Rusk and East Rusk in the Catskills

Rusk and East Rusk in the Catskills from ridge on Hunter Mountain
Average read time 5 min

Rusk Mountain is a required peak for the Catskill 3500 Club membership. It is the highest peak in Lexington Chain, just west of Hunter Mountain. No trail traverses this range. With a summit elevation of 3,680, it is the 22nd highest in the Catskill high peaks. However, located next to Hunter, Southwest Hunter, and West Kill mountains, it seems slight. But what it lacks in height, it makes up for in a grand first growth forest.

Hike Length: 5-miles as described on this loop.

Route Type: Loop

Total Ascent: 1746 feet (includes East Rusk)

How Hard: Moderate

Best Time: Fall, and spring when the leaves are down. Winter, for experienced hikers.

Red Tape: None

Features: 

This is a bushwhack, requires map and compass skills.

Some steep climbing, limited views, beautiful first growth forest on the ridge of Rusk and East Rusk, some herd paths, canister on summit.

Trailhead map

Route map

Hiking Rusk by itself is a short outing. This hike has views when the trees are bare when one may view Rusk’s east peak, Hunter, Southwest Hunter, and West Kill.

Rusk's east peak and ridge on Hunter from Rusk
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Rusk’s east peak and ridge on Hunter from Rusk

In our opinion, the best times for hiking Rusk are in the Spring, Winter, and Fall when the leaves are down. Adding a trip to “East Rusk” or heading west to other peaks in the Lexington chain may add spice to this outing. Like all trail-less adventures in the Catskills, one must be equipped with, and know how to use, a map and compass.

Related post: The Complete Beginner’s Guide to the 10 Essentials

Trailhead to Rusk Mountain

The customary bushwhack point for Rusk is 0.6-miles along the Spruceton Trail to Hunter at an obvious switchback. There may or may not be a cairn marking the start. However, you’ll easily find the start of a herd path leading toward the summit.

Herd path leaving the Spruceton Trail
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Herd path leaving the Spruceton Trail

From the trail, you’ll cross a tributary of Hunter Brook. We generally head up the broad ridge to the col between Rusk and East Rusk, then walk the ridge to Rusk. The one downside to this route is the thorny brush you may encounter. If you look, you’ll find a path leading from the col to the summit. This will ease the way.

However, you may be able to follow a herd path at the start to the summit, but this jogs left lower on the mountain and ascends steeper terrain through some rocky outcrops. This will avoid the col.

Rocky outcrop on the herd path to Rusk
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Rocky outcrop on the herd path to Rusk

The summit of Rusk and Rusk’s east peak and the ridge connecting them are a mix of spruce-fir-hardwoods and are in first growth. On this ridge, you enter first growth between 2,900 to 3,100 feet depending on your location. In fact, there is more first growth here than on the entirety of Hunter Mountain!

Chris entering spruce-fir forest on Rusk
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Chris entering the spruce-fir forest on Rusk

Once on the summit of Rusk, from the trail head you’ll have traveled about 1.6 miles and climbed 1600’.

Chris goofing around on the summit of Rusk on a chilly Winter day
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Chris goofing around on the summit of Rusk on a chilly Winter day

Rusk to “East Rusk”

The walk from Rusk to Rusk’s east peak is pleasant. You head off Rusk heading east to a low point where you will encounter a small rise and then drop again before climbing Rusk’s east peak. As you cross the col, you will encounter open forests and sections of conifers.

Another hike nearby: Southwest Hunter Mountain aka Leavitt Peak

After the bump, your bearing up Rusk’s east peak will generally be ESE. Reaching the east peak, you will have traveled about 0.85-miles from Rusk and lost 215’ elevation, and climbed 146’.

Chris on the summit of "East Rusk"
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Chris on the summit of “East Rusk”

Rusk’s east peak to Jones’ Gap and the Spruceton Trail

Once you find the small summit of Rusk’s east peak, your heading down the ridge to the trail will be between SE and SSE, depending on your path. When the leaves are down, you will get views of Hunter Mountain’s ski slopes to your left. If you stay on the ridge, you will meet the trail at Jones’ Gap.

If you head too far south, the terrain will be steep and drop to the Spruceton Trail. Trending too far north off the ridge will probably bring you out on Old Hunter Road. Old Hunter Road is an abandoned turnpike that once connected the Spruceton and Schoharie Valleys.

Related post: Lean-tos in the Hunter Mountain Area

The fire tower observer used the Schoharie Valley side of the road (from the Village of Hunter) during its operation between 1909 to 1990. They both eventually served as trails, and the northern section was abandon between 1951 and 1967 while the Spruceton side remains active. If you drop to the old abandon section of the road, you can walk back uphill to the junction with the Spruceton Trail at Jones’ Gap. From East Rusk, you will drop about 675’ in 0.86-miles.

Chris at Jones Gap
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Chris at Jones Gap

Jones’ Gap to trail head

From Jones’ Gap, follow the Spruceton Trail to the parking area, which is about 1.8-miles with a loss of over 900’.

Signage at Jones Gap
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Signage at Jones Gap

As you cross Hunter Brook toward the bottom of the hike, you’ll see a small clearing on the left side of the trail. This was the Hunter Brook lean-to location, which was in service between 1935 to the mid-1960s. You will have traveled about 5-miles on the loop with an accumulative climb of 1746’.

Map of Rusk and East Rusk

Click map for larger view or here for interactive view.

Map for Rusk and East Rusk Catskills
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Map for Rusk and East Rusk Catskills
Rusk Mountain Wild Forest
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: Towns of Lexington, Hunter and Jewett, Greene County
Map: View Rusk Mountain Wild Forest Map
Amenities:Dining opportunities, as well as gas, food and other supplies can be found in the nearby community of Hunter. Lodging may be found in the nearby communities of Hunter, Shandaken and Spruceton.
Weather:Rusk Mountain Weather
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