Highlights: Fire tower, old husk of a hotel, jaw-dropping views, Buddhist temple
Distance: 5 miles, up-and-back
Approximate roundtrip time: 3 hours
This hike is for you if: You’re looking for a strenuous hike with so much to do at the top that the fire tower somehow isn’t the main attraction.
Background you can feel free to skip: “Hey, I just put you in the banner graphic for the Mt. Overlook hike,” I told my friend Johnny (far right in the image above) on the phone last night.
“Oh, that place was cool,” he said. It had been a decade since he’d been there, but he remembered it right away. A day spent at Mt. Overlook (and in nearby Woodstock) is a day you won’t soon forget.
This is especially true if you take a few minutes to hop across the street from the trailhead to visit the Buddhist temple, which looks like it was ripped off a Tibetan mountainside and plunked down here in Woodstock. There’s a gift shop there, so you don’t need to feel like you’re intruding. Visitation hours to the main shrine, which is really a sight to see, can be found on the temple’s Visiting and Staying page.
The last time I was there (several years ago), a very nice man poured us tea and chatted us up for a while. I’ve always found this to be a very friendly place, and they’ve always been inviting to me and my friends, even when we’re grubby from hiking Mt. Overlook.
But back to the hike itself: I’ve been tossing and turning at night about giving Mt. Overlook the full 5-camera scenery rating. Does the view on top knock both socks off (which would make it 4.5 cameras), or does it literally make love to your eyeballs, qualifying it for the full 5-camera score?
By any measure, the Hudson Valley views from the cliffs on Mt. Overlook are incredible, and the fire tower and old hotel ruins on top are icing on an already awesome cake.
My only hesitation is the trail itself, which is kind of a drag. It’s an old gravel road (with power lines overhead) that you just slog straight up the whole way. It’s fine, really, but not as nice as a well-worn trail through the woods. If you complained about the gravel road up Mt. Overlook, you most definitely wouldn’t be the first.
Still, the top of Mt. Overlook is such a festival of awesomeness that I’m going ahead and giving it the 5-camera rating it deserves. Anyone who complains about the road up the mountain (which is pretty much everyone) should immediately stop whining when they arrive at their destination.
Combine a hike up Mt. Overlook with a visit to the temple and some grub at one of Woodstock’s unique eateries, and you’ll have put together a very nice day for yourself. Hopefully, one you’ll still remember fondly a decade later.
**Update 8/28/14** As Ashley reminds us in the comments, this trail runs right through rattlesnake habitat. I’ve climbed this mountain maybe a dozen times and never seen one here, but they’re apparently quite common – be sure to watch where you’re stepping! We want this hike to be memorable for the right reasons.
**Update 9/24/16** I just received this Facebook message today from a local hiker: “Beautiful view but no parking and Woodstock is writing tickets for $150 for illegal parking. Parking lot holds 15 cars and the other 30 cars got tickets as they rotate thru every 3 hours.” If you can hit this hike at an off time (weekdays or very early on the weekends), sounds like you’ll be much better off. This is a very popular spot, as well it should be.
1. From the parking area, sign in at the kiosk and head up the road/trail.
2. Keep walking up the road.
3. That thing you were doing in Step 2? Keep doing that.
4. Finally, just when you start wondering why you couldn’t just drive up this road like a sane person, you’ll come around a bend to see the shell of the old hotel looming in front of you. The last time I was here, they’d recently put up some signs telling people to stay out of the ruins. I don’t want to be responsible for a chunk of concrete falling on anyone’s head, so please abide by any signage you see. Still, this is quite a place to behold. If I was a ghost, this is probably where I’d live. You know, if I existed.
5. Once you get done checking out the hotel, keep heading up the trail. Shortly, you’ll come to a well-marked fork in the trail. Go right to keep heading towards the Mt. Overlook summit. I always think of the hotel as the top, but there’s still a little way to go before you reach the fire tower.
6. And suddenly, off to your left, there it is: the big ol’ fire tower. I usually like to save a climb up the fire tower for last. If you can’t stand it (or if you arrived at a moment when you could actually have it to yourself), go ahead and give it a climb. For everyone else, though, let’s keep heading to the cliff overlook first.
7. You’ll see a small ranger station just past the fire tower (there are some nice museum exhibits in that building, if it’s open when you show up). To the right of this station, follow the trail a short distance back to the cliffs of Mt. Overlook. It’s sad to think that some people come all this way to miss this little trail back to the cliffs, which are really the main event. At the cliffs, have a nice long sit and enjoy the view (and be extremely careful – there’s a considerable drop here).
In the rock, you’ll see some etchings from hikers past, back when they knew how to do graffiti right. See if you can find any carvings more than 100 years old.
8. Once you’re done at the cliffs (and hopefully you had time to stay for a while), head back to the fire tower. If you haven’t already, give it a climb and enjoy the awesome views.
9. When you’ve sufficiently explored the tower, the hotel and the cliff views, head back down the way you came. That was a 5-camera hike after all, wasn’t it?
Directions to the trailhead: From the village of Woodstock,head north on County Route 33 (Rock City Road). This turn is smack in the center of town, and it’s a right turn if you’re coming into Woodstock from the east on Rt 212. Stay straight on this road through the intersection with Glasco Turnpike (really, this is a turnpike? I think some folks in Jersey might disagree). You’re now on Meads Mountain Road, on which you’ll stay straight as it climbs and winds its way up the base of Mt. Overlook (cheerfully doing much of the work for you). When you see the huge Buddhist temple on your left (about 2.5 miles after the village of Woodstock), look for the trailhead parking area on your right.
You can also get directions by checking out the Mt. Overlook entry on the HiketheHudsonValley.com Google map.
Address for your GPS: The Karma Triyana Dharmachakra temple is directly across the street from the Mt. Overlook trailhead. Its address is:
335 Meads Mountain Road
Woodstock, NY 12498
GPS coordinates of trailhead: 42.07106, -74.12255 (Clicking will open in Google Maps or the Apple Maps app, depending on your browser/device.)
Related resources: If you’re looking for actual facts and/or useful information, check out these excellent resources:
- Yelp reviews on the hike
- Another Overlook hike write-up on LocalHikes.org
- HudsonValleyRuins.org’s write-up on the Overlook Hotel
- If you’re interested in getting a bite to eat afterwards, here’s an official Woodstock restaurants page
More Overlook Mountain pictures from the hike’s Picasa album (with a special thanks to my buddy Jered Earl “Chunks” Widmer for providing many of these photos, including the banner image on this page):
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