Overlook Mountain in the Catskills: A Great Place for an Intergenerational Stroll
July 18, 2012

Overlook Mountain in the Catskills: A Great Place for an Intergenerational Stroll

We were a group of seven people, ranging in age from 6 to 76, with a 12-year-old piebold dachshund in tow, and we had no ambitions about making it to the top of Overlook Mountain in the Catskills Forest Preserve. It was wonderful to be out with the kids, their grandparents, a friend, and her beloved pet, and given our varying speeds and hiking abilities, the fact that we were all game to do some of the hike together was the true beauty and accomplishment of the day. 

The trek is a steady incline, going from an elevation of 1,760 feet at the trailhead to 2,150 feet at about three-quarters of a mile in. The peak is at 3,140 feet. The wide path is mostly gravel and dirt, great for sure and steady steps, but lacking in shade along some portions. The path switches back and forth up the mountain. The trailhead is located across from the Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, a Tibetan Buddhist monastery and the North American seat of His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa, which itself is worth a gander. 

We always make a point of signing the visitors’ log when there is one (there is at the trailhead of this path). Then away we went at a comfortable pace that allowed for a constant stream of conversation and commentary on the plant and animal life we saw in the deciduous forest that surrounds the trail. 

A Hike with History

Initially we thought that that we might make it to the husk of the Overlook Mountain House, a long-gone hotel for the well-heeled who visited the Catskills in droves during the late 19th century. It is located at about mile 2 of the total 3-mile hike (one way). We didn’t get there in the end, but early in our journey we realized that no matter how far we got, this would be the first of many trips to Overlook Mountain, and Halina and Riley, who are ages 6 and 9, would always remember it as the time we went with their grandparents, Nana Beth and Opi-Din Lambert, ages 76 and 73, our family friend Cathy Clarke, and her tiny dog, Flag. Other goals were secondary.

The pinnacle of Overlook Mountain features one of five historic fire towers in the Catskills that have been restored and opened to the public. For nearly 100 years, some 19 fire towers topped various mountains across the Catskills and from those high perches, observers looked out for signs of forest fires. The towers were phased out of use during the 1980s, and they fell into disrepair and their environs were closed to the public for safety reasons. 

Today, thanks to the efforts of countless volunteers and the Catskill Fire Tower Project, a joint effort of the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, five towers have been restored and opened as visitor observation decks. We didn’t get to the one on Overlook, but apparently the views are breathtaking! The other towers are located at Hunter Mountain, Red Hill, Balsam Lake Mountain, and Tremper Mountain. 

Visiting All the Fire Towers

Morgan Outdoors, an gear store in Livingston Manor, on the western slope of the Catskills, is sponsoring the fourth-annual Five Fire Tower Hikes “passport” program that runs through Monday, October 8.  Reach a fire tower, take a few pictures, and log your accomplishment on your paper passport page and return it to Morgan Outdoors by October 8. The more towers you reach, the better your chances of receiving the mysterious grand prize. Contact the store for a passport and details.

Getting There

From the center of Woodstock, go north on Rock City Road (County Route 33) to the intersection of Glasco Turnpike. There is a slight bend at this intersection but go basically straight onto Meads Mountain Road. The drive here gets steep and winding. The temple will appear on your left, with the hikers’ parking lot and trailhead on your right. The drive is about 2.5 miles from the center of town. 

Woodstock is about 100 miles northwest of New York City, at Exit 20 off the New York State Thruway (I-87). 

Camping and Food Options

Overlook Mountain could be done as a day trip from New York City, but once you get to the Catskills, they tend to draw you in, so it is good to plan to stay. On this trip we stayed at the lovely KOA in Saugerties. The campground is thickly wooded, thus shady and cool, and the pool was a welcome treat and a popular destination among all campers late each afternoon. There is also a mini golf course, a Frisbee course, and an easy, yellow-blazed hiking trail throughout the woods. Dogs can stretch in the designated pet walk areas. 

Last year we stayed at the Brookside Family Campground in Catskill, a site we appreciated for an entirely different reason: The western edge was cleared of trees and offered a stunning view of the Catskill range from the pool and all campsites.  Both facilities have friendly, relaxed proprietors. 

Two local produce markets along Route 32 (heading north from Saugerties, toward Catskill) have great deals on gorgeous fruits, vegetables, and homemade baked and canned goods. The Smokehouse of the Catskills, located at 724 Route 212, is practically a destination unto itself, with a large selection of kielbasa, local meats, and Polish adn German delicacies. The folks behind the counter are happy to offer samples to kids.


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