

The red blazed Phoenicia Trail from County Route 40 is the most direct and quickest route to the summit of Tremper Mountain and for most people, this is the route that they take to the Fire Tower. It is also quite easy to reach the trailhead and since it isn't that long of a hike, it makes for a perfect day hike for people looking to start exploring the trails of the Catskills.

Tremper Mountain is located in the along the Esopus River valley in the Town of Phoenicia in Ulster County. The most direct routes to the region are via Route 28 from Kingston and NY State Thruway or via Route 212 from the Woodstock area.

Once you've gotten to the Phoenicia area, the trailhead is fairly easy to find. It's about a mile and a half or so out of Town. There's a small parking area on the left hand side of the road (the side opposite the Esopus River). The parking area generally has room but on busier weekends, it might be difficult to find a place to park. The roadway in the area is really too narrow to park along, however above and below the parking area there are a few small pull-offs where you could park a car if you had to, though they will require more walking to get to the trailhead.

What do you need to bring for a trip up Tremper Mountain? Since the hike is about 2.75 miles up a fairly steadily climbing trail, the most important things are plenty of water and sturdy hiking shoes. You don't want to lose your footing along the way and you don't want to run out of water. You should expect to take around 2 hours or so to reach the summit without too many stops. If you stop to explore the quarry about halfway up and then the leantos, add in the appropriate time.

In addition to water and sturdy hiking boots I'd suggest bringing a map of the area so you can tell where you are on the mountain. The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference publishes a map set that provides excellent coverage for the area.

I'd also pack a lunch. The Fire Tower makes for a great lunchtime destination where you can eat and enjoy the view.

Since going down is almost always easier than going up, you'll make the return trip back down to your car fairly quickly. Most people could probably do it in an hour and a half or less. Just be careful to watch your footing as the constant downhill grade does tend to wear you out after a while.

The total distance of this hike, up the mountain and then back down is about 5 ½ miles.

What's with the Fire Tower on top?

The Tremper Mountain Fire Tower was originally built in the early 1900's to provide fire protection for this portion of the Catskills. This tower, along with the other Fire Towers in the region (Hunter Mountain, Overlook Mountain, Balsam Lake Mountain and Bellayre Mountain, which is no standing) gave observers almost 100% coverage of the Catskill region and let them pinpoint any potential forest fires. They also allowed for greater communication for the Forest Rangers since each tower could communicate with the other towers and the towers could in turn communicate with most people within their area.

The Tremper Mountain Fire Tower has a great view of the Catskills and I think gives you one of the best views that you can find in the area. The view includes the region's highest peaks and some of its most undeveloped areas. To the north you can see the Devil's Path Range to the east is the Ashokan Reservoir, more to the south is Slide Mountain, the Catskills highest peak and to the west you can see the Catskills continuing off into the distance.

So how do you get to see the view from the Fire Tower? The tower cab, which is the small room on the very top of the tower, is only open when it is staffed by volunteers, which is usually during weekends in the summer months. At other times, you can easily climb the Fire Tower, but you cannot enter the cab area.

Unlike other towers in the Catskills, there's no observer's cabin near the tower on the ground. The cabin on Tremper was removed in the past and not replaced.

Even without a volunteer, you are rewarded with some great views and you shouldn't discount a trip to the Tremper Mountain Fire Tower just because it's not currently being staffed by a volunteer.

More information on the Catskills Fire Towers.

Hiking up and back down

I think one of the nicest parts of visiting the Tremper Mountain Fire Tower is the walk up to it from Phoenicia. The trail climbs steadily, but as it works its way up the shoulder of the mountain, there's plenty of things to see and explore. On my trips, I have been able to plenty of wildlife. In addition, about halfway up the mountain, there are the remnants of a large bluestone rock quarry that you can explore. People have used the broken stone to build chairs and other structures and it is amazing to think about how this rock was mined and transported to be used as sidewalks in northeast cities.

The two leantos are interesting, especially if you are planning on spending the night on the mountain. They are a first-come, first-serve resource, so if you arrive and there's room, you are able to set up your sleeping area and can enjoy the evening sitting in the leanto and enjoying an open fire.

If you need additional water, there's a spring available near the leantos. This water is not safe to drink directly though, so you should have water treatment tablets, a filter or boil the water before you drink it.

One thing I've always thought is interesting is how different from other Catskill summits Tremper's summit is. While the vegetation does change on the way up, you do not enter the more typical coniferous forest that covers most of the mountain summits and instead come into an oak forest. That partially because of the mountain's lower elevation (2,740 feet) and because most of the mountain was completely burned over in the past, altering the soil and hence the vegetation that you get in the area.

The Tremper Mountain Fire Tower isn't one of the more impressive Catskill Fire Towers from the ground since the large oak trees in the area rival the tower in height. However, as you start walking up the stairs on the Fire Tower, you realize that it is a fairly tall tower. The further you go up, the better the views get. From the very top of the stairs and from the cab itself, the views are over the tops of the surrounding trees, giving you a practically 360-degree view of the surrounding area. This is the place to make sure that you have your camera.

If the Fire Tower cab is open, you climb up the final stairs into the cab and from there, you can stand and look out the windows at the view. When the cab is open, the volunteers staffing it will be able to help you identify landmarks and mountains and will offer you some information on the history and the restoration of the Fire Tower.

Other options for getting to the Fire Tower

The other option for reaching the tower is to follow the 4.2 mile blue-blazed trail from Willow. This trail is quite a bit longer, but the after about a 2 mile climb from the Willow parking area and its intersection with the Warner Creek Trail, the route climbs gently to the Tremper Mountain summit in the remaining miles. For those who have two cars, a nice choice is to start the hike in Willow, climb up to the Fire Tower and then down to Route 40 in Phoenicia. This is a total hike of just about 7 miles.

Another option for visiting the Tremper Mountain Fire Tower and Tremper Mountain is to follow the Warner Creek Trail south from the Devil's Path. The Warner Creek Trail and the Devil's Path together form a wilderness hike of close to 30 miles and it can be hiked from south to north (in which case you'd be visiting Tremper Mountain first) or north to south.

Go out and hike!

A trip up Tremper Mountain from Phoenicia is well worth it. The views of the surrounding Catskill region from the Fire Tower are great and the hike up to the Tower from Phoenicia is interesting in its own right and offers plenty of things to explore and enjoy as you make your way to the Fire Tower.


Need more information on hiking and planning your 
trips to the Catskills and the Catskill Park?




Need a hiking map for your hikes in the Catskills? We recommend the Trail Conference's Catskills Trails 6-Map Set. These maps are the best available for hiking and outdoor adventures in the Catskills and the Catskill Park. The Catskill Center offers a regional map of the Catskills that provides an excellent overview of the region, it's roadways, attractions and trails. National Geographic Trails Illustrated also produces a map for the region. 

How about a guidebook? Both AMC and ADK publish trail guides to the Catskill Region and thAdventures in the Outdoors Bookstore carries many more books and maps that will help you as you hike and explore the Catskill Mountains region. 

If you are looking for more information about the extensive history of the Catskill Mountains and the Catskill Park, we would suggest reading The Catskills, From Wilderness to Woodstock and The Catskill Park, Inside the Blue Line. For the most comprehensive natural history of the Catskill Park and the Forests of the Catskill region, we recommend reading The Catskill Forest, a History by Michael Kudish.

   

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