Highlights: Big honking fire tower, excellent views
Distance: 1.9 miles, partial loop
Approximate roundtrip time: 2-3 hours
Total ascent: 926 ft
Max elevation: 1,415 ft above sea level
This hike is for you if: You’re looking for a steep climb to a big payoff. And also, you think it sounds like fun to climb a swaying, 90-ft structure in the middle of the woods.
Pooch proclivity: No doggies allowed. Boooo! (But pooches aren’t the biggest fans of fire towers, anyway.)
Super-cool Google Earth flyover of hike route:
Google Terrain Map of hike route:
Background you can feel free to skip: If you approach Pine Plains from the south on Rt 82, you can see your destination looming on the hill to your left: a big ol’ fire tower, beckoning you to come check it out.
Whoever built this tower must have been compensating for something; it stands about 30 feet taller than your average fire tower. “Surely, I’m at the top now,” you’ll think, only to round the corner and see another flight of stairs.
Nothing is more annoying than getting to the last step on a fire tower only to find the hatch above you locked. The tower on Stissing Mountain will never do that to you – it’s always open to explore, all the way up. The gorgeous views up there quickly make you forget all about the creaking and swaying. Almost.
When I used to live a little bit further north, this was my go-to place to bring out-of-town visitors who really liked to hike. Walking at a good clip, it takes about 45 minutes to get from car to tower, a relatively short hike for such awesome views. My friends were never disappointed at this hike, and you won’t be, either.
The difficulty rating for this hike is a 6, which, according to the Scientific Hike Difficulty Rating Scale, means you are entitled to eat at least three slices of pizza afterwards. That scale doesn’t take into account the USA Deli, though, which is just a short distance from the trailhead, and which serves the largest slices of pizza I’ve ever seen. If you wanted to, you could easily wear a slice as a cape and fly around the room. If you can eat three of those slices, you deserve to have your picture hung on a wall somewhere.
Our hiking group used to do this hike every summer, and we’d always go to the USA Deli afterwards. The owners were always so friendly to us, even though we couldn’t always understand each other (there are newspaper clippings on the wall about the family coming here from Kosovo). They also have that 28” pie that is bigger than a wagon wheel.
One year, the owner went into his garden out back, picked some fresh watermelon and sliced it up for us. Very nice people.
I’m always glad to see that they’re still in business in what seems like a pretty remote location. I haven’t been back in a little while, but if someone went there and ate some gigantic pizza based on this recommendation, it would warm the cockles of my heart (if hearts have cockles). And it would also be the perfect way to reward yourself after a calorie-burning afternoon at Stissing Mountain.
1. From the parking area, head across the street, towards the “Thompson Pond Nature Preserve Sign”, following the trail that starts just beside it.
2. Head through the open fence, past the blue trail marker and start making your way up the hill. Don’t worry, this is the steepest section – it’s not all like this. But man, this part is steep.
You’ll also come to a fork shortly after you begin climbing — really, more of a “fauxrk,” since it’s not really a fork. Both trail sections meet up again in a moment. I chose left, and it worked out just fine. I won’t be offended if you go right, though.
3. After ten minutes or so of vigorous climbing, the trail will T into an old woods road. Make a left to continue, and enjoy the more leisurely incline of this section. If it’s been very wet out recently, you might have to do some rock-hopping to keep your feet dry here.
In general, though, this trail is very dry and nicely maintained (though without blazes, an interesting choice, right?), so don’t let a little damp section get you down.
4. About halfway up the hill, you’ll come to a fork in the trail, marked by a big pile of rocks (or cairn, if you’re fancy) at the base of a tree.
Whichever direction you choose, you’ll come down the other way, so this is where the loop starts. I always go right, just because the incline is a little friendlier this way. I’ll assume you’re doing the same.
5. Just keep chugging and sticking to the trail, reminding yourself that at a casual pace, it usually only takes about an hour to get to the tower. You could chant “an hour to the tower” over and over again in your head, if that would help pass the time. (Really, it usually only takes about 45 minutes, but that doesn’t rhyme with tower.)
Check out some of the cool rock formations as you continue climbing.
5.5. **UPDATE** On my most recent visit to Mt. Stissing (September 2013), a new (unofficial?) trail marker (a trail marker on Mt. Stissing? Get out!) had materialized in the middle of the trail, near the top. It was a wooden arrow pointing to the left, followed by some metallic disc trail markers.
“What the heck, why not?” I thought, and followed the trail left. This turned out to be a shortcut to the tower (five minutes or so), and I’d probably go this way again next time, too, if those markers are still there. You can also go straight past the first marker and arrive at the tower without a problem, too, which is the way I always used to go. Your choice – can’t go wrong! Just wanted to mention it here so those markers don’t surprise/confuse anyone.
6. Just when you think it’s never going to materialize, you see this bad boy staring back at you:
7. When you enter the clearing at the base of the tower, take special note of which trail you came in on. It’s easy to get turned around when you come back down later. If you turned right at the beginning of the loop trail, you should see your return trail heading off to the left of the tower.
8. Give it a climb! And watch your step. You can’t see squat if you don’t climb the tower, so hopefully you’re game.
9. At the top, take some pictures. Revel in the awesome view. And feel free to pretend that you don’t even notice the swaying.
10. After you’ve had your thrills, carefully descend and head down the hill on the return trail. If you went the same way I did, you’ll pass the remains of an old ranger station, then you’ll descend steeply.
11. About halfway down (15 careful-stepping minutes or so from the ranger station ruins), you’ll rejoin the original trail at the big pile of rocks, where your loop started earlier today. It’s all retracing your steps from here.
12. Remember at the beginning of the hike, when you made a left after that steep stretch dead-ended into that old woods road? Be careful not to miss that turn on your way back (it’s a right turn this time). There are usually some branches lying across the trail to help steer you in the right direction, but keep an eye out. I’ve had friends walk straight past the turnoff without realizing it.
13. Take that right turn and head down the steep stretch until you reach your car. Hungry for some gigantic pizza now?
Directions to the trailhead: From Poughkeepsie, take 44 East through Pleasant Valley to 82 North. Follow 82 all the way up to Pine Plains. As soon as you start entering the town of Pine Plains, keep on eye out on the left for Lake Road. You’ll take Lake Road and follow it for just shy of two miles. After passing some marshland, you’ll come to a sharp bend to the right, where a Thompson Pond Preserve sign is on the left (this is parking for a nice nature loop around Thompson Pond – no views there, though, so I’m skipping it in this writeup. You should check it out sometime, if you have the inkling.) Your parking area is on the right in another couple hundred yards. You can see the trail heading up the hill to the left, beside another Thompson Pond Preserve sign.
You can also get directions by checking out the Stissing Mountain entry on the HiketheHudsonValley.com Google map.
Sorta nearby address for your GPS: The Pine Plains Fire Dept is at the corner of Lake Road and Rt 82. Its address is:
7 Lake Road
Pine Plains, NY 12567
If you’re coming from the east on Rt. 199, you’d do better to plug in the address of the USA Deli, which is on Rt. 199, just before the right turn you need to take onto Lake Road. Its address is:
2704 New York 199 West
Pine Plains, NY 12567
GPS coordinates of parking area: 41.96989, -73.68218 (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, see the Nature Conservancy’s Thompson Pond/Stissing Mountain page.
More Stissing Mountain pictures from the hike’s Picasa album: (with a special thanks to Jeff Bisti for digging up some ancient pictures from our old hiking group):
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