The Spruceton Trail is a very popular approach to Hunter’s summit and with a return on Devil’s Path makes a great circuit hike. The Spruceton Trail follows the old jeep road that serviced the fire tower. This is a well-graded trail and has a few moderately steep sections. You can hike an out-and-back on the Spruceton Trail or extend your day on Devil’s Path and make it a wonderful, but more challenging loop.
The trail starts at the northeast corner of the parking area marked with blue trail markers and walks at a level grade past the trail register (please sign it).
At about 0.4-miles the trail swings left (northwest) to cross a wooden bridge.
This bridge crosses the beautiful Hunters Brook, a great place to stop and splash around after a hot summer hike. It’s excellent to gaze at almost any time of the year.
Crossing the bridge the trail climbs a pitch up to a hairpin turn and swings back up the road (east). At the hairpin turn is the usual bushwhack point for Rusk Mountain. The road initially climbs gradually using switchbacks then it slabs a ridge connecting to East Rusk. When the trees are bare you can get nice views of Hunter’s west ridge and Westkill Mountain rising way above you.
The trail reaches a high pass between Hunter and East Rusk at 1.7-miles called Jones Gap. An unmarked path comes in from the north the trail to Hunter’s summit turns right (east southeast). The thoroughfare from the north was part of an old wagon road used in the 1800s to provide a connection from Hunter to the Westkill Valley through Jones Gap.
After departing Jones Gap, the trail will be level for a bit and then the trail will become steeper and rougher. The trail climbs to a good underground spring (2.2-miles) on the right and then on to the John Robb lean-to spur-trail at 2.3-miles (leads right off-trail).
As you crest the hill on this part of the climb look back at the Westkill Valley and see Rusk and East Rusk Mountains and more. You are now at the 3500-foot mark.
If you detour to the John Robb lean-to you’ll descend through the Cats Elbow (rock formation) and find a nice place to stop and rest and get some good views.
The views include part of the Spruceton Valley, Rusk, and Westkill Mountains.
You’ll also get a glimpse of the fire tower. This lean-to is newer and replaces the original which was directly off the trail. It burnt some years ago and was relocated to its current spot.
At 2.4-miles you reach the Colonel’s Chair Trail which leads left (north) toward the top of the Hunter Mountain chair lift and a seasonally operated snack bar. However, if you go there you will descend several hundred feet. Hunter is the most developed of the 3500′ high peaks in the Catskills.
Continuing on the Spruceton Trail with an occasional glimpse of the fire tower the hiker makes the last mile to the summit. This section of the trail is very pleasant. With gentle grades on the summit ridge, the trail moves through a spruce-fir forest. The trees close in on the trail.
Look down and see animal tracks at all times during the year. One hike during winter we saw rabbit and bobcat tracks that headed into the trees. We wondered who won? We have also seen deer and bear tracks on this high elevation trail.
Upon reaching the summit at 3.4-miles one is greeted with an attractive clearing surrounded by balsam fir. The fire tower stands proud and tall after its long overdue make-over. A summit observers cabin also sits in this place. The cabin served as home to the summit observers when the tower was still being used for fire observation is now a respite for climbers as they sit on its front porch at the wooden table.
However, the best place to sit is in the tower’s observation deck. The DEC puts a six-person limit on how many people can be in the deck at once. On busy days you will need to wait for your turn. The summit also has a privy on its eastern side in the trees. It is in better condition now since the tower has been reopened, so please use this instead of littering the summit with waste. The Spruceton Trail ends at 3.7-miles the Becker Hollow Trail junction.
The view from the Hunter Mt fire tower is among the best on any mountain in New York.
As the hiker climbs the tower, the trip up is uneventful until the steps carry one above the trees. The wind starts to increase. With each step, it seems to intensify exponentially. The tower begins to shudder as the wind blows on the steel skeleton. The wary hiker will grasp the handrails and move cautiously upward. As the wind forces increase some legs may become weak but finally, with mercy, there is a refuge in the observation deck out of the wind.
