Friday, October 19, 2018

Featured Hike: Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain, Essex County

poke o moonshine mapPoke-O-Moonshine Mountain (2,162 feet), part of the Taylor Pond Wild Forest, provides 360-degree views of the surrounding area and may be accessed by either of two trails.

The 1.9-mile Observer’s Trail ascends 1,280 feet from the trailhead to the Poke-O-Moonshine summit along the route of an old access road used by fire observers. The trail travels through the forest for much of its length and several beaver ponds may be observed along the route.

The 1.8-mile Ranger Trail ascends 1,280 feet from the trailhead in the Poke-O-Moonshine Day Use Area to the summit. Significant work has been completed to upgrade the existing trail. Stone steps were installed and portions of the trail are rerouted. The rerouted lower half of the trail passes through some interesting rock features. A reroute of the upper half of the trail will occur in the future.

The 35-foot tall Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain Fire Tower, a steel Aermotor LS40 tower, was constructed in 1917 to replace a wooden fire tower built in 1912. In 1920, the station was the first in the New York State system to be equipped with an experimental Osborne Fire Finder, a type of panoramic map developed by the U. S. Forest Service for use with an alidade.

The fire tower was staffed and used for fire observation until 1988 and now appears on the National Historic Lookout Register, along with the New York State and National Registers of Historic Places.

Poke-O-Moonshine Firetower

The tower has been open to the public since restoration was completed in 1996. The public may climb the tower and enjoy the view Thursdays through Mondays during the summer and on some weekends in the fall. A summit steward or volunteer is present when the fire tower is open and provides local and natural history interpretation, environmental education, and assistance for the hiking public. The cab of the fire tower includes interpretive panels on the interior walls which display the changes in land use of the surrounding area since the tower was installed.

Poke-O-Moonshine Day Use Area Parking is located off State Route 9 approximately four miles south of Exit 33 of the Northway (I-87). (44.3892°N, 73.5075°W).

Poke-O-Moonshine Fire Tower/Observer’s Trailhead is located along State Route 9 approximately five miles south of Exit 33 of the Northway (I-87) (44.4019°N, 73.5029°W)

Featured hikes are recommended by DEC.

Map of Poke-O-Moonshine courtesy Adirondack Atlas.

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4 Responses

  1. The Friends of Poke-O-Moonshine has just completed a 5-year, $250,000 campaign to rebuild and realign the historic ( records of the route date from the mid-19th Century).
    The new Ranger Trail is gentler and longer in its 1200′ ascent, and it takes in new and compelling scenery along the way.

    We have aimed it to be a cutting-edge model of sustainable design and interesting layout , as it remains an educational trail that interprets the human and natural history of the mountain at eleven stops along its route.

    Come visit Poke-O, and judge the Ranger Trail for yourself, and visit our website at to learn more of our work on the mountain.

  2. The Friends of Poke-O-Moonshine have just completed a 5-year, $250,000 campaign to rebuild and realign the historic Ranger Trail. To date , almost 500 rock steps, three significant re-routes, three bridges, and one ladder have been built. Approximately three weeks of work remain to complete the project. The ADK Professional Trail crew and Tahawus Trails LLC have done a beautiful and thorough job on the trail.

    Our aim is to make the Ranger Trail a model of sustainable and interesting trail design, mitigating erosion and routing the trail past notable natural features. It meanders through a boulder field, safely ascends the side of a cliff face, and takes in three lookouts along the way.
    Our next trail project, in coordination with DEC, will be a connector between the bottom of the Ranger Trail and the Observer Trail, eliminating the need to walk or hitch-hike Route 9 to return to one’s vehicle.
    To learn more about our work, visit and visit the mountain. We will hold a volunteer trail work day Saturday November 3. For details lease see our latest newsletter ( coming up Oct 25) on the website, or email Steven Bailey at

  3. Lake Champlain says:

    For decades Poke-O-Moonshine has been the ‘go to’ and ‘first-mt. climbed’ for hikers in Clinton and Essex County, including legions of college students from SUNY Plattsburgh and other area schools. The only trail was the Ranger Trail, just your classic trail up a mt. with a fire tower. The shortest distance between the base and the top was a straight line, as in straight up, so the Rangers could get to their jobs with no wasted time.

    Unfortunately, by the 90’s the Ranger Trail, like other similar trails on fire-tower mts., suffered from too many boots on the ground and it’s only gotten worse over the last 20 years. Once the thin soil overlaying the rock got loosened and then water and gravity did their thing, much of the trail turned into a stream bed, filled with loose rocks and debris. The trail was a wreck but hikers, and no small number of trail runners, continued the 1.1 mile trek that provided a great view and workout for half a day’s time.

    The DEC actually decided to close the trail and began construction of the alternate route. But two groups in particular, The Algonquin chapter of the Adk. Mt. Club, and The Friends of Poke-O-Moonshine, decided to try and save the iconic trail and began the campaign to raise enough money to rebuild and reroute the trail. Over a number of years a professional trail crew worked their you-know-whats off hardening the trail to withstand many years of more boots, and this year completed the reroute up to the old rangers cabin and leanto. I’m not sure if the remaining segment to the summit will be redone as well.

    But if you want to see an example of one of the best solutions to the problem of too many hikers, also referred to often as we’re loving the ADK’s to death, then hike the ranger trail. It might not be the stairway to heaven but I marvel at the skill and hard work that went into construction of the stairs on the lower half of the trail.

    Would an effort like this work on even more heavily-hiked trails, especially those in the high peaks? Yes and no. It’s not the solution to the problem, but hardened and re-routed trails like this one, where possible, can alleviate some of the damage ever more hikers cause, and thus avoid the erosive effects that destroy the trails and the environment. I urge you to support the ADK Mt. Club, the 46ers, and other groups that provide financial support for both professional crews and the many volunteers that donate their time and effort to help improve the trails. And of course press your state representatives to put more money in the DEC budget each year to maintain and improve the trails, and oh, by the way, to pay for more professional Rangers to support the Adks.

    And oh yeah, take a half a day and enjoy a nice hike up this nice little mountain.

  4. Patrick McNamara says:

    My wife, son and I just did this hike three days ago – but via the Observer trail… the book I had, apparently published before the Ranger trail was redone, warned against the Ranger trail. We had a great time, great view from the top… but in hindsight wish I knew the Ranger trail was reworked, sounds like a much more interesting trail!