Chris at Buck Ridge Lookout on Westkill Mountain

Best Hikes: West Kill Mountain Bushwhack from Lanesville and Diamond Notch

West Kill Mountain is the 6th highest peak in the Catskills topping out at 3,891 feet. There are two trails to access the mountain, Devil’s Path and Diamond Notch. However, like all other peaks, there are ways to ascend that don’t involve the comfort of a marked path. West Kill is no exception.

However, like all other peaks, there are ways to ascend that don’t involve the comfort of a marked path. West Kill is no exception.

Chris came to me and said he was looking at the map for West Kill and he thought it would be fun to bushwhack “this” ridge. He was referring to a ridge that drops from Devil’s Path toward Lanesville. Climbing it leaves you on Devil’s Path just above the “cave”. We agreed and decided to go.

The trailhead up Diamond Notch Road

First, do not park on Diamond Notch Road.

One thing you should know before setting out on this hike is that the southern parking area for the Diamond Notch Trail is off the main road and that you will drive on what would be considered a woods road.

Road leading about .25 miles from Diamond Notch Road. Notice width about one car. Can be quite rough and spots.
Road leading about .25 miles from Diamond Notch Road. Notice width about one car. Can be quite rough and spots.

It is very rough in spots and just about through its entire length has room for one car. You should carefully consider driving this if you are without four or all wheel drive and/or using a car that is low to the ground.

Bushwhack from Diamond Notch Trail to Devil’s Path

Even though this off-trail route is only 1.4 miles long, with an 1800 foot climb to the trail, it’s scrappy. You will work to gain ground much of the time. You will also encounter some pleasant sections of level walking. This route is best done when the leaves are down, views will open up and will make this more enjoyable.

There is steep climbing on the ridge, some nice ledges to ascend through and a great and extensive sub-alpine forest to cross before you reach your destination, Devil’s Path.

The ridge you will be Bushwhacking up. Notice the Spruce - Fir (seen from West Kill)
The ridge you will be Bushwhacking up. Notice the Spruce – Fir (seen from West Kill)

You could head for the ridge directly from the trailhead or as we did at a small bridge on the Diamond Notch Trail about 0.2 miles from the parking area.

Chris at bridge where we left Diamond Notch Trail to bushwhack up ridge
Chris at bridge where we left Diamond Notch Trail to bushwhack up ridge. Stay to the south of the stream.

If you go to the bridge, head into the woods before the bridge. Do not cross it. Follow the stream until it turns north and then start to make your way up the steep ridge side. You will work hard until you get to the spine of the ridge.

Once on the ridge simply follow it to the trail. The ridge is narrow, sometimes very, which indicates how glaciated West Kill was. Depending on your line of ascent, you will probably reach the spine in a hardwood forest.

Chris starting up on the spine of the ridge in the hardwoods
Chris starting up on the spine of the ridge in the hardwoods

Along the way, you will encounter rocky outcrops. You may find a limited view south from these.

Rocky outcrop on the ridge.
Steep climbing to a rocky outcrop on the ridge.

After walking up the spine of the ridge you will enter a beautiful spruce-fir forest and be in this from here on out.

Chris entering a Balsam Fir stand
Chris entering a Balsam Fir stand

The going can be difficult. As with many bushwhacks the forest is thick and at points strewn with blowdown. Take your time and you’ll find animal herd paths to walk.

You may feel as if you have come to a place where others don’t tread, think again. On our climb up we found a hunters “shack”. It was half collapsed with a chair inside.

Chris inspecting hunters shack on ridge
Chris inspecting hunters shack on ridge

Devil’s Path to West Kill Mountain summit and return to trailhead

Upon reaching Devil’s Path, you will head west for about 1 mile to reach the summit of West Kill. When you enter the trail the summit will be about 200 vertical feet above you. However, the ridge to West Kill has some ups and downs before you get to it.

As you ascend West Kill your first and best views will be from Buck Ridge Lookout. It is one of the finest in these parts. The view encompasses mountains in the northeast including the Blackhead Range and Windham High Peak to Overlook to the south.

Panorama from Buck Ridge Lookout
View from Buck Ridge Lookout Blackhead Range, Windham High Peak, and ski slopes on Hunter

The view from Buck Ridge is expansive. It is best in the winter in my opinion.

Full panorama from Buck Ridge Lookout
Full panorama from Buck Ridge Lookout (click to enlarge)

From Buck Ridge Lookout you can take a side path to another view point facing the Lexington Range. You can peer down into the Spruceton Valley from here.

Views from the ledge over the Spruceton Valley
View from the ledge over the Spruceton Valley, with temps below freezing ice covered trees.
Looking down on the Spruceton Valley with part of the Lexington Range
Looking down on the Spruceton Valley with part of the Lexington Range

You’ll want to keep walking on Devil’s Path and on your way to the summit you will find a small break in the trees with another view to the south.

Looking south toward the Burroughs Range from small ledge
Looking south toward the Burroughs Range from small ledge

On this trip we descended on Devil’s Path toward Diamond Notch. After the spring on the way down the trail takes a hard left. We again left the trail and bushwhacked over a small ridge and dropped steeply into Diamond Notch to the lean-to. The lean-to sits just below the height of land in the pass in a beautiful stop. It makes a great place to camp and climb SW Hunter (aka Leavitt Peak).

Diamond Notch Lean-to
Diamond Notch Lean-to

From the lean-to it is an easy walk back to the trailhead. You will be granted one more fine view at the south end of the pass. Please keep in mind that as you walk and pass the rocky section of the notch, the area is home to rattle snakes.

View from the south side of the pass looking at the Burroughs Range
View from the south side of the pass looking at the Burroughs Range

This is a very strenuous and rugged hike. Being off-trail, it should be done by individuals with strong navigational skills. If you do go, give yourself plenty of time so you can enjoy the wonders of the forest and the beauty of West Kill Mountain.

Interactive map with bushwhack routes

Hunter-West Kill Wilderness
Contact Information:DEC Region 4 Stamford
Office hours: M-F 8:30AM - 4:30PM
Phone: (607) 652-7365;
Email: r4.ump@dec.ny.gov
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 - Westkill Wilderness 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.
WeatherHunter Mountain Weather

Last Updated on by Scott L.

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