A sunrise trek to a fire tower on a N.Y. Adirondack mountain. For decades, the fire towers in New York's Adirondack Mountains defended the wilderness against fires. The soaring structures offer a vantage point high above summits to take in beautiful sunrises.

A sunrise trek to a mountain fire tower

A sunrise trek to a mountain fire tower

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Watching the sun rise from a mountain summit is a special summer delight. To make it happen, you have to start the hike in the dark. Brian Mann/NPR hide caption

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Brian Mann/NPR

Watching the sun rise from a mountain summit is a special summer delight. To make it happen, you have to start the hike in the dark.

Brian Mann/NPR

ELIZABETHTOWN, N.Y. — In New York's Adirondack Mountains, some of the best views — especially at sunrise — are from historic fire towers, built a century ago after wildfires ravaged the countryside.

These days the structures aren't used for fire-spotting. There are better, more modern ways to track wilderness blazes.

But roughly half the towers remain and most are open to hikers.

Hurricane Mountain in New York's Adirondack Mountains boasts one of the historic fire towers built in the early 1900s to help guard against massive blazes. Now the tower is open to hikers. Brian Mann/NPR hide caption

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Brian Mann/NPR

Hurricane Mountain in New York's Adirondack Mountains boasts one of the historic fire towers built in the early 1900s to help guard against massive blazes. Now the tower is open to hikers.

Brian Mann/NPR

This time of year, when sunrise comes early, you have to start in the middle of the night to catch the first sign of dawn.

The trail to the summit of Hurricane Mountain weaves through more than three miles of forest, bog and steep rock.

Making the trip safely means wearing a headlamp and moving cautiously over roots and mountain streams.

The journey begins in the middle of the night with a glimpse of the trail sign pointing into the dark woods. Brian Mann/NPR hide caption

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Brian Mann/NPR

The journey begins in the middle of the night with a glimpse of the trail sign pointing into the dark woods.

Brian Mann/NPR

It's a little spooky navigating the forest in pitch blackness, especially solo, with the light carving a narrow tunnel ahead.

The mountain is also perfectly still, no birds, no other hikers. Only the gulping sound of frogs can be heard in the marsh.

But soon the sky starts to glow with a lilac predawn light that filters through the trees.

The darkness gives way in time to dawn light, wild flowers and bogs full of gulping frogs. Brian Mann/NPR hide caption

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Brian Mann/NPR

It's just bright enough to wake up the birds, and the last hour of hiking to the summit passes through washes of birdsong.

The crown of Hurricane is a pure rock, open to a warm summer wind that smells of pine. All around, the distant mountains are still dusk blue, topped in mist. There are deep shadows in the valleys.

It can be a little spooky and dream-like hiking through the woods at night, especially when alone. The pay-off is rich solitude and a glimpse of a wilderness sunrise. Brian Mann/NPR hide caption

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Brian Mann/NPR

It can be a little spooky and dream-like hiking through the woods at night, especially when alone. The pay-off is rich solitude and a glimpse of a wilderness sunrise.

Brian Mann/NPR

Up ahead stands the metal spire with its little cabin on top. Scrambling up, the view opens even wider as the eastern sky simmers with light.

Then just after 5 a.m., the sun pops cherry red on the horizon.

The last darkness washes away as the forest and the tower and the sweeping range of summits are colored with rose light.

Fire towers offer remarkable vantage points for viewing the wilderness. From Hurricane Mountain you can see the Adirondacks and the distant Green Mountains of Vermont. Brian Mann/NPR hide caption

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Brian Mann/NPR

Fire towers offer remarkable vantage points for viewing the wilderness. From Hurricane Mountain you can see the Adirondacks and the distant Green Mountains of Vermont.

Brian Mann/NPR