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DEC Announces 2023 Catskill Fire Tower Challenge

Jan 3, 2023

Challenge Encourages Experienced Hikers to Visit Region's Six Fire Towers  

Highlights Opportunities For Recreation In the Catskill Park

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos today announced the 2023 Catskills Fire Tower Challenge to highlight the world-class tourism destinations and recreational opportunities in the Mid-Hudson region.

"The annual Fire Tower Challenge is a great way to keep the history and traditions of our Catskills fire towers alive for future generations to appreciate and enjoy,” said Commissioner Seggos. “The Fire Tower Challenge provides opportunities for New Yorkers and visitors to reach the unique viewing experience of the spectacular Catskill Mountains while making everlasting memories with family and friends. I encourage anyone that has participated in years past, or those looking to try the tower hikes for the first time and take the 2023 Challenge.” 

For nearly a century, observers watched the forests of New York State — including the Catskill and Adirondack forest preserve — from more than 100 fire towers perched atop the highest peaks, searching for the dangerous, telltale signs of forest fires.

The Catskills Fire Tower Challenge encourages experienced hikers to visit the region’s remaining fire towers located on Balsam Lake Mountain (Hardenburgh), Hunter Mountain (Hunter), Overlook Mountain (Woodstock), Red Hill Mountain (Denning), and Tremper Mountain (Shandaken), along with the Upper Esopus Fire Tower at the Catskills Visitor Center. The Upper Esopus Fire Tower allows visitors who may not otherwise be able to undertake the challenging hike of several miles to experience a fire tower on the high peaks in the Catskills.

Stewardship of the fire towers is a partnership with the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development. The Catskill Center, through the Catskill Fire Tower Project, manages six fire towers in the Catskill Park for public access and interpretation under a Volunteer Stewardship Agreement with DEC. Dedicated volunteers help maintain and staff each of the fire towers on weekends and holidays throughout the summer and fall seasons. For more information about the Catskills and to experience the newest and easiest to reach fire tower in the region, the Upper Esopus Fire Tower, consider a visit to the Catskills Visitor Center on Route 28 in the heart of the Catskill Park. 

To participate in the challenge, hikers must hike to all six DEC-owned fire towers in the Catskills between Jan. 1, and Dec. 31, 2023. Once completed, participants submit a log of their completed hikes along with a favorite photo or selfie via a web form or to the designated email inbox: Entries must be postmarked by Jan. 7, 2024.

All participants who complete the challenge will receive a letter and a commemorative Catskills Fire Tower Challenge patch designed with the 2023 completion year. The first 1,000 finishers will also receive a one-year subscription to DEC’s Conservationist magazine. Upon completion, finishers will also be able to download a customizable certificate and will be eligible to win prizes after the challenge period is closed. To promote responsible recreation, DEC will offer a bonus prize entry to finishers who also submit a photo of themselves practicing Leave No Trace™ while participating in the Catskills Fire Tower Challenge (e.g., picking up litter, carrying out, planning and preparing for their hikes, staying on trail).

New for 2023, finishers who completed the challenge multiple times will receive an additional commemorative Catskills Fire Tower Challenge prize.

Executive Director of the Catskill Center Jeff Senterman said, “We’re thrilled to be part of the Catskills Fire Tower Challenge. The Challenge is a great way to introduce new visitors to the Catskill Park. By bringing visitors to the fire towers, we are directing them to durable trails, amazing views, and the opportunity to interact with our fire tower stewards to get information about the Park, history, and much more. We love that having the Upper Esopus Fire Tower, included as part of the Challenge, brings more people to the Catskills Visitor Center where they can learn about the Park, get information on how to recreate responsibly while they visit, and learn more about the communities of the Catskills that they can visit before and after their hikes.”

Empire State Development Vice President and Executive Director of Tourism Ross D. Levi said, “New York State is unsurpassed when it comes to outdoor recreation destinations. The Fire Tower Challenge represents another chance to invite visitors from around the world and residents alike to explore all that New York has to offer when it comes to enjoying the great outdoors. I LOVE NY looks forward to promoting the Fire Tower Challenge and all the amazing opportunities to hike the Empire State.”

Earlier this week, Governor Hochul encouraged New Yorkers to spend time in the outdoors this holiday season and celebrate the New Year at state parks, historic sites, wildlife areas, canal trails, and public lands across the Empire State on Jan. 1, 2023 as part of New York’s First Day Hikes program, which offers varied hike options for people across the state to enjoy. There is an opportunity for a First Day Hike in the Catskill region at Upper Esopus Fire Tower at the Catskills Visitor Center. The 0.5-mile loop provides an accessible hike for everyone. For those interested, the Upper Esopus Fire Tower will be open and available to climb.

The 2022 challenge, which continues through the end of the year, has drawn more than 800 finishers to-date. Entries have been received from every region of New York, 12 other states, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

With DEC giving participants a full year to complete the challenge, hikers can take their time. Hikers are reminded to practice Leave No Trace™ principles and to Love Our NY Lands by recreating safely, sustainably, and hiking in suitable conditions based on weather and experience level.

For more information about the fire towers and challenge rules, visit:

Under the Adventure NY initiative, DEC is making strategic investments to expand access to healthy, active, outdoor recreation; connect more New Yorkers and visitors to nature and the outdoors; protect natural resources; and boost local economies. Read more about the Adventure NY initiative on DEC's website: