June 18, 2022 – Pine Plains, NY
Length: Approximately 2.1 miles
Max elevation: 1460 ft. – total elevation gain approximately 1,001 ft.
Route type: Lollipop Loop
Trailhead parking: 499 Lake Rd, Pine Plains, NY 12567
No toilets on site – No entrance or parking fees
Pull-off parking lot on shoulder for about 10 cars
Stissing Mountain is a 1,402-foot-tall mountain in Pine Plains, NY. It is composed of the same Precambian bedrock as the Hudson Highlands but is separated from them or any other Precambian outcrop by many miles. There is an exhibit devoted to the mountain’s geology in the American Museum of Natural History. Near the summit of Stissing Mountain is a fire tower that is almost 80 feet high, about 20 feet taller than the average fire tower. The Stissing Mountain Fire Tower provides vistas east to Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont; Southwest to Pennsylvania and New Jersey; and North to the Empire State Plaza in Albany.
Stissing Mountain is part of the Thompson Pond Nature Preserve, managed by The Nature Conservancy. The steel tower is open to the public, and it is a popular hiking destination. The tower is owned by the Friends of Stissing Landmarks, a citizens group that formed to rescue it from demolition.
While the name Stissing is most certainly of Native American origin, its etymology is not precisely known. Earlier forms of the word are Tishasink, Teesink, and Stissink. In his book, Aboriginal Place Names of New York, William M. Beauchamp says that its possible origin is the Algonkian word tahshin, meaning “he raises himself”. There is a legend that the mountain was named for an Indian chief who lived in the notch between Stissing Mountain and Little Stissing, its neighbor to the immediate north. On an old patent survey map drawn in 1734 by surveyor Richard Edsall, it is called Stissink Mountain. This may be the earliest written record of the name of this mountain.
According to the Forest Fire Lookout Association, the structure on Stissing Mountain is a 79′ 6″ International Derrick E-4898 (circa 1932) tower, provided to the State of New York by the US Forest Service and erected by the Boston Corners – Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Camp in November and December of 1933. This tower was first staffed in 1935 reporting 91 fires and 610 visitors. This tower ceased operation sometime between 1979 and 1982.
The ranger’s cabin, located approximately 200 feet to the north, burned in 1976.
New York State announced in 1986 that the Tower was no longer needed and would be removed. Concerned citizens formed Friends of Stissing Landmarks (FOSL) in 1986 to take over responsibility for the Tower and keep it open for the public. In 1994, the Tower was turned over to FOSL, which maintains the structure today. Hikers are welcome to access the Tower at their own risk and at no cost. FOSL encourages all users to send donations to assist in the maintenance of the Tower.
Beginning in 1958, The Nature Conservancy acquired 507 acres of Stissing Mountain and Thompson Pond, forming the Thompson Pond Preserve. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has also designated Stissing and Little Stissing Mountains, together with the Wappinger Creek Valley, part of a Significant Biodiversity Area called the Stissing Mountain Wetlands Complex.
The Fire Tower can be reached by trails leading from the east side of Stissing Mountain from Lake Road and from State land on the west, from Hicks Hill Road at the Stissing Mountain Multiple Use Area.
From Lake Road, the subject of this hike, the trails are woods roads that climb steeply up the mountain. The trails are marked with rusty can tops and faded orange or blue discs.
The trails used to be unmarked, but it seems that someone took the time to add some markers in recent years. There are countless woods roads and/or footpaths that branch off of the main trails. As long as you are seeing orange or blue blazes on the trees, you are on the correct trail.
The Orange Trail is steeper, but makes for a shorter route. The Blue Trail utilizes an old deteriorating access road, which is a more gradual, but longer ascent, making a loop hike possible. At the start of the trail, there is an explanation with faded marker.
This hike has been on my list for quite some time and I was glad to finally have had the chance to do it. Aside from the 360° views from the top of the tower, the hike itself was a good work out and not many people on the trails. It is cooler and very windy on that tower and proper gear such as a sweater or windbreaker should be packed, even in the warmer months. I made the mistake of leaving my light fleece in the vehicle and regretted it. It was in the mid 50’s and cloudy, but the blustery wind at the top of the tower, made it feel more like it was in the low 40’s. Because of the high winds, we didn’t spend much time at the top of the fire tower.
Please Note: There is no view from the base of the fire tower, so if you don’t climb at least part of the way up, you will not enjoy any of the marvelous views.
This Lollipop Loop was done clockwise, ascending on Orange (steeper) and descending on Blue. I prefer a less steep descent which is gentler on the knees.
