An easy out-and-back. One hour up. One hour down. (Watch out for rattlesnakes, though!)
Hiking Trail Description
It’s short, it’s easy, and it packs in a lot: atmospheric hotel ruins, the best fire tower view in the Catskills, a beautiful ledge with historic carvings, rattlesnakes! You can see it all in less than 3 hours. This is why Overlook is one of top three popular hikes it the Catskills.
I‘ve lately become addicted to sunrise hikes. The views from Overlook’s Fire Tower are exceptional at any time of day. But sunrise adds real magic. The first rays of the day hitting early morning mists down on the Hudson River are magical, and the rising sun brings the surrounding mountains and valleys into otherworldly relief. Several lakes and the Ashokan reservoir shimmer purple, gold and white. I couldn’t recommend the mountaintop sunrise experience enough.
Sunrise Hike Planning
The light is amazing long before technical sunrise time, so I planned to arrive at the fire tower before sunrise. I’ll have a more detailed post soon about sunrise hikes but for now: a) your phone will tell you when sunrise beings and b) you can figure out how long the hike up to your chosen viewpoint will take with this standard hike time formula.
I packed my headlamp and made sure to be at the trailhead around 4am, figuring it would take about an hour to get to the summit. I got up there around 5:10am in plenty of time to pop off a bunch of shots before the sun came up at 5:38am.
Best of all, I had the fire tower to myself for about an hour. For Overlook Mountain? In summer? That’s amazing.
The Hike Up Overlook Mountain
Note: I started this hike at 4am in the dark and hiked back down, after dawn, shooting the trail in reverse. That’s why the first photos below are in daylight and then switch to pre-dawn/dawn/daylight once I get to the fire tower. The hike report is written with your hike up in mind.
The DEC’s Overlook Wild Mountain page states: “The summit of Overlook Mountain is one of the top three most visited locations in the Catskill Forest Preserve (after Slide Mountain and North-South Lake).”
The trail climbs steadily to the top of Overlook Mountain following an old carriage road that once transported guests in the late 19th century to the Overlook Mountain House. It is not the most interesting trail. If you think this is what hiking in the Catskills is like, in general, no, that is not at all the case.
But the trail is very short, not too steep, and the view from the top is one of the most dramatic and exceptional scenic views in the Park. So, onwards…
This is the trailhead…
Prepare for an hour of this view…
The red blazes are a little hard to see. They’re on telephone poles on the side of the carriage road. But it’s hard to go wrong. Just stay on the main trail, ignore any side trails, and keep heading up.
Warning! In warmer months, this hike includes potential exposure to rattlesnakes.
Once you get near the top, you’ll see a handful of signs warning about rattlesnakes. Take heed.
Overlook Mountain House Ruins
At 1.6 miles, look to the right for an opening into the woods. You’ll see the castle-like ruins of the latest and final Overlook Mountain House. This iteration was started in the 1920’s but never completed. Fires burned down two previous incarnations of the hotel, which then was almost rebuilt but ran out funding, was abandoned, fell into disuse, and is now being reclaimed by nature.
The ruins are quite large and worth exploring (carefully) for a while.
I want to explore this east wing more. I think the far side of it might offer a view of Overlook’s summit and fire tower as this side of the ruins is visible from the fire tower, incongruously jutting out of the forest canopy, and somewhat creepily.
If I believed in ghosts, this would surely be prime ghost-spotting territory. I bumped into three young dudes who had camped in these ruins overnight. Personally? A big bowl of No thank you! (I do believe in creepy.)
Head back to the trail and continue your climb.
The trail winds around the back of the ruins and passes a smaller building, also in ruins.
This is Overlook Lodge. It was used by the owner’s family.
Standing on these steps, you can look across the first floor, though the wood has rotted away, exposing the cellars below.
Continue uphill. From the lodge, the summit of Overlook is only about ten minutes.
First, you’ll pass this turn-off which leads out to Plattekill and Echo Lake, but also out to Indian Head and Platte Clove.
Overlook Mountain Fire Tower
You’ll pass a rocky section on your left, classic rattlesnake den territory. I saw several herd paths heading into the rocks. Another strong No thanks! from me. (Well, maybe in winter…?)
