2017-05-24 / Take a Hike

Take a Hike

Great Views Await at the Red Hill Fire Tower
By Will Soter

With Memorial Day weekend at hand, the News is happy to welcome back hiking guide extrordinaire, Will Soter. Starting next week, Soter’s popular Take a Hike column will return to this space. To set the stage for his return, we have reprised his popular Red Hill Fire Tower hike from August of 2015.

Soter, a co-founder and lead guide with Upstate Adventure Guides, LLC, is among the leaders in the guiding industry in the Catskills. In addition to taking individuals and groups on hikes through the region, Soter is often a guest speaker and resident expert for locals and newcomers seeking to learn more about the Catskill Forest Preserve.

The hike itself it relatively easy and short in comparison to a typical Catskills’ high-peak trek. This makes it a great hike for children or for someone who is new to hiking. The sweeping views afforded from atop the 60-foot-high tower that is perched on summit of 2,990- foot elevation Red Hill, are spectacular!

In 1919 the New York State Conservation Commission decide to take more steps to further protect lands in the southern Catskills, and in 1920 construction began on the Red Hill fire tower. The fire-tower observer was busy spotting fires soon after its construction with 15 fires spotted in the first two years alone. The tower was closed briefly in 1971, but it was then reinstated in 1972 before finally ending its service in 1990. The Red Hill fire tower was the last fire tower in service in the Catskills.

Insider look

Today you can still enjoy the sweeping views from the tower, and if you set out to do so on a weekend between Memorial Day and Columbus Day, you will be treated to the views from inside the tower’s cab. You will also get a chance to see inside the ranger’s cabin, and learn a bit about the history of the tower and the observers that were stationed there, from one of the volunteers that staff the tower on the weekends.

When in service, the fire tower was reached by a jeep road that passes through private land. This route has been closed to recreational use for some time. However, you will want to make sure you are using current maps and guide books to avoid hiking through private land. I have several out of date maps and guide books that are still easy to find, online or in libraries. These old maps and guides show the old route, or mention the hike as a bushwhack.

New path

There is a new well-graded path that cuts west from Dinch Road (Coons Road on older maps) on the shoulder of Red Hill and approaches the summit from the north. The trail climbs 900 feet over the course of 1.4 miles. At roughly a mile in to the hike you will come to a junction with a side path. This path leads to a refreshing spring, and provides a great place to take a break if you are hiking with children. Past the spring the trail climbs and gradually the forest opens to reveal the tower perch in a grassy clearing.

The grassy field is also home to picnic table making it an ideal spot for lunch. But first, you should climb the tower and bask in the 360-degree panorama view. To the north and west are the incredible views of the Catskills’ high peaks. To the southeast the view is over the picturesque waters of the Rondout Reservoir. The Berkshires are to the east, and the Poconos to the west. On a clear day you can see five states from the fire tower.

Getting there:

From NYS Thruway Exit 19, take exit for Route 28 west on the right. After .5 miles, exit right on to Route 209 south towards Ellenville. Follow Route 209 for 24.5 miles, then turn right on Route 55, continue six miles and then turn right on county Route 19. Watch your mileage, the road sign can be hard to see. Follow county Route 19 for 6.4 miles, then turn right on Red Hill Road. After 3.2 miles, turn left on Dinch Road. After a mile the parking area will be on your right.

From points west along Route 28. Take county Route 47, the Big Indian/Oliverea Road, which is a left from Phoenicia and points east, and a right from Big Indian and points west. Follow county Route 47 for 19.8 miles. Route 47 becomes Route157, continue for .9 miles, then turn left on county Route 19 (Claryville Road) and follow .7 miles. Then continue 1.3 on Route 19 after it turns in to Denning Road. Next make a right on to Red Hill Road. Then after .3 miles turn left on to Dinch Road. The parking lot will be on the left in one mile. Dinch Road was Coons Road on old maps and still shows up as such on some GPS navigation systems.

Will Soter is the co-founder and lead guide of Upstate Adventure Guides, LLC. Learn more about hiking the Catskills at his website: upstateadventureguides.com.

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