The hike to Mount Tremper Fire Tower on the Phoenicia Trail is surprisingly gorgeous in late April despite a severely moody atmosphere at the summit with thick rain clouds threatening to burst any minute. At this time of year, it’s more lush and green than other trails with multiple tributaries splashing across your path, and onwards down the mountain through vivid green moss towards the Esopus River. The trail head is on Route 40, outside Phoenicia and starts over two small wooden bridges that span waterfalls, and a steep climb up stone steps for a half mile that’s utterly beautiful but treacherous with tree roots and deep mud when wet.
Then the path joins an old jeep trail that runs up from the road, where you’ll find the sign-in register. The trail is steep with an almost 2000 ft elevation gain from the parking lot and rocky, making the descent tedious, especially when it’s wet. This trail – red-blazed on the map – is part of the Long Path, but the hike from Route 40 parking lot to the fire tower is about three miles, making it a reasonable six miles round-trip.
There is also a rattle snake den at a defunct bluestone quarry at 1,450 ft, so extra care must be taken on this trail. Near the top, as if a reward for the tired hiker, a grove of hemlocks that turns the part of the trail into a cozy, quiet tunnel with pine needles and leaves together creating a bouncy carpet.
For camping, there are two lean-tos: one, the Baldwin Memorial lean-to about halfway up and one lean-to at the summit near the fire tower. There are also two springs – good for dogs on hikes. Reasonable views at the summit can be had from the fire tower only, but then still the trees are almost reaching the top of the tower that was built in 1917.
Find details maps of this hike at the shop section of the New York New Jersey Trail Conference website. There are five remaining fire towers in the Catskills (Balsam Lake, Mt. Tremper, Overlook, Red Hill and Hunter) and you can get a patch from the Catskills Visitors Center (formerly the Catskills Interpretive Center) if you’ve done all of them.