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Friday, June 14, 2024

IMPRESSIONS: Trail to Catfish Fire Tower

Sign for Catfish Fire Tower on main trail. Photo by A. Svendsen, 9/2023.

Looking for a fun hike with scenic views? Hiking up to the Catfish Fire Tower rewards you with views of the ridge and valley area, as well as the opportunities to hike part of the Appalachian Trail.

If you have permission from the New Jersey Forest Fire Service (NJFFS), you can even climb up the fire tower for more spectacular views. Located in Hardwick, the Catfish Fire Tower boasts scenic views and many hiking options.

Catfish Fire Tower, taken from ground on the trail. Photo by A. Svendsen, 9/2023.

Located on the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, hikers can choose how far they would like to hike—they can head up to the fire tower and loop back down, continue past the fire tower to travel the trail a bit more or they can loop their hike with Rattlesnake Swamp. Plus, there are optional side trails off the main trail that are more challenging, but also very fun.

The main trail is rocky—the road is made up of stones—but it is a clear trail and an easy hike. The stones making up the path can feel a bit slippery when the trail isn’t on level ground, so make sure you wear appropriate shoes if you choose to hike it.

The side trails are more challenging, being on more uneven ground and having larger rocks and roots that you will need to navigate. At times, it feels like the human equivalent to that one scene in Disney’s Bambi II when Bambi is escaping the hunting dogs by climbing the cliff face—though, without the danger and sense of urgency that Bambi experiences.

Nevertheless, it is very fun and more secluded, allowing you to feel more connected to the nature around you. Plus, you don’t need the skills of a deer to progress on the trail. Keep in mind that there are no benches to rest at on the trails, so make sure you know how much you can handle.

Whether or not you choose to take the side trails, the forest surrounding the trail allows for glimpses of nature’s magic, whether that magic is found by looking—and only looking, not disturbing—the brush along the trails or the magic is felt by the sunlight kissing your skin as it filters through the trees.

First rocky side trail. Photo by A. Svendsen, 9/2023
Second side trail. Photo by A. Svendsen, 9/2023.

The likelihood of running into other hikers depends on when you choose to go, and whether or not there is somebody working in the fire tower depends on the weather.

If it is a nice day and there is a higher threat of fires, it is more likely that someone from the NJFFS will be up in the tower; make sure you ask for permission before heading up if you want to see more of the surrounding area—the blue expanse of the horizon, the green trees changing into their fall colors, the breaks in said trees signaling different properties and the hills that exemplify the ridges and valleys that inspired the area’s nickname.

View from ground near picnic table overlooking the ridge and valley area. Photo by A. Svendsen, 9/2023.

Near the fire tower, as you break from the trees along the trail, there is a small field and picnic table, both perfect places for a scenic rest before continuing on your adventure, whether that means you’re continuing on the trail past the fire tower or you’re heading back.

Make sure you get permission from the NJFFS to go up the fire tower; if permission is granted, the view is spectacular, with Mother Nature’s vibrant colors on full display and contrasting each other beautifully.

The colors of the trees (green in the pictures, though they are slowly adapting
their autumnal hues as we move further into fall) go along with the blue of the sky and nearby lakes and the white clouds add to the scenic picture.

It is not recommended that you go up into the fire tower if you have a fear of heights; it can get a bit windy the higher you go and is only accessible by the fire tower’s stairs.

View from up in the Catfish Fire Tower, facing the picnic table. Photo by A. Svendsen, 9/2023
View from up in the Catfish Fire Tower, looking in the opposite direction. Photo by A. Svendsen,

While there is no parking lot for the trail, there are a few roadside parking options with room for more than one car. If you are able to park near the metal gate signifying the beginning of the trail, make sure you do not block the gate. The gate must be accessible at all times for members of the NJFFS in case of an emergency.

The metal gate (and other parking options) is found along Millbrook Road; if you want an exact location for a GPS, type in the following coordinates and you will be taken to the pullout by the metal gate: N41.05819˚ W74.96430˚.

This hike, though it can be challenging for some people, is fun and rewarding with its scenic views and the chance to see the Catfish Fire Tower in person.

The optional side paths help connect you with the nature around you with their seclusion from the main path, though the main path is far from being separated from nature.

The hike up to the fire tower and back down is about two miles; if you choose to continue past the fire tower for more scenic views, the trail continues for four and four tenths (4.4) miles, and if you want a longer, looped hike, you can loop through Rattlesnake Swamp for a total of a hike of around five and two tenths (5.2) miles.

No matter which path you choose, the hike will be a fun adventure.

Annalyse Svendsen
Annalyse Svendsen, Contributing Writer

Annalyse recently graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University with her B.A. in Humanities. She also minored in Creative Writing and studied French and American Sign Language in an effort to learn how to communicate with more people. Annalyse only recently moved to Hardwick but grew up in Stillwater and attended Stillwater Elementary School and Kittatinny Regional High School. While in high school, she was an active member of both the Book Club—where she served as president—and the Marching Band—where she served as the band’s librarian. At FDU, she served as the secretary of the Ping Pong Club, as well as the vice president of Rose & Thorn. Annalyse has always been passionate about learning. She has a passion for writing and plans to pursue a master’s degree in either Library Sciences or Creative Writing.