Guide: Hiking Guide for the Hunter Mountain Fire Tower in the Catskill Mountains, NY

Hunter Ski Trip
While a bit more remote than some other Fire Towers in the Catskills, a trip to the Hunter Mountain Fire Tower is well worth your time and effort as its provides some amazing views.

The tower is located near the summit of Hunter Mountain at just under 4,040 feet in elevation. The sixty feet of tower bring you close to 4,100 feet and from here, you are well above the trees of Hunter Mountain and you have a view that's only limited by the conditions.

As with the other Fire Towers in the area, the only access to the Hunter Mountain Fire Tower is via hiking trails, or in the case of one trail, a hiking trail that also functions as a horse trail. There are several different trails that make different approaches to the mountain at various levels of difficulties.

Where is Hunter Mountain?

Hunter Mountain is the second highest peak in the Catskills and is located in Greene County in the northeastern portion of the Catskills. Nearby roads include Route 23A in the north, County Route 6 from the west (Spruceton Road), and Route 214 traveling north from Phoenicia that provides the eastern access to the mountain via the Diamond Notch Road, the Devil's Path Trailhead in Stony Clove Notch and the Becker Hollow Trailhead.

The most direct access from points south and north of the Catskills is the New York State Thruway. You can take the Catskill exit and then travel up Route 23A into the Hunter Mountain region and from there you can decide how you would like to approach the mountain on a trail.

Hiking to the Hunter Mountain Fire Tower

There are several different trails that climb Hunter Mountain and reach the fire tower. They run the spectrum from fairly easy to pretty difficult. For most hikers, the easiest access is via the Spruceton Trail, which follows the old jeep road to the summit. The most difficult is toss-up between the Becker Hollow Trail and the Devil's Path up from Stony Clove Notch.

Eastern approaches to Hunter Mountain and its Fire Tower include the Diamond Notch Trail, which approaches Hunter Mountain from the end of Diamond Notch Road in the east to the end of Spruceton Road in the west. This trail passes through Diamond Notch, past the Diamond Notch Lean-to and to Buttermilk Falls where it connects to the Devil's Path and allows you to climb to the summit of Hunter Mountain.

The Devil's Path runs over 20 miles from the northern Devil's Path Range and includes a portion over Hunter Mountain. Access is provided at the day-use parking area for the Devil's Tombstone Campground or from either side of Diamond Notch. From Stony Clove Notch the trail quickly climbs up Hunter Mountain where it reaches the Devil's Acre Lean-to before ascending to the summit of the mountain and then traveling down to the Diamond Notch Trail.

The final eastern trailhead, accessible from Route 214 is the Becker Hollow Trailhead. This trail climbs up the edge of Becker Hollow, a ravine on the side of Hunter Mountain and is a short (2 miles), but very steep (rises over 2,000 feet) way to reach the summit of Hunter Mountain.

From the west in Spruceton Valley, there is the trailhead for the western end of the Diamond Notch Trail at the end of the Spruceton Valley Road. This trail provides access to Hunter Mountain.

There's also the Spruceton Road trailhead, which provides access to Hunter Mountain and the John Robb lean-to via the old fire tower access road. This trail provides the easiest climb up the mountain, as the slopes are generally not as steep as they are on the other trails. The road is still used to provide access to the Tower, so you may pass or be passed by a Department of Conservation vehicle at some point during your trip on this trail. This trail is also an active horse trail, so you may have to share the trail with some horses.

On the summit of Hunter Mountain, the Colonel's Chair trail runs from Spruceton Trail over to the top of the Hunter Mountain Ski Area ski runs. This trail provides access to the summit of Hunter Mountain and the Fire Tower for visitors riding the ski lift during the summer months, as it is only about a mile or so to walk from the top of the lift to the summit of the mountain.

There are no easy ways to do loop hikes in this area, however with a bit of road walking, there are two loops that are possible. You can use the Becker Hollow and the Devil's Path trailheads on Route 214 to go up and over Hunter Mountain and then walk back along Route 214 for about a mile to your beginning trailhead. Along the Spruceton Road you can use the Diamond Notch and the Spruceton Trails to make a loop, but again, you will have to walk some distance along the Spruceton Road to complete the loop.

The Hunter Mountain Fire Tower

The Fire Tower on the top of Hunter Mountain was formerly used as an observation platform in order to observe fires throughout the area. It was staffed daily throughout the dry summer months with the observer staying either at the tower site in a small observers cabin adjacent to the tower or ‘commuting' daily up the Spruceton Road to the tower. The observer would triangulate the position of any smoke with other Fire Tower observers, which would allow them to narrow down the location of any potential forest fire. The tower was also used as a communication relay point.

Today the tower and the cabin have been restored by the State and the tower is open to the public when interpretive volunteers are present, which is on weekends during summer months. If the Fire Tower cab is open, you can climb up the final set of stairs into the cab and from there, you can stand and look out the windows at the view. The volunteers staffing the tower will be able to help you identify landmarks and mountains.

However, even without the tower being open, you can still climb up the stairs of the tower to just below the cab and get a view over the forested summit of Hunter Mountain and from there you can see almost all of the Catskills surrounding you. The Blackhead Range is to the north, North and South Lakes and the Hudson Valley are to the northeast. The Devil's Path Range runs off to your east. Westkill Mountain and its surrounding wilderness area are to the west and to the south you look across the Esopus River valley to the southern high peaks of the Catskills including Slide Mountain, the Catskill's highest peak.

In addition to the tower cab being open when staffed by volunteers, there's a small observer's cabin located on the ground next to the Tower. This building is also usually open when volunteers are present and is a nice place to escape from the wind. You can sit on the porch and relax or warm up by the stove inside.

Planning a trip to the Hunter Mountain Fire Tower

Unless you are planning on riding the chairlift and walking to the tower from there, no trip to the Hunter Mountain Fire Tower is really an easy or short hike. The trip from the chairlift is your only option if you are looking for an easy walk. The chairlift takes out most of the elevation and you're left with about a mile of easy walking to the summit.

In the case of all the other trails, you are going to need to make a day out of a hike on Hunter to the Fire Tower. I'd suggest a morning start so you can enjoy lunch on the summit at the Fire Tower.

Packing you should be prepared for the weather. You'll need good hiking shoes as the trails can be quite rough and you should bring plenty of water since while there are seasonal springs, there is no guarantee of water on the summit. I'd also suggest bringing a shell jacket in case it rains and to block out the wind on the summit and the tower.

A free hiking map for the Hunter Mountain Fire 

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.