Balsam Mountain is one of the few Catskill Peaks that have fire towers on them (the others mountains with towers are Hunter, Overlook, and Mt. Tremper), and may be one of the nicest hikes of that group, and is the closest one to my home. The trip I describe here is was my first time on Balsam Mtn., and was done in late winter and on snow shoes.
Rick from Catskill Cottageseed joined me on a snow shoe outing up Balsam Mountain recently. Even though the forecast had been calling for weekend rain through most of the week the morning started out sunny, even balmy for an early March day. Rick picked me up at my home, and we left for the trail head which is near Lew Beach, NY (near Roscoe, NY which is directly on future Interstate 86). The drive from my house is approximately 1.5 hrs, through the beautiful Delaware Valley and then Beaverkill Valley. The last portion of the drive is on a dirt road which still showed signs of recent snow, and now with the warmer weather - mud.
Once we got to the parking lot, we put on our snow shoes and off we went. The first trail split is at the 0.9 mile mark from the parking lot. From here it is possible to hike to two different lean tos, and connect up with a number of other Catskill trails. The Balsam Mountain hike can be made into a loop hike from this point, something that we had planned on doing.
We took the left hand trail, the shortest way up to the top of Balsam Mountain, and to the fire tower. The short dog leg trail to the lean to is also up this trail. The previous section of trail had been very easy, as it was along an old logging road. After taking a left at the split, the trail grade became moderate, taxing my snow shoeing skills and my abysmal physical conditioning. Here’s Rick contemplating the upcoming climb.
After some climbing we passed the side trail to the Balsam Mountain Lean To, and shortly thereafter a natural spring. At this point, we had to remove our snow shoes to hike up some bare rocks, after which the grade leveled off significantly. The level grade then continued all the way to the Balsam Mountain summit where the fire tower is located. Volunteers now often man these towers on weekends, so it is sometimes possible to gain access to the tower’s cab, and the ranger cabin which is located near the tower. Although there were volunteers present the day we went, Rick and I elected to stay outdoors in the sunshine.
We took off our snow shoes, and dropped our packs on the picnic table and took a short jaunt up the tower to take in the view. This is the view East, toward the highest Catskill Peaks.
After basking in the warm March sun on the tower we relaxed and took in some lunch.
By the time we got ready to head down the mountain the clouds had already moved in, the sky was grey, but the Balsam Tree lined woods were beautiful, as was the Spring snow!
We took the slightly longer and less steep trail down the back side of the mountain. After about 0.5 miles the trail meets back up with the logging road, and a right turn at the split leaves 1.85 miles back to the parking lot. This is a beautiful, easy hike with a gradual downward grade. The winter conditions allowed views into the distance, and the melting snow was soft under our snow shoes.
Once we got back to the car, we loaded our gear and got in. As we pulled out of the lot the rain started. What a day!