Best Hikes: West Kill Mountain in the Catskills

West Kill Mountain from John Robb Lean-to
Average read time 11 min

West Kill Mountain is the tallest peak on Devil’s Path at 3898 feet. Its closest higher neighbor is Hunter Mountain that is 3.13-miles away at a Bearing 77.6° True or 90.7° Magnetic. Its Isolation Limit Point is 3-miles away, just below Hunter’s Summit. West Kill’s Isolation Circle Area is a large 27.7 mi² (71.8 km²). It was heavily glaciated and had many ridges with cirques in which small glaciers carved the slopes of this massive peak. It is the only horned peak in the Catskills. The trail along Devil’s Path was blazed relatively recently in the 1970s compared to the Diamond Notch Trail, and the DEC cut other sections of Devil’s Path in the early 1900s.


It’s peak and upper slopes support a beautiful subalpine forest. Add Diamond Notch Falls to your hike and it makes for a superb day in the Catskills!

Distance:6.25-miles or 8.4-milesRoute type:Out-and-Back (or Point-to-Point)
Total climb:1935’ – 2755’Hike type:Marked trail
How hard?DifficultLand unit:Hunter-West Kill Wilderness
Spruceton TH

Spruceton Trailhead (north)

Lanesville TH

Lanesville Trailhead (south)

Trail Map
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking
Quick Contact

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

West Kill Mountain on the Diamond Notch Trail

There are two approaches on the Diamond Notch Trail, one from the north off Spruceton Road and the south from Diamond Notch Road. Once an old turnpike, the Diamond Notch Trail turned ski trail, now hiking, horse, and biking trail runs for 3-miles from the Spruceton Valley in the north to Lanesville in the south.

Overview

Diamond Notch North from Spuceton Valley
Trailhead Parking
Distance: 6.25-miles out-and-back
Ascent: 1935’

Diamond Notch South from Lanesville
Trailhead Parking
Distance: 8.4-miles out-and-back
Ascent: 2755’

Diamond Notch via Spruceton Valley

The trail going up West Kill from the Spruceton Valley on the Diamond Notch Trail begins at Spruceton Road (CR 6). The parking area has enough room for about 5-6 cars, but it can be muddy and at times parking up the road at the Spruceton Trailhead is better.

Muddy Northern Diamond Notch Trailhead - Spruceton Road
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Muddy Northern Diamond Notch Trailhead – Spruceton Road

From the parking area, you’ll walk the road a bit past a seasonal hunting camp and reach the gate where the blue-marked Diamond Notch Trail starts. Sign the register before heading up West Kill. From here, you have 1935’ of climbing to the summit of West Kill.

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

The first mile is delightful as you’ll be walking next to West Kill Creek. It rushes in the opposite direction heading for the Gilboa Reservoir to become part of the NYC water supply or the Hudson River, in either case, ultimately to NYC.

West Kill Creek
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking West Kill Creek

At about 0.7-miles from the start, you’ll reach the wide junction with Devil’s Path and a bridge that spans the West Kill Creek at Diamond Notch Falls (aka West Kill Falls). During periods of high water and adequate flow, the double falls that drop 16’ will surely impress! Many hikers, young families, painters, and swimmers come to this place, don’t expect to have it to yourself.

Diamond Notch (West Kill) Falls
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Diamond Notch (West Kill) Falls

Crossing the bridge, you’ll be on both the Diamond Notch Trail and Devil’s Path as they crisscross here. You have traveled about 1-mile from the start.

Chris sitting near the top of Diamond Notch Falls
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Chris sitting near the top of Diamond Notch Falls

From this point, you have 2.25-miles to the summit of West Kill. (continued at bottom of next section)

Diamond Notch via Lanesville

The southern access to Diamond Notch and West Kill Mountain is off the end of Diamond Notch Road. At the end of the paved road begins a narrow and rough gravel road that travels .23-miles upstream to the DEC parking area and trailhead. To say it is a bumpy ride would make it sound easy. Once at the trailhead, there is room for about 5 to 6 cars.

Parking area at the southern Diamond Notch Area
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Parking area at the southern Diamond Notch Area
Old register at the Diamond Notch Trailhead
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Old register at the Diamond Notch Trailhead

You’ll sign the register from the parking area and begin your 2755’ climb to the summit of West Kill. Climbing from this site, you ascend about 1000’ to the top of the pass and then drop about 350’ to Diamond Notch Falls. You come quickly to a footbridge that crosses Hollow Tree Brook, which you will cross several times as you enter the pass.

