Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Fire Tower Trifeca: Mount Adams, Buck Mountain and Snowy Mountain

After finishing the Northeast 115, I didn't have any lofty hiking goals for the rest of the season. I set my sights on shorter hikes to some of the lower peaks of the Adirondacks that I wanted to hike at some point, but for whatever reason didn't. After an extremely wet summer, September brought much better hiking conditions.

While decommissioned fire towers stand in numerous states. Many of them fell into disuse. Most of them are no longer safe to climb and they are often off limits. Growing up in Pennsylvania, I hiked by several fire towers that had locked gates with tall fences blocking access. Several fire towers stood in Maine while I lived there. Most were dilapidated and the state removed the ladders to keep the public off of them. Occasionally you could climb partially up the ladders, but the cabins were never open. In the eight years I lived in Maine several of the existing towers were removed altogether. One of the exceptions was the tower on Old Speck, which was renovated for use as a hiker observation platform.

New York stands out as an exception to the rule on limiting access to fire towers. While most of the fire towers across the state no longer stand, more than 25 still exist on public land in the Adirondacks as well as a handful in the Catskills. A majority of these towers are still safe and the public may access them. I climbed a handful of these towers. Because they stand on mountains and rise above the trees with 360 degree views, you are guaranteed a good view when the weather cooperates. With recent clear skies, I wanted to take advantage of the vistas from a few more fire towers. I hiked to three mountains in mid September with fire towers.

Mount Adams

Mount Adams stands in the southern end of the High Peaks Wilderness. Located so close to the highest mountains in the Adirondacks, it's often said to have the best view of the fire towers. With a lovely clear day in late September, I wanted to see the view for myself.

The hike to Mount Adams begins at the same trailhead used to access 46er summit Allen Mountain, just before Upper Works. The trail starts deceptively easy, traveling over low terrain that crosses the upper reaches of the Hudson River and passes by Lake Jimmy.


Bridge over the Hudson

Lake Jimmy

Before turning off the East River Trail, you pass the old warden's cabin where the tower observer stayed when not manning the tower. The back door of the cabin was not locked and you can take a look at the interior of the simple living quarters. Just past the cabin, you turn onto the trail for Mount Adams.

Warden's cabin

A look inside the cabin

The trail from the junction only travels just over a mile to the summit. While the beginning of this trail continues over relatively flat terrain, the easy hiking doesn't last. The trail gains over 1,600' over the next mile. This is steeper than some of the most rugged mountains in the High Peaks. Numerous rocky slabs and short scrambles slow progress. The trail rarely levels off for very long. The payoff at the summit makes up for the relentless climb.

A slab early on Adams

Scrambling under a wall

Choya enroute to Adams

The wooded 3,520' summit would offer no views if not for the tower. Like most of the remaining fire towers in the Adirondacks, you can access the tower and the observation cabin. The views from the tower don't disappoint. The grandstand view of the High Peaks is quite stunning. The view is dominated by the rocky slopes of Calamity Mountain to the north. Avalanche Pass stands behind Calamity, framed by the MacIntyre Range and Colden. Mount Marcy's bald cone stands out. Cliff, Redfield, and Allen dominate the skyline before dropping to the North River Mountains and eventually the lower mountains to the south. The Santanoni Range rises just across Henderson Lake. The Seward Range stands to the northwest before sweeping back toward the MacIntyres.  

Mount Adams fire tower

Choya in the tower

The Seward Range

MacNaughton with the Sewards in the background

Santanoni Range

View to the south

I believe this is the North River Mountains



Calamity Mountain with Algonquin, Colden,
Marcy in the distance

Looking toward Avalanche Pass

The descent can be a little tricky over the steep and rocky terrain, especially when wet. I reached the flat East River Trail quickly. The final 3/4 miles back to the trailhead were a breeze.

Even though this hike covers just a touch under 5 miles, it's a fairly challenging hike for the distance. While the distance may seem manageable, the final mile to the summit climbs as steep as anything in the Adirondacks and shouldn't be taken lightly if you are expecting a casual hike. If you are up for the rugged climb, you certainly won't be let down by the views from the tower. It may be safe to say this is one of the best fire tower views with it's prime location in the High Peaks Wilderness.

Buck Mountain

The trail to Buck Mountain is one of the newest trails in the Adirondacks. A project of the Town of Long Lake, the trail just opened to the public in early September of 2023. The trail sits on private timber company land. The timber company recently came to an agreement with the town ,allowing the trails construction. Best of all, the trail leads to a newly restored fire tower on the summit of the small mountain.

About two weeks after the trail opened, I heard about it for the first time in an article in the local paper. The trail runs about 1.2 miles while gaining about 500 vertical feet to the tower. Since the hike is relatively short, I decided to check it out in the afternoon after hiking to Mount Adams. 

For such a short trail, the parking lot for the trailhead is enormous. It's one of the larger trailhead parking lots in the Adirondacks. I arrived at the trailhead around 2PM and was surprised to see more than a dozen cars. A large group just finished their hike as I arrived.


The trail starts easy enough as it travels on flat terrain. It's obvious the trail is still new as the dirt tread isn't consolidated yet. Town of Long Lake discs mark the trail. Several brand-new bog bridges help navigate the muddier stretches. Numerous sets of wooden steps help negotiate the steeper sections of trail. I began passing other hikers almost as soon as I started hiking.

Nice trail work

Extended stretch of stairs

Since the trail travels only 1.2 miles, I reached the tower pretty quickly. By the time I arrived at the tower, I passed probably a dozen groups. Only one lone hiker was at the summit when I climbed the tower.

Buck Mountain fire tower

I was pleasantly surprised by the views from the tower at the modest 2,395' summit.. Sitting just over a mile from the summit, Little Tupper Lake and Round Lake dominate the view. Mount Morris stands out to the north with a small sliver of Tupper Lake visible past the small summits of Coney and Goodman. The High Peaks are visible in the distance to the east. Countless lower mountains can be seen in all directions. Just a few peeks of fall color started to dot the trees.

Nice views from the tower

Mount Morris in distance

Fall color beginning to show

Little Tupper Lake and Round Lake

The return hike went by pretty quickly. I saw a couple more hikers making their way towards the tower. The parking lot cleared out quite a bit by the time I made it back to the trailhead.

Choya on a bog bridge

Given the busyness of Buck Mountain, I foresee it being a pretty popular hike similar to the nearby Tupper Lake Triad Peaks. I probably saw more people on this hike than the last five hikes I had done prior. The payoff is pretty big for a rather short hike. Unlike Adams, even inexperienced hikers and small children could enjoy this trail as it is relatively easy.

Snowy Mountain

Snowy Mountain rises above the west side of Indian Lake, just a few miles south of the Town of Indian Lake. Snowy Mountain stands out as the tallest Adirondack peak south of the High Peaks at 3,899'. Given its isolation of nearly 30 miles from the next highest mountain, it also stands as the ninth most prominent peak in New York. It's summit is home to the highest elevation fire tower still standing in the Adirondacks.


The trail to Snowy Mountain starts right along NY 30. Although the trailhead sign shows 3.4 miles to the summit, most sources list the distance between 3.6-3.9 miles. With another beautiful day after my hike up the Adams and Buck fire towers, I headed to Snowy for some more blue sky views.

The hike starts out easy enough on a nice trail with minimal elevation gain. It crosses numerous small streams without bridges. These stream crossings may problematic during rainy stretches and spring thaw, but were easy enough in early fall. The gentle terrain with nice footing continues for more than two miles.

Pleasant trail to start

The trail gains only about 500 vertical feet for the first two miles. The real climbing begins about 2.5 miles into the hike. The easy hiking comes to an end. Climbing nearly 1,400' over the last mile, the trail becomes rockier and much steeper. .

Getting rockier with elevation

Choya at a rocky stretch

At times the trail feels like a dry stream bed, other times it feels like you are climbing on an old, grown- in slide. The crux of the route comes near the summit. The trail climbs along the side of a cliff in a steep drainage. Above the cliff, the first views open up, overlooking Indian Lake towards lower mountains to the east. During the steepest part of the climb, the trail threads into several ribbons and its not always obvious which route is the actual trail. All of the threads seem to merge together at the side of the cliff.

The trail passing under a cliff

The first view point below the summit

I reached the summit just a few minutes after leaving the viewpoint. The last short stretch to summit gains minimal elevation. Although the summit is covered densely in trees, the fire tower provides a beautiful 360 degree view. While climbing the tower is permitted, use extra caution. The upper reaches of the stairs lacked a fence. The landings are particularly narrow at this point. Use the railings at this point. I wouldn't advise taking kids up this tower for this reason.

Snowy Mountain fire tower

I haven't really been on any mountains in this part of the Adirondacks before and wasn't sure what I could see from the summit. I was pleasantly surprised. Immediately to the east, you see most of Indian Lake with countless lower mountains in the distance. To the west and southwest lies the vast West Canada Lakes Wilderness. Panther Mountain, just a few feet lower than Snowy, dominates the view to the north with Blue Mountain just barely visible behind it. Squaw Mountain stands above Indian Lake to the northeast. The High Peaks jagged profile breaks the horizon to the far north. Forested lowlands stretch to the south.

 Panther Mountain

Squaw Mountain with the High Peaks in the distance

Zoomed in view of the High Peaks

Lower mountains to the west

Indian Lake to the east

On the descent, I stopped again at the lookout just below the summit to get one more look over Indian Lake. When I reached the threaded ribbon of trails, I followed a section that looked like an old slide. Although mostly grown in, I did get one last good view of the High Peaks from a clearing on the slide. The steepest part of the descent went by quickly. Back on the lower and flatter terrain, the last couple miles went by quickly. 

The High Peaks visible on the descent

Given its isolation and elevation, Snowy provides a great look at the Central and Southern Adirondacks from its tower and is a worthwhile hike. Just use extra caution on its tower where its missing protective fencing. Although not quite as tough as Mount Adams, the roundtrip hike of snowy still covers around 7 miles and gains over 2,000 vertical feet and shouldn't be taken lightly by inexperienced hikers. 

Lots of nice trail work on the hike

One of the larger stream crossings

Any of these three hikes make great options if you are looking for a nice hike and great views. I haven't been disappointed with any of the hikes I have made to fire towers in the Adirondacks. If you hike to a few fire towers and really enjoy it, there is even a fire tower hiking challenge that you can take on that visits the fire towers of the Adirondacks and Catskills. For information on the the challenge, visit Fire Tower Challenge

If you enjoyed this post, check out and "LIKE" Tomcat's Outdoor Adventures on Facebook where I post photos more often and revisit past adventures.

No comments:

Post a Comment