Keep in mind, these towers stood tall even when in disrepair. Go see what you came here for, the view! The view from the tower is expansive. Just east of north anchoring the scene is the rugged Black Dome Range of Caudal, Camel’s Hump, Thomas Cole, Black Dome, and Black Head Mountains. To the left and behind Caudal and Camel’s Hump is Windham High Peak. To the right of Black Head is what is known as Arizona Peak and to its right is Stopple Point. Moving farther east is North and South Mountain and the sandy beaches of North Lake. If you have binoculars and the sun is high, you might see Kaaterskill Falls!
Continuing east the view provides a good look at Cauterskill (Kaaterskill) High Peak and its lower companion Round Top. In front of the Black Dome Range is Onteora Mountain at a stumpy 3220 feet. To the southeast are the mountains of Eastern Devil’s Path, Plateau in the foreground with Sugarloaf, Twin, and Indian Head behind.
Looking south the jumble of the southern high peaks crowd together, the Burroughs Range, Giant Ledge and Panther. To the southwest are the mountains Spruce, Fir, Big Indian, Eagle, Haynes, Balsam, and Belleayre. Behind them is Doubletop, Graham, Balsam Lake. To the south going west in the foreground is SW Hunter, Westkill, North Dome, and Sherrill. Looking west is Rusk and the rest of the Lexington Range. Far off to the west Bearpen and Vly can be seen.
From this point, there are hundreds of lower peaks, too numerous to name. On cold days when the sky is crystal clear one can see the Green Mountains of Vermont, Berkshires in Massachusetts, the lower hills of Connecticut, the Shawangunks near New Paltz, and finally seen in the distance the faint mountains of northern New Jersey.
Extending your hike?
From the summit, the hiker has two options for the descent back to the Spruceton Valley. The return trip can be made following the same route up or by making a nice loop down the Hunter Mountain Trail to connect with Devil’s Path and the Diamond Notch Trail returning to the Spruceton Valley with a short road walk back to your car.
Return via Devil’s Path
If you decide to return via the Devil’s Path route you will be rewarded with an open rock ledge 0.1-miles west of the Becker Hollow Trail junction. This is arguably the best ledge view on the mountain.
The view encompasses most of the southern peaks and a close-up view of SW Hunter, Westkill, and Rusk. The Spruceton Valley is far below.
Descending on Devils Path 0.2 miles past the Devils Acres lean-to is an old railroad bed. This was used by the Fenwick Lumber Company which established a mill in the Myrtle Brook Valley. This is now the point you’ll find a herd-path to SW Hunter Mountain.
The operation lasted for eleven years and used a 1.7-mile cable tramway and Railroad from a summit camp on Hunter to deliver the virgin cuttings to a mill in Diamond Notch and out of the Spruceton Valley. This lumber was used to help build the Ashokan Reservoir and provide materials for construction in Stony Clove and the Ulster & Delaware railroads.
Continuing on the footpath to a nice view from Geiger Point (left) looking over the steep headwall of the Spruceton Valley is found.
Continue down the valley to Diamond Notch Falls and a walk beside a lively mountain stream will finish your return if you take the loop.
|Hunter-West Kill Wilderness|
|Contact Information:||DEC Region 4 Stamford
Office hours: M-F 8:30AM - 4:30PM
Phone: (607) 652-7365;
Backcountry Emergency: (Search, Rescue & Forest Fire): 518-408-5850 or dial 911
|Location:||Town of Lexington and Hunter, Greene County and the Town of Shandaken, Ulster County|
|Map:||View Hunter-West Kill Wilderness/Rusk Mountain Wild Forest Map|
|Amenities:||Lodging and dining opportunities, as well as gas, food and other supplies can be found in the nearby communities of Hunter, Tannersville, and Woodstock.|
|Weather||Hunter Mountain Weather|
Hunter Mountain Trail Map
Click the map or here for an interactive version of the map