Hunter Mountain via the West Ridge

Chris on False Summit on Hunter Mountain West Ridge
Average read time 3 min

Hunter Mountain is the Catskill’s second highest peak and one of five with a restored fire tower on the summit. Hunter’s summit has been heavily logged in the past and has experienced many burns. Forest historian, Michael Kudish, has referred to Hunter as the “burn capital” of the Catskills. The logging on Hunter was so extensive that unlike other high peaks in these mountains there is very little growth forest left.

Hunter is a busy peak and generally, you will find other hikers heading for the summit to scramble up the fire tower for its unsurpassed views. The usual approaches are on the Spruceton Trail, Becker Hollow, or Devil’s Path from the Spruceton Valley or Stony Clove. Less traveled are from Diamond Notch and the Colonel’s Chair. If you are looking for total solitude, Hunter is not your mountain!

Finding solitude on Hunter

Having said that, there is a ridge that extends from the summit to the start of the Spruceton Trail. If you have hiked the Spruceton Trail and visited the new John Robb lean-to you have seen it. Or if you have hiked Hunter with the leaves down on the Spruceton it looms over your head to the southeast to south for a good portion, until about Jones Gap.

Hunter Mountain West Ridge
Hunter Mountain West Ridge Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking

If you are looking for solitude on Hunter you can find it here. The best time to hike this is in fall or spring when the trees are bare as there are limited views. You will climb to a false peak on the ridge and then lose elevation to a col before resuming your climb to the summit.

From a navigation standpoint, it is fairly straightforward, exit the Spruceton Trail about .2 miles from the trail register (please sign-in here’s why) exit the trail heading east and head to the summit. As typical with Catskill topography, you will encounter some steep rocky sections with level spots.

Short section of Nettles
One of the shorter sections of nettles Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking

In the seasons when the stinging nettles are out you will find fairly extensive areas that you’ll either need to go around or if dressed in pants, right through. Be forewarned the nettles can be waist high (or taller) at points.

Rocky outcrops on Hunter Mountain West Ridge
Rocky outcrops on Hunter Mountain West Ridge Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking

At times you’ll navigate through, over, and around rocky outcrops.

Dense up elevation forest on Hunter
Dense up elevation forest on Hunter Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking

Much of your hike with being in a Northern Hardwood forest, with some fir mixed in. It is not until you get up on the summit that you find more sustained fir.

Topping out at the summit to find the tower closed
Topping out at the summit to find the tower closed Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking

Hard to get lost… but

The ridge heads right to the summit as long as you keep heading uphill, of course after you make it off the false summit. Depending on where you exit the ridge you may be right at the summit as we did or you could be on the Hunter Mountain connector trail coming from Devil’s Path, but you’ll still be close to the summit. Leaving the ridge from either side is inadvisable as it is very steep and heading north would put you in a trailless ravine.

Even though the west ridge is fairly straightforward, it is off-trail and comes with risk, so plan accordingly. Injury, illness and getting help is more problematic off-trail, even on Hunter. So make sure you have your map and compass, plenty of food and water, and enough gear to stay out overnight if needed. It may sound like overkill, but being off-trail is not without risk, even on a popular peak.

John Robb Lean-to
John Robb Lean-to Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking

Your options for return can be on the Spruceton Trail or Devil’s Path (or back down the ridge). The Spruceton Trail is the easier of the two and you can stop off at the John Robb lean-to and catch the view of the ridge that you climbed.

View of the ridge from the John Robb Lean-to
View of the ridge from the John Robb Lean-to (click to enlarge) Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking

The return on the Hunter Mountain Connector Trail and Devil’s Path also provide you with great views, one near the Becker Hollow Trail junction and lower down at Geiger Point not too far past the Devil’s Acres lean-to. Either way, you’ll have a great day on a busy mountain.

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.
WeatherHunter Mountain Weather