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South Beacon Mountain Firetower and Scofield Ridge
Directions to trailhead
From the east end of the Bear Mountain Bridge, proceed north on N.Y. 9D for 14.5 miles. As NY 9D (Wolcott Avenue) curves sharply to the left at Bob’s Corner Store in Beacon, turn right onto Howland Avenue. Immediately, turn right into the parking area for Scenic Hudson’s Mount Beacon Park.
Take the Metro-North Hudson Line to the Beacon station. The trailhead is approximately 1.5 miles from the train station. To reach the trailhead from the station turn right (south) onto Beekman Street (towards Dia Beacon). In 0.4 mile, Beekman Street ends, and you should continue along Wolcott Avenue (Route 9D). In about another mile, Wolcott Avenue makes a sharp right turn. At this bend, turn left onto Howland Avenue. The trailhead is on your right.
This hike begins with a steady, steep climb of 1,000 feet of elevation in the first mile, and the overall elevation gain exceeds 2,000 feet. It is not an easy hike, but the spectacular views that it affords are ample reward for the strenuous ascents. Much of the land traversed by the hike has been protected through the efforts of Scenic Hudson, which preserves open space in the Hudson River valley.
From a kiosk at the parking area, follow a gravel road gently uphill to the base of the Mount Beacon Incline Railway, in operation from 1902 to 1975. Although it has been abandoned for nearly 40 years, much of the infrastructure remains.
The gravel path continues uphill to a series of steps that parallel the abandoned railway. Here, the red-blazed Casino Trail begins. At the top of the steps, the Casino Trail bears left and follows a steep woods road to the summit, with a number of switchbacks along the way. Pay attention to the red blazes and avoid the many unofficial side trails that cut across the switchbacks.
Soon, you’ll reach a trail junction at the first switchback. The yellow-blazed trail that continues ahead will be your return route, but you should turn sharply right to continue on the red-blazed trail. At the next switchback, a side trail ahead leads downhill to an overlook over the City of Beacon. You’ll get much better views from higher up on the mountain, so you might want to skip this viewpoint and turn sharply left, continuing on the red trail.
After traversing a badly eroded section of the road, the trail turns right onto a footpath as the road curves to the left. Follow the footpath, which leads west to a viewpoint over the City of Beacon, the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge and the Hudson River below, then bears left and climbs to rejoin the main road.
Turn right onto the road and climb the final pitch to reach the top of the old incline railway. The shell of the brick building housing the machinery that powered the railway still stands, and the remains of the machinery may be seen inside.
After exploring the remains of the machine house, follow a path to a concrete platform at the site of the former casino, which offers a spectacular view. To the north, you can see up the Hudson River as far as Poughkeepsie, where two bridges cross the river. The rugged Catskill Mountains may be seen to the northwest, with the long, level-topped Shawangunk ridge to the west. Another viewpoint, a short distance to the south, affords south-facing views. The imposing ridge on the east side of the river is Breakneck Ridge, with Storm King Mountain on the opposite bank and Schunemunk Mountain beyond. To the southeast, you can see the fire tower on South Beacon Mountain, which you’ll soon climb. You’ll want to spend some time here, resting from your arduous climb and taking in the view.
When you’re ready to continue, proceed ahead (east) on the red-blazed woods road (which resumes at the rear of a large cleared area). You’ll encounter several other woods roads along the way, so be sure to follow the red blazes. At first, the road is relatively level, but it soon begins a gradual climb, with one steep pitch.
After a gradual descent, be alert for a left turn where the red-blazed trail leaves the wide woods road that it has been following. Just beyond, you’ll reach a junction with the white-blazed Breakneck Ridge Trail. Turn right and follow the white trail uphill to the fire tower. (If you miss this turn, you can follow the woods road up a series of open rock ledges to the fire tower).
Built in 1931, the Mount Beacon Fire Tower was used to spot fires for about 50 years. Subsequently, it fell into disrepair and was closed to the public. A volunteer group, the Mount Beacon Fire Tower Restoration Committee, raised funds to restore the tower, and it reopened in June 2013. The tower affords spectacular 360-degree views that are even broader than those from the site of the casino, and on a clear day, you can see as far as the Tappan Zee Bridge to the south!
When you’re ready to continue, retrace your steps on the white trail down to the junction with the red trail and turn right. In another quarter of a mile, the red-blazed Casino Trail ends at a junction with the yellow-blazed Wilkinson Memorial Trail. Turn left onto the yellow trail, which follows a footpath – a welcome change from the woods roads that you have followed almost continuously from the start of the hike.
In the next mile and a half, you’ll climb over three minor summits. From two viewpoints on the southeast side of first summit, you can see several bits of the Hudson River to the south, with the Bear Mountain Bridge visible for the first time. The trail then heads west to a third viewpoint – this one, over the Beacon Reservoir, with the fire tower visible to the south and the Hudson River to the northwest.
The next summit (marked by a yellow cross painted on the rock and a large cairn) has only a limited view. The trail now drops to a col and climbs to the third summit, passing a panoramic east-facing view along the way. It traverses a relatively level stretch, then descends steadily.
After turning sharply left and regaining a little altitude, the yellow-blazed trail levels off, then turns sharply right and descends steadily through mountain laurel on a woods road. At the base of the descent, it passes a series of stone walls and reaches a T-intersection. Turn left here, leaving the Wilkinson Memorial Trail, and follow a blue-blazed trail. The blue trail soon bears right at a fork, descends a little, then bears right at another fork and ascends along a severely eroded woods road to reach the aptly-named “Dozer Junction,” after the rusting yellow bulldozer on the right.
The blue-blazed trail ends here, and you should turn left onto the white-blazed Fishkill Ridge Trail, which climbs Lambs Hill. Just beyond the summit, the trail reaches an open area with spectacular views over the Hudson River valley to the northwest, with the Shawangunks and Catskills in the distance. The fire tower you climbed earlier in the hike (as well as the communications towers on North Beacon Mountain) are visible to the south.
After descending on a rocky, winding path through mountain laurel, the white trail climbs another rise. It descends a little, then climbs to a junction with the red-blazed Overlook Trail, which begins on the right. You should continue along the white-blazed Fishkill Ridge Trail, which bears left and descends, soon emerging onto a ledge with another panoramic view over the Hudson River. The City of Newburgh is visible directly across the river.
The trail now descends rather steeply, passing through dense scrub oak thickets for the first part of the descent. Towards the base of the descent, the trail turns away from the river. After crossing a dirt road, the trail briefly joins a gravel road to cross a stream, then descends through a former hemlock grove (largely decimated by the wooly adlegid) to reach the scenic Dry Brook.
The trail crosses the brook on a wooden bridge and turns right to parallel it, passing a waterfall along the way and crossing the brook twice more. Be alert for a double yellow blaze, which marks the start of a connecting trail that leads back to the start of the hike. Turn left onto this yellow-blazed trail, which climbs to the crest of a rise, then descends. You’ll intersect several woods roads along the way, so make sure that you follow the yellow blazes. After a steady uphill stretch, the yellow-blazed trail ends at a junction with the red-blazed Casino Trail. Bear right and follow the Casino Trail downhill to the base of the railway, then continue on the gravel road to the parking area where the hike began.