A deep woods feel with rugged hikes to the summits, and of course a fire tower!
The Hunter-West Kill Wilderness is a large, almost 20,000-acre hikers paradise. With a deep woods feel and some long approach hikes to the summits, one can feel the forest’s soothing effects on the body, mind, and soul. The area contains West Kill, St. Anne’s, SW Hunter, North Dome, Sherrill, Balsam, and Sheridan Mountains. Elevation ranges from 1000′ to the highest point of 3880′ on the summit of West Kill. Interestingly the Hunter-West Kill Wilderness does not include the summit of Hunter Mountain. This is located in the Rusk Mountain Wild Forest, which includes 1500 acres of land and the summits of Hunter at 4040′, Rusk, East Rusk, Evergreen, Pine Island, and Packsaddle mountains. For consistency and ease of use, we will treat the two areas as one on this page.
Trails in the Hunter-West Kill Wilderness and Rusk Mountain Wild Forest
Contained in the Hunter-West Kill Wilderness is the western section of Devil’s Path. It is not as dramatic as the eastern section but is difficult with many long upgrades and steep downhill sections. It crosses directly over three summits, West Kill Mountain, East-West Kill, and St. Anne’s Peak. This section of Devil’s Path provides access to one of the prettiest waterfalls in the Catskills, Diamond Notch Falls.
This section of the trail can be accessed from Spruceton Road at the Devil’s Path trailhead or the Notch Lake parking area. Hunter Mountain may be reached by a short connector trail near the Devil’s Acres Lean-to, which is directly off the trail. At-large sites are near the lean-to along the herd path to South West Hunter. A seasonal spring that can go dry is also near the lean-to.
Near the lean-to is the herd path for climbing South West Hunter. Camping at the Diamond Notch lean-to is a short 0.4-mile detour off Devil’s Path at Diamond Notch Falls but requires a 400′ climb. Additionally, a couple of miles from the trailhead off Spruceton Road, one can bushwhack North Dome and Sherrill Mountains from the trail.
(3.4 miles, ascent 1990′, blue marked) Spruceton Trail (Rusk Mountain) trailhead
This is arguably the busiest route up Hunter. If you’re looking for solitude, try Becker Hollow or what we did here. The trail runs in a tiny sliver of land to Hunter’s summit in the Rusk Mountain Wild Forest.
The Spruceton Trail, once an old turnpike that connected the Spruceton Valley with the Schoharie Valley, is now turned trail. The northern section of the turnpike from Jones Gap down to Hunter is now abandoned but was used as the jeep road for the fire tower staff.
The trail doubles a handicap accessible horse trail. Proof of current negative Coggins certificate is required for all horses and out-of-state horse owners are required to produce a 30-day health certificate.
At its lower section, the forest to the south has burned at least once up to the trail. At the hairpin turn at 0.5-miles is the bushwhack point for Rusk Mountain. At 2.1-miles, the spur trail leads right to the John Robb lean-to that also has two designated campsites near it. There is a reliable spring. The summit is reached at 3.4 miles from the parking area. You can retrace your steps or do a loop hike back on Devil’s Path.
Diamond Notch Trail
The Diamond Notch Trail was probably built as a road in the late 1800s but showed up as a trail on the 1900 USGS Phoenicia Quadrangle and then was used as a cross-country ski trail as of 1937. Even though today it is primary used for hiking, it would make a great cross-country ski trail for good skiers.
Most hikers hike the north end of the trail to Diamond Notch Falls. This short hike makes a great day outing for families with young hikers. The south trailhead is accessed by a rough seasonally maintained single-lane gravel road. The hike into the pass from the south is longer and requires more climbing, but the hiker is rewarded with views of the southern high peaks at the top of the notch.
The Diamond Notch Lean-to is in the notch on the north side. It is 0.4 miles from the junction with Devil’s path. The lean-to can be used as part of a through hike on Devil’s Path or a circuit in the