It’s a steep climb on the Orange Trail, gaining nearly 1,000 feet of elevation in just under a mile.
From the trailhead parking lot on Lake Road, carefully cross the street and head into the woods on a steep, rocky footpath, following both blue and orange blazes. In about 200 feet, the trail comes to a fork, where the blazes bear left. Then about five minutes later, the Blue/Orange Trail reaches an intersection with an old woods road. Turn left onto the woods road, which soon becomes quite steep and rocky.
A short distance later, you’ll reach another fork in the trail, with a tree in the middle of the fork and many rocks piled in front of it. This is where the trails split. The right fork, the route of the Blue Trail, will be your return route, but for now, bear left on the Orange Trail and continue to follow the woods road up the mountain. Soon, the grade moderates a little and the trail becomes less rocky, but the steep climb soon resumes. Along the way, there are limited views through the trees to the left of the trail.
After about 0.4 mile of steep climbing (from the last intersection), you’ll pass stone steps to the right of the trail (the remains of a former ranger cabin) and reach the summit ridge. Just ahead is the fire tower. There are no views from the base of the tower, but you’ll want to climb this almost 80-foot tower to get a spectacular view of the countryside.
The International Derrick Model 1933 Fire Tower was developed through a cooperative effort between the Aermotor Company and the U.S. Forest service. Although it is advertised as a 90-foot tower, it’s actual height is 79′ 6″ with 8 flights and 97 steps.
It is a heavily galvanized free-standing batter-legged hurricane-proof structure with a 7×7-foot metal cab.
The wooden plank steps are showing signs of age, with some dry rot visible. I stayed away from stepping in the center of the steps as I ascended the tower.
Helpful tip: Anytime that I climb any kind of old steps/stairs, I make sure that I place my feet/weight where the supports are. I must say, I have climbed a few steel fire towers, but never on such a windy day. To its credit, this 89 year old tower did not have much shake to it. It held its ground like a champ during the high winds that we encountered.
The Stissing Mountain Fire Tower provides views east to Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont; Southwest to Pennsylvania and New Jersey; and North to the Empire State Plaza in Albany.
View southeast with the actual summit of Stissing Mountain in the foreground.
View southwest with the actual summit of Stissing Mountain in the foreground.
View west with the Catskill Mountains visible in the distance. Kaaterskill High Peak near center with the Devils Path Peaks to the left and the Blackhead-area summits to the right.
Similar shot as above but zoomed in.
Thompson Pond directly below to the east. The Nature Conservancy has a trail that is 2.5 miles long that encircles the pond.
Looking northeast – Twin Island Lake (upper left), Stissing Pond (center) and part of Thompson Pond (lower right). The Taconic Mountains in the distance, with the states of Vermont and Massachusetts behind them.
Little Stissing Mountain in the center, with Twin Island Lake and Stissing Pond to the right.
After resting from your steep 1,000-foot climb and taking in the panoramic views, descend the tower and at the bottom of the steps, look straight ahead looking for blue blazes on a tree. Follow the blue blazes as they bear right and descend on a narrow footpath, then turn left at the next intersection and descend to a woods road. Turn right onto this rocky road, which descends steeply. After a while, the road bears right, passes rock ledges on the right, and continues to descend more gradually on a less rocky route. You’ll come to a number of forks and intersections; in each case, bear right and stay on the woods road, following the blazes, continuing to descend gradually.
A massive wall of Taconic volcanic rock to the right of the trail.
About 0.7 mile from the start of the Blue Trail, near the base of the fire tower, you’ll come to the fork you passed on the climb up the mountain, with the tree in the middle and rocks piled up in front of it. Turn left here, now retracing your steps on the Blue/Orange Trail. At the next fork, bear right and descend the final pitch to Lake Road, where the hike began.
A very exhilarating hike with the payoff being the marvelous views from the top of the fire tower. Not many people on the trails on the day that we visited. The trails are easy to follow. Just remember that as long as you are seeing blazes on the trees, you are on the right track. I would definitely do this hike again.
Stissing Mountain Fire Tower, 360° views from the tower, scenic landscape, quiet area.
Better trail map and a freshening up of the blazes would be nice.
Take a hike!
- Friends of Stissing Landmarks
- New York-New Jersey Trail Conference
- The Nature Conservancy
- Our Natural Heritage
- Stissing Mountain Revisited
- NYS Chapter of the Forest Fire Lookout Association
- Stissing Fire Tower – National Historic Lookout Register