Chris on the Diamond Notch Trail crossing Hollow Tree Brook
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Chris on the Diamond Notch Trail crossing Hollow Tree Brook

As you climb the pass at about 0.8-miles, you’ll reach a view back to the southern Catskills. A short bit after reaching a spring at 0.9-miles.

View from Diamond Notch looking at the southern Catskills
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking View from Diamond Notch looking at the southern Catskills

As you enter the pass, remember you’re climbing into a wind gap or a place where water raged through during the last ice melt. Can you imagine the ice in the Spruceton Valley melting and glacial water finally escaping via Diamond Notch?

Chris hiking near the upper part of the Wind Gap
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Chris hiking near the upper part of the Wind Gap

At 1.4-miles, you reach the top of the notch and begin your descent toward the falls. At 1.55-miles, you reach the Diamond Notch Lean-to that is off to the right of the trail. After dropping 350,’ you reach the junction with Devil’s Path at 1.95-miles. From this point, you have 2.25-miles to the summit of West Kill.

Diamond Notch Lean-to
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Diamond Notch Lean-to

Diamond Notch Trail Junction to West Kill Mountain

Whether you’ve come from the north or south, from here, the trip is the same. You’re now making the final climb on the red-marked Devil’s Path. You leave the junction on the level for about 0.10-mile. After this, the 1700’ rise to the summit begins.

Signage marking Devil's Path to West Kill
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Signage marking Devil’s Path to West Kill

The trail will climb over and then slab the side of a ridge to about 0.5-miles, where it will swing left, then head right uphill. At about 0.63-miles, the grades will lessen, and you will come upon a spring after the trail reaches 3000’. The gradual inclines continue for about a tenth of a mile. The path swings south and begins a steep 340’ climb to the summit ridge, which reaches a little over a mile from the junction.

The grades ease on the ridge, and with the leaves down, you can get views. At about 1.1-miles, your pass 3500’, and 1.2-miles climbing begins again, and you reach the rock overhang at 1.3-miles.

Rock overhang climb West Kill
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Rock overhang climb West Kill

The next section of the trail is beautiful as you’ll be climbing up and over the east peak and on to the summit, which is reached at about 2.25-miles from the junction.

The prize is not the summit but Buck Ridge Lookout, which you’ll reach at 2.15-miles from the junction. The views from the lookout and a couple of other spots are outstanding, among the best in the Catskills!

Related reading: A History of West Kill Mountain and the Area

Views from Buck Ridge Lookout

Northern ledge view near Buck Ridge Lookout
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Northern ledge view near Buck Ridge Lookout

The view above is found a few yards from the main viewing ledge on Buck Ridge Lookout. Right up front is November ice on the fir tree. The peaks visible are Rusk (behind fir tree), Windham High Peak, Caudal, Camel’s Hump, Thomas Cole, Black Dome, Blackhead, and Arizona.

Evergreen and Rusk Mountains
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Evergreen and Rusk Mountains

The above photo is looking north from the same ledge as above. Looking north at Evergreen and Rusk Mountains.

View down the Spruceton Valley at Evergreen and Pine Island Mountains
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking View down the Spruceton Valley at Evergreen and Pine Island Mountains

Notice the U-shaped valley in the above photo. We took it from the same ledge as the previous two photos. Glaciers carved out the valley. You can see part of Evergreen and Pine Island. The names seem to fit.

Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking View southeast from Buck Ridge Lookout

You can see Olderbark, Little Rocky, Edgewood Mountain, Mt. Tobias, Carl Mountain, Mt Tremper, and Ashokan High Point in the above picture from left to right.

Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking View to the South

This great vista includes Mt. Tremper, Ashokan High Point, Mt Pleasant, Hanover Mountain, Wittenberg, Cornell, Lone, and Slide.

Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Viewing east of north

Although not much different from the ledge above, one can see more of Hunter in this picture and the ski slopes on the Colonel’s Chair.

Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking View east from Buck Ridge Lookout

This is a head on view with West Kill’s east peak, Hunter, SW Hunter, and Plateau!

One of the best times of the year to visit West Kill is in the winter. The views from Buck Ridge are inspiring. But if you attempt a Catskill High Peak in the 4th season, be ready for anything!

Extending your hike

You can certainly do the out and backs described above. There’s also a third and somewhat more primal route off West Kill; that is continuing on Devil’s Path over St. Anne’s Peak to the western terminus, which is also the lowest elevation of Devil’s Path. From the summit, it is about 4.3-miles to the trailhead through a grand forest. Continuing on Devil’s Path west gives you access to bushwhacking North Dome and Mount Sherrill if you have the energy!

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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-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

West Kill Mountain Trail Map

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

West Kill Mountain Trail Map
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking West Kill Mountain Trail Map