When the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) released a report calling for the removal of the fire tower on Hurricane Mountain, Jess and I just happened to be sitting around trying to figure out what to do with our day. Trail heads to this peak are about a 5 minute drive from our home and neither of us have ever seen an Adirondack fire tower up close… and it was a beautiful, mild winter day with gorgeous blue skies.
It was obvious what we needed to do.
View Hurricane Mountain in a larger map
There are three approaches to the summit of Hurricane Mountain. One from the East, which is no longer maintained. One from the North (Keene), which passes a lean-to and makes for a nice overnight trip. And one from Rt. 9N, which is the most popular and the one we decided to go for.
The trail sign was easy enough to find along Rt. 9, and parking consisted of a pull off. On this day there was only one other car at the trail head, so we looked forward to a quiet, crowd free climb.
At 2.6 miles over 2,000 feet of elevation, this is a fairly moderate hike. However, the elevation gain is front and backloaded, with some sustained steep sections. Soon after leaving the trail head, for example, you are hit with a 300 or 400 foot climb… and then again as you approach the junction with the North trail summit you encounter a half mile of rough, steep terrain. In between is some really enjoyable, even flat at times, hiking through vleis and over brooks and bogs.
We’ve had a weak winter this year, in terms of snowfall, so the ground cover was thin enough that we didn’t even bother with snowshoes. There was plenty of ice however, and our crampons saved the day on more than one occasion. Parts of the trail were steep enough, and iced over enough, that had we not brought crampons – or had we just brought snowshoes – we would have had to break trail and find another way around these sections.
Hurricane Mountain reaches 3,694 feet in elevation, making it the 72nd highest in the Adirondacks – well shy of the popular 46ers – but its “bald” summit offers some spectacular views that are hard to get anywhere else… including views of Lake Champlain and the Green Mountains of Vermont.
Not to mention views back out over the ‘dacks.
And of course, there is the fire tower.
Built in 1919, this is one of several constructed by the fire service to help look out for forest fires. The towers communicated with each other, and fire departments, via hand cranked phones and were staffed by ‘observers’ who usually lived in cabins near the mountain. Hurricane Mountain’s tower is off limits to hikers, and the bottom two sections of ladder have been removed. This is for safety reasons, and is probably a smart decision as the 90 year old structure does not receive maintenance.
While the tower is not required for views on the summit, it is highly visible from nearby mountains and at lower elevations – including from parts of Rt. 9N and even Lake Champlain – and some consider it an important landmark (historical even) and part of the “skyline.” Others question the appropriateness of an old man-made tower, that no longer serves a purpose, in a declared wilderness area.
Whatever the future holds for the Hurricane Mountain fire tower, this is one enjoyable hike with a beautiful summit. We look forward to doing it again in the summer months, and checking out one of the other approaches.
Where: The Adirondack Park, between Keene and Elizabethtown
Directions from Lake Placid: Take Rt. 73 south/east toward Keene. Shortly after passing through Keene and hitting the 55mph zone, you will approach the Rt. 9N junction. Take a left. The trail head will be on the left side of the road, about 3.5 miles up Rt. 9N from this junction. The parking area is a pull off.
Difficulty: A short, moderate day hike with some rough, steep sections.
Summary: Hurricane Mountain is an accessible Adirondack day hike that offers a quick and easy way to experience 360 degree views and a fire tower. It is perfect for beginners or for people with only half a day to spare, and is a nice option for families. The North approach, in particular, is considered a good first overnight thanks to the accessible lean-to along the trail.
- Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra Trail Runners – Dave’s favorite trail running shoe (they work fine in light snow)
- La Sportiva Women’s Sandstone GTX Shoe – Jess’ favorite hiking boots
- Grivel G10 Crampons – It is hard to find these classic trekking crampons now. I believe Grivel has scaled back their N. American distribution. The Mountaineer in Keene, NY still carries them.
- EMS Endotherm Soft Shell Jacket – Best bang for your buck soft shell I could find for skiing and winter hiking
- Osprey React Daypack – A near perfect casual daypack
- REI Peak UL Women’s Trekking Poles – Jess’ hiking poles
- Adirondack High Peaks Trail Guide – Amazon.com
- Trails Illustrated, High Peaks Trail Map – Amazon.com
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