Hiking to Bald and Stillwater Fire Towers • Weekend in the Western Adirondacks, Day 1 • April 22, 2017
It is officially camping season again, and we couldn’t be more excited! Well, most campsites in Upstate NY don’t agree (and aren’t open until May), but that sure didn’t stop us! All we wanted to do for Curtis’ recent 4-day weekend was hike as many peaks in the fire tower challenge as possible, visit our remaining 4 counties in Northern NY, and go camping out in the woods. Unfortunately, when we woke up on his first day off, (Friday the 21) it was raining and overcast, and the forecast showed that this would continue through the night and into Saturday. We decided that it would be better to not put ourselves through a cold and rainy first day and night of camping, so we took it easy and left on Saturday morning.
We began our trip with driving 3 hours West to Old Forge, NY, to hike our first peak of the weekend: Bald Mountain. Despite the foggy and dreary morning, there were many other hikers here today. I’m not sure why this peak gets so much traffic, but I suppose it could be because it is a relatively easy hike to a shorter peak with good views at the top. The beginning of the trail is a dirt path through the woods, but this soon turns into a slanted rock face making it steeper. My favorite part of this trail was the way the tree roots spread over the top of the rock and wrapped themselves around it.
The trail to the peak is only 1 mile, and we reached the end within a half hour of beginning. While the clouds made the view limited, we were still able to see the multiple surrounding lakes and peaks well enough. We didn’t climb the tower here because there were just so many people up there and all around. Curtis managed to find one letterbox while at the peak, then we made our way back. Just like that, one peak done for the weekend!
After we returned to the car, we began heading back west on a “back country” road. One of those roads that appear as a gray dotted line in our atlas. But since this is New York, not Arizona, a dotted road just means it might be a gravel/dirt road and still relatively maintained, just maybe not in winter. It was a risk we were willing to take, and so we made the hour-long drive out to the Stillwater Reservoir.
Before hiking our second peak, we decided it was important to find and claim a camping spot for the night. Curtis had done a lot of research for campsites in this area of the Adirondacks and found a few options near Stillwater Mountain, our next hike. There were a few off of Stillwater Road, and many more off another nearby dirt road around a lake. We first thought it’d be best to go straight for the ones off of the road because they could be more secluded. However, when we made it to the road we found a big gate blocking the way. A sign on the gate read “CLOSED FOR MUD SEASON” — well then! We drove back to Stillwater Road and managed to find one of the 2 campsites near the trailhead. Thankfully it was unoccupied, so we set up our tent to claim the spot. For being a free campsite in the middle of the woods off a quiet back country road, it was actually pretty nice by our standards — complete with a fire pit, picnic table, and outhouse!
Once this was all squared away, we drove to the trailhead to hike to Stillwater Fire Tower. This was another short and easy hike — just 2 miles round trip, and much less busy. The trail was also much more wet and muddy, but that was easily avoidable. This is actually a “newer” hike and addition to the fire tower challenge, which I actually picked up on right away when I saw the nice looking trail register. The bridges over streams and especially muddy sections of trail were also in great condition. It was a short and easy walk to the top, and enjoyable even without much of a view. The only vista comes from the top of the fire tower, and it was still rather cloudy today.
It started raining again after our hike, so we returned to our campsite and played games and rested in the tent. It rained on and off until we had our dinner of kielbasa and veggies. Once everything was cleaned up, we walked down a little trail off of our campsite to the edge of the Stillwater Reservoir. Finding a scenic campground is never a priority for us, but when we stumble upon one, we do enjoy wandering around and taking in the beauty — especially if we are all alone as we were this evening! I think the reservoirs and the lakes are part of what makes the Adirondacks so great. We always love getting views of the lakes from the peaks, but it is equally enjoyable to stand by the side of a lake and look up to the mountains surrounding the shores. It also makes me kind of wish we had a boat to enjoy the lakes more. Maybe someday. 🙂