The trail passes a small red cabin on the right. We’ll come back to this later.
Stay on the trail as it winds left and enters the summit opening where, at last, the fire tower looms ahead rather impressively.
The DEC page states, “This is the newest of the five towers left in the Catskill Park, having been at its present location since only 1950. However, the tower itself is much older as it was originally constructed in 1927 on Gallis Hill, just west of Kingston.“ It’s currently in great shape.
Take extra care here. On hot days, rattlesnakes will sometimes sun themselves out in the open, here, sometimes right around the base of the fire tower. Rattlesnakes are not normally aggressive but, of course, extreme caution should be taken around these potentially deadly predators. Leave them well alone, and they’ll leave you alone too.
Sunrise from Overlook Mountain
At 60 ft tall, the fire tower on Overlook Mountain is one of the tall ones. Some models are only 47 ft. I did not know what to expect when I climbed this tower. I had recently climber Mount Tremper and really loved the view from its tower. When I climbed Overlook’s, I was blown away. Like, even in the pre-dawn light, holy cow.
No wonder this is one of the most popular hikes in the Catskills.
To the north, the view takes in, most dramatically, Plattekill Mountain and all four peaks of the eastern Devil’s Path, with Kaaterskill High Peak and the Blackhead Range in the distance.
Looking west, you can see Olderbark and even West Kill poking up from behind the ridge.
Then there’s Ticetonyk Mountain and Mount Tremper, the Burroughs Range, Peekamoose and Table, Ashokan High Point and the Ashokan Reservoir, the Shawangunks, Kingston, the Hudson River, even the Taconics along the horizon, directly east.
It’s such a stunning mix of mountains — up-close peaks, distant peaks, layered peaks — with water, open flats, and big sky. Just incredible.
This is Overlook’s main ridge…
Behind Overlook’s ridge, you can see Cooper Lake & Mount Tobias, the Burroughs Range, Ticetonyk and Ashokan High Point.
At this hour the light changes very quickly, from minute to minute.
After I took the above shots, I turned back around to the east to see the sun start to come up…
First light started to hit the mountaintops…
It took me a minute to realize what I was looking at, below. This is the shadow of Overlook Mountain cast onto the Burroughs Range just after dawn. I think this is the longest shadow I’ve ever seen. It was 16 miles long.
After Dawn, The Light Changes Again
This violet time is very short. Very soon the sky and colors start to wash out. There’s still plenty to see…
The town of Woodstock is visible below, marked by the spire of a church…
One of the great benefits of sunrise hikes: I got to spend an hour in the fire tower, completely alone and undisturbed at the very best time of day — and this was on a Saturday morning at one of the busiest sites in the Catskills!
There is one last stop before you descend. For me this was an unexpected treat.
Climb down from the tower, keeping an eye out for any snakes, and head back to the red cabin you passed on the way up.
A short spur trail to the right of the cabin takes you, very quickly, to a ledge with a really magnificent view of the Hudson River, Ashokan Reservoir, the Central Catskills, and up to five states.
The view from this ledge is so great. I didn’t realize it at the time but Kingston (my home town) is clearly visible from the ledge.
On the ledge itself are old graffiti carvings from the 1800’s and early 1900’s. Please do not deface or add to these wonderful historical marks.
From here, it will take you about an hour to get back down to the parking area. For such a short hike, I would say this double bill of amazing views is impossible to beat.
This is one of the shortest and easiest mountain hikes in the Catskills. And it’s one of the most insanely scenic Catskill hikes. It’s also incredibly popular, so you may want to plan your hike day and time accordingly. With its fire tower and ledge views, this hike is definitely kid-friendly.
This hike does include some potential exposure to rattlesnakes, though this is very rarely a problem if people are respectful, watchful, and keep their pets leashed and under control.
If you do this hike, let me know how it goes in the comments below…
Trailhead Info for this Hike
Description: Large lot for one of the most popular Catskills hikes. (Also used as an overflow lot for KTD.)
GPS Location: 42.071002, -74.122654
Location: The map below shows the exact topographic location of the trailhead.
Pretty good throughout. Unusual for the Catskills. (My network is Verizon. YMMV.)