I was casting about without any luck for a local big staircase as an outdoor alternative to the step mill on these gorgeous days after work when my sweetie suggested trying a fire tower. I’d been meaning to get to Pine Plains to try the hike to the fire tower on Stissing Mountain anyway, so I changed into my hiking togs at the office on Monday afternoon and headed up there to do that thing.
This lollipop hike is pretty short–about two miles–but it’s steep. The route starts across Lake Road from the parking area (I guess really the parking area is across Lake Road from the trailhead) and heads up a steep incline for a bit before it flattens out and hangs a left onto a wide, rocky trail. After a couple-three minutes, at a tree with a big pile of rocks in front of it, the trail presents a choice to either bear right or turn left. This is the start of the loop and, while both ways lead to the top of the mountain and the fire tower, the path to the right has a considerably more forgiving grade. I chose to go that way because I like to keep as much fuel in the tank on uphill slogs as possible.
There are no markers on this hike, which is sort of terrifying to me. The trail is perfectly easy to follow, though. During other times of day or during the summer when the trees are full of leaves, this part of the hike might be on the boring side. It’s gorgeous, though, at about 6:30 pm in April, just as the sun starts to sink in the west. The forest practically glowed. It was a spectacular consolation for the unrelenting toil of the mile up to the tower. After about 30 minutes I felt a bit disturbed that I couldn’t see the fire tower as the trail flattened and curved up around the mountainside. Then, bang, there it was through the trees. And it’s a humdinger of a tower.
I hopped onto the stairs and realized right away they were not appropriate for the purpose of running up and down for training. They’re sort of… what’s the right word? Rickety, maybe? Treacherous? Anyway, they’re pretty scary when you’re actually standing on them. It was also massively windy up there. (The wind should not have surprised me so much. It’s a 90-foot tower on top of a mountain.) When the thing gets to shaking and swaying it’s natural to remember it’s more than 80 years old. The views from the top are totally worth it, though.
It was too windy to hang out on top of the tower for very long. After a few minutes and a few pics I carefully made my way back to terra firma and the second half of the loop, a straight downhill shot with a bit of scrambling. It took me about 20 minutes to get from the fire tower back to the parking area. I had worried as I set out up the hill that I might not make it down before it got dark, but I had plenty of time.
The Stissing Mountain fire tower hike is a great quick cardio hike. It’s strenuous enough to get a sweat up and my heart pumping, but short and sweet enough that I don’t mind doing it after a full day’s work. It might become my go-to Monday or Friday hike.
Length: ~2 miles
Elevation change: ~900 ft
Hiking Time: 1 hour
Training Grade: B
Enjoyment Grade: B-