The Best Route To Southwest Hunter Mountain (Leavitt Peak)

Southwest Hunter Mountain AKA Leavitt Peak
Average read time 7 min

Southwest Hunter Mountain is also known as Leavitt Peak in honor of the Leavitt’s, two Catskill 3500 Club founders. However, in this writing, I will refer to the mountain by its official name of Southwest Hunter Mountain to avoid confusion with maps. This post will outline one of the hardest ways up the mountain, and it should not be underestimated.

The Dirt

Hiking Distance:5.75-milesRoute Type:Lollipop
Total climb:1865′ on the routeHike type:Trails, bushwhack, herd path
How hard?DifficultTrailhead:Diamond Notch south

The trailhead in this description is at the end of Spruceton Road in Greene County. Click the map for directions. The parking area is just past the Hunter Mountain trailhead.

This is the most direct route to SW Hunter. One can also hike the peak from the south parking area on the Diamond Notch Trail, but this adds distance and elevation gain. The peak can also be hiked from Stoney Clove as an out-and-back.

If the parking area is full, go back to the Hunter Mountain trailhead and park in the much larger lot, and walk the road.

The peak was originally not part of the official Catskill 3500 requirement list as it was considered a spur ridge of Hunter Mountain. There was disagreement among the early club members, and they left it off the list. In 1987 it was voted on the list and has been required for membership since 1990. Clearly, it is its own peak.

The peak was one of the pesky mountains, not hard, but many people came back not finding the canister due to the long flat ridge it sits on. I talked to people who stated they wandered around and could not locate the canister. Today, however, there is no such problem as a strong herd path leading directly to the summit from Devil’s Path, not too far from Geiger Point.

Trail/Bushwhack Description

If you are looking for a way up the mountain with some challenge without ascending the herd path, there are many options. One such option is to make the relatively short but very steep climb from Diamond Notch. The route is beautiful as you’ll be climbing through a first-growth forest on the diamond notch trail south of the falls. This area and all going over West Kill were left untouched by loggers who had cut over much of the site in the 1800s. However, once off the trail and on the ridge, you will be in a forest which has been logged.

Even though the distance from Lean-to to the summit is short – this hike is not easy. It requires map and compass skills and good fitness as you will ascend about 1,000 in .55-miles!

Spruceton Road Trailhead to Lean-to

This is a most enjoyable part of the hike. The blue-marked Diamond Notch trail will leave the parking area near the end of Spruceton Road (the one with the trail register).

Trail head parking area on Spruceton Road
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Trailhead parking area on Spruceton Road

You will walk the road for 0.16 miles and enter the woods at a yellow gate.

Gate at the start of the Diamond Notch Trail
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Gate at the start of the Diamond Notch Trail

For the next 0.7 miles, you’ll be walking on a gently undulating trail climbing toward the junction with Devil’s Path and Diamond Notch Falls. The West Kill creek will be at your right for the entire time.

Cascade in the West Kill Creek along the Diamond Notch Trail
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Cascade in the West Kill Creek along the Diamond Notch Trail

Soak in the coolness of this place with its tree cover and beautiful trillium in the spring. You’ll notice rock structures to the left in the woods; these are probably remanence of farming activity that was common in the valley.

Purple Trillium in Spring in the Catskills
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Purple Trillium in Spring in the Catskills

Upon reaching the junction with Devil’s Path, cross the bridge and continue on the blue marked Diamond Notch Trail for another 0.4 miles to the lean-to. You will climb about 400 feet from the falls. You will have traveled 1.24 miles from the parking area.

Chris in the Diamond Notch Lean-to
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Chris in the Diamond Notch Lean-to

This is a good place to stop and enjoy the first growth forest in which you have been climbing since just above the falls.

Lean-to to Southwest Hunter Mountain summit

From the lean-to to the summit is the hardest part of the hike. The climb out of the notch is steep and can be unforgiving. Take your time and choose your ascent route carefully. You will climb about 1,000 feet in the first 0.55 miles of the 0.8 miles to the summit. The heading is generally southeast, but don’t head too far south on the ridge as you will end up wandering around looking for the summit canister.

Rusk Mountain from the west approach on Southwest Hunter
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Rusk Mountain from the west approach on Southwest Hunter

You can find some nice ledges with views back toward West Kill and Rusk and East Rusk on your ascent. This is especially true when the leaves are down. You will also encounter bands of new growth spruce, which can be difficult to traverse.

Another bushwhack nearby: Rusk and East Rusk in the Catskills

If you take your time, use your compass, and pick your ascent routes well, you should enjoy the grandeur of this place. Remember to err to the east rather than south on the climb. Even if you miss the summit heading more to the east, you’ll probably find the herd path (See map below).

Summit canister on Southwest Hunter
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Summit canister on Southwest Hunter

Summit to Diamond Notch Falls and Trailhead

From the summit, follow the obvious herd path (almost trail-like) to Devil’s Path. The level section on the path was once part of the old railway used to haul logs during logging companies’ operation. It is about a 0.75 miles 20-minute walk to the trail. Once reaching Devil’s Path (Red Marked), turn left and continue where the trail will drop steeply and then gradually head uphill toward Geiger Point, which is reached about 0.5 miles from the herd path.

Southwest Hunter Mountain AKA Leavitt Peak
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Southwest Hunter Mountain from Geiger Point

Geiger Point is a great place to stop and look across at South West Hunter. The view also includes West Kill to the southwest.

Diamond Notch Falls in the Catskills
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Diamond Notch Falls

From the view, it is another 1.55 miles descent to the junction with the Diamond Notch Trail and falls, where you can stop for a swim or soak your feet in the flume above the falls in warm weather.

Related post: Diamond Notch Falls a Great Family Hike

The flume above Diamond Notch Falls
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking The flume above Diamond Notch Falls

After the junction walk the 0.85 miles back to the trailhead. Your total mileage will be about 5.5 miles on the loop.

DEC Contact and Info

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

Trail Map

Click the map or here for an interactive version of the map.

Trail map Southwest Hunter Mountain
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Trail map Southwest Hunter Mountain
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