I went to school in the quaint little one-traffic light town of Pine Plains, New York. For years, I drove up Route 82 with a single mountain protruding out from behind farmland to the West and I never once climbed it. Stissing Mountain was an icon of my youth, the namesake of my high school, and I still never managed to get up there.
My motivation to finally climb Stissing came when I returned from my 15-month trip abroad. Discovering the wonders of the world in other people's backyards made me want to discover the wonders I have neglected in my own backyard!
As it turns out, Stissing Mountain is quite the unique and unexpected natural wonder because of its significance in nature. It's importance has even been recognized with a display featured in the American Museum of Natural History!
At the Trail-Head
I drove to the trail-head with my friend Dasha. Dasha is my New York hiking companion. You may remember the time we encountered a bear while hiking New York's Catskill Mountains. She was eager to get out of New York City to hike with me again after I got back from traveling abroad.
The day we chose to hike was on one of the unusually warm days we had this winter. I was especially appreciative of the warm weather after growing accustomed to 90-degree heat in Bali, Indonesia!
The trail-head for the Stissing Mountain hike is found on Lake Road in Pine Plains. There are a few trails in the area but the one you want has a sign that says "Welcome to the Thompson Pond Nature Preserve." There's a small area for parking across the road.
Steadily We Climb
The climb is very easy going. But you probably should not trust me if you're a less frequent or inexperienced hiker. Most hikes seem easy to me after the insanity of the hikes I did while in New Zealand.
Other hikers rate this hike "moderate" probably because it's so short! At around 40 minutes to the summit with a steady incline all the way, this hike is an quick morning or afternoon trip with ample time before or after to explore the town a bit, too.
The weather was rainy the day before we climbed so there was some muddy parts to the trail. I managed to avoid any mud disasters with a bit of log and rock hopping.
If you do this hike during the summer or autumn, I imagine the hike up would be much more interesting. The trees would be full and the colors would be much more vibrant. Instead, we found ourselves crunching along on top of a thick layer of dead, brown leaves.
The Fire Tower at the Summit
You'll start to see the fire tower as soon as you near the peak. At 90 feet, the fire tower is much larger than usual. It's 30-feet taller than is typical for fire towers.
The fun part about this tower is its accessibility to the public. As long as you are not too afraid of heights, you can climb to the top and get amazing views from the platform.
There's also some graffiti to read all over the platform. The following messages are an excellent example of the disparite political views you'll find among the residents of my hometown:
From the top of the tower, you can catch sight of the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts to the East and the Catskill Mountains of New York to the West.
As far as I know, Stissing Mountain is the only mountain in the area where you can see views of both on a clear day from a single vantage point. It's randomly positioned perfectly between the two.
Immediately below the mountain, you'll be able to spot Thompson Pond and the other lakes nearby which used to be unified thousands of years ago. Now there are three separate bodies of water in the preserve.
The area earned itself a National Natural Landmark designation in 1973 because of its "calcareous bog." Basically, this means the pond has calcium or lime deposits leftover from a retreating glacier over 15,000 years ago.
The pond's consistency is a bit of an anomaly in the northeast of the United States, making it especially wonder-ful and worthy of a Stissing Mountain diorama feature in New York City's American Museum of Natural History! Check it out in the area of the museum dedicated to New York State's environment.
As Small Towns Are
A visit to a popular landmark in my hometown would not be complete without bumping into someone I know. Dasha got to witness the glory of small town life when I ran into Nathan at the fire tower, a peer from two grades below me in high school.
We had a grand time catching each other up on all the people we've both lost touch with since leaving the area. Lots of us small town folk end up moving far, far away. But we always come back around for a visit to appreciate the quaint, quiet beauty.
A really neat moment occurred while we were all up there, but Nathan asked me kindly not to include pictures of it. All I'll say is that it involved a helicopter acting like a predatory bird and we were its prey inside the fire tower.
If you're interested to know what happened—feel free to message me and I'll share the photos with you because it was pretty cool!
What To Know If You Go
If you ever visit upstate New York, definitely check out Stissing Mountain. When you go, don't be surprised if you meet some friendly locals—because they love to make this short trek at least once a year.
I'm glad I finally lived up to hometown tradition and made my way to the peak after all these years. It'll definitely be a hike I do again in the future!
Hours: The Conservatory is open every day from dawn to dusk, but local young people climb it at night all the time!
What to bring: A bottle of water, small snack, binoculars, and camera
Dogs allowed: Nope. Leave the pooch at home.
Time to hike: 40 minutes or less to the summit
Ascent: 926 feet (1,415 feet above sea level)
Distance: 1.9 miles if you do the full loop (see map here)
Accessibility: Steady incline, some rocky parts, muddy after rain, fire tower is always open as a viewing platform