Fire towers are found on the tops of mountains across New England. Originally built to spot wildfires, fire towers—and the fire lookouts who attended them—have largely been replaced by satellites, drones, and high-tech cameras for spotting forest fires. That said, the stellar perspective provided by fire towers has helped them remain popular today, albeit with hikers on the hunt for wow-worthy views. Massachusetts is home to a number of great fire towers which are accessed by hikes everyone can enjoy.

View from Athol Bearsden Forest Conservation Area Observation Deck
Credit: Mike Spadea

Four Massachusetts Fall Fire Tower Hikes

Like many of New England’s best hikes, the fire tower hikes listed below are enjoyed in all seasons but are at their best when the foliage is popping and the forest is aflame with the reds, oranges, and yellows of changing leaves.

Warwick Fire Tower
Credit: Mike Spadea

1. Warwick Fire Tower

Nestled in Mount Grace State Forest in Warwick, Mount Grace offers an easy to moderate hike up to the historic Warwick Fire Tower. A fire tower has stood on top of Mount Grace since 1911; the current 68-foot-tall steel Warwick Fire Tower dates back to 1939 and is listed on the National Historic Lookout Register. The tower is open to the public, though the “cab” at its top is closed.

A three-mile loop on mellow trails winding through hardwood forest brings hikers from the trailhead at Ohlson Field (the State Forest’s main parking lot off Route 78) to the summit of Mount Grace and back. Standing at 1,617 feet, Mount Grace is the third-highest point in Massachusetts east of the Connecticut River—only Mount Wachusett and Mount Watatic are taller. From just below the cab, hikers are treated to outstanding views of north-central Massachusetts, southern New Hampshire, and Vermont.

Like many of the peaks in north-central Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire, Mount Grace is a defunct ski area. It’s also a monadnock. The 114-mile Metacomet-Monadnock Trail (M&M Trail) traverses the summit of Mount Grace as it connects the Pioneer Valley at the Connecticut/Massachusetts border to Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire. Hikers taking the most direct route from the Ohlson Field parking lot will encounter it near the top.

Those looking for a longer route can head north from the parking lot on the Round-the-Mountain Trail and connect with the M&M Trail as it ascends Mount Grace from the north. Given the many overlapping trails in the area, it’s a good idea to consult a trail map before heading out.

Sunderland Fire Tower Mount Toby
Credit: Mike Spadea

2. Sunderland Fire Tower

The view from Sunderland Fire Tower atop Mount Toby is spectacular but hard-earned. A number of fire lookouts have graced the summit of Mount Toby since 1923—the original structure was a simple wooden platform while the 68-foot-tall steel structure standing on the summit today dates back to 1951. Like the Warwick Fire Tower, the Sunderland Fire Tower is listed on the National Historic Lookout Register and the tower is open to the public. However, its cab is also closed.

The hike to the top of Mount Toby and the Sunderland Fire Tower is steep and as likely to take your breath away as the view from the summit. Mount Toby’s 1,269-foot elevation may not impress those used to bagging big mountains in the Whites, Greens, and Adirondacks, although it is the highest peak on Metacomet Ridge. The summit of Mount Toby is wooded, but climb the tower to below the cab and the view is outstanding, with an expansive perspective of the Connecticut River Valley and iconic mountains like Mount Monadnock and Mount Greylock also visible.

The view from the Sunderland Fire Tower is superb, but there is a lot to see along the way as well. The steep forested slopes of Mount Toby are among the most biodiverse destinations in Massachusetts, home to everything from a wide variety of unique ferns, orchids, and wildflowers to amphibians like the eastern box turtle, wood turtle, and Jefferson salamander.

The trails on Mount Toby also lead past numerous places of interest, including old sugar shacks, waterfalls, and caves. It’s hard to pick a favorite way to the top; I suggest grabbing a map and exploring as many of the trails as you can.

Bearsden Forest/Newton Reservoir Conservation Area Observation Deck
Credit: Mike Spadea

3. Bearsden Forest/Newton Reservoir Conservation Area Observation Deck

Admittedly, Bearsden Forest and Newton Reservoir Conservation Area in Athol aren’t home to any fire towers. However, what they do have are two observation decks, wonderful views, great foliage, and minimal crowds.

This under-the-radar destination is a great choice for everyone from day hikers to families looking to escape into nature without a huge effort. Since the 1970s, the Bearsden Conservation Area has been at the core of an extensive interior forest reserve which gives the park a surprisingly wild feel. That said, the trails are just minutes off Route 2A, well-maintained, and easy to navigate—all of which add up to an enjoyable experience and convenient leaf-peeping. 

The observation deck on Round Top is one of my favorite places to admire the stunning scenery of central and western Massachusetts along with New Hampshire’s Mount Monadnock and Vermont’s Mount Equinox. Standing at 1,278 feet tall, Round Top is Athol’s second-highest hill. Past the observation deck is Warren’s Vista and more stellar views of the valley below. The other observation deck is found on the 985-foot Sheep Rock and offers a fantastic perspective of the Millers River and ledges across the valley. Wildlife abounds in both conservation areas, particularly birds. The area around Duck Pond is a popular place to spot birds like indigo buntings, prairie warblers, and common yellowthroats.

The conservation area also features a beautiful picnic area, so remember to pack a lunch!

DAR Goshen Fire Tower
Credit: Mike Spadea

4. Goshen Fire Tower

Goshen Fire Tower is one of the Bay State’s newer fire towers. The 68-foot-tall structure on Moores Hill in Goshen’s Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) State Forest was built in 1952. What makes Goshen Fire Tower stand out is that it’s reached both by a short two-mile hike and an easy drive. This makes it awesome for time-crunched hikers or those scrambling to take in a spectacular fall sunrise or sunset.

Although Goshen Fire Tower is awesome for sneaking in big views when you have only a little bit of time, it’s best to leave plenty of time to explore. DAR State Forest is home to two large lakes that offer ample opportunity for fall paddling and fishing—Upper Highland Lake is stocked with trout each spring while Lower Highland Lake is home to largemouth bass and yellow perch. There’s also an abundance of hiking trails, pleasant beaches, and beautiful picnic areas.

There is camping at DAR State Forest for those who want to take their time and make the most of an adventure. Sadly, the campground closes from mid-October to early May. In other words, the camping can close during peak leaf-peeping.

Massachusetts Fire Towers

Above are just a few of the numerous fire towers in Massachusetts. There are currently 42 active fire towers in the state as well as a handful of fire towers that are still standing and no longer active. Do you have a favorite fire tower to visit in the fall? If, so tell us about it in the comments below!