Fire tower cabin access varies site to site. For information on a specific tower managed by DEC, contact the local DEC office.
History of Fire Towers in New York State
For nearly a century, observers watched the forests of New York State from more than 100 fire towers perched atop the highest peaks, searching for the dangerous, telltale signs of forest fires. There were 19 fire towers in the Catskill region and 52 in the Adirondacks.
Beginning in the 1980s, the State of New York began to phase out the use of fire towers for spotting forest fires, and in 1990, the last 5 towers still in operation were closed. Over time, the towers and their associated observers' cabins began to deteriorate, and those that were not dismantled were closed to the public for safety reasons.
Across the state grassroots, volunteer-based initiatives were formed to try to save the towers. These initiatives recognized that the towers not only represent a piece of the history and heritage of New York State forest protection, but are an untapped resource with tremendous tourism potential. Through the dedication of countless volunteers, as well as assistance and support from DEC staff, local government and the State Police Aviation Unit, many fire towers across the state have been restored.
Visiting New York's Fire Towers
Fire tower hikes offer what some refer to as "cheap views" - outstanding vistas with less hiking effort than required to hike to the summit of the highest peaks. Pack a lunch, drink and proper equipment and hike to a fire tower. Plan to spend lots of time on the summit taking in the views. Many fire tower cabins are only open during a limited time or when a steward is present. For information on a specific tower managed by DEC, contact the local DEC office.
Many fire towers are used to support radio equipment for DEC Forest Rangers and Environmental Conservation Police communications. Solar panels, wiring, antennas, and other equipment is found on and in some fire towers. This equipment is critical to DEC public safety and resource protection missions. Do not touch or damage the equipment and please report any apparent vandalism to the nearest DEC office.
Many fire towers have stewards working on them during summer weekends. Stewards provide information on the history and important function of fire towers. They also can point out and name the mountains, lakes and communities seen from the fire tower. Stewards are typically volunteers or interns hired by the fire tower's "Friends". These groups form to restore, maintain and staff fire towers.
Take the Catskills Fire Tower Five Challenge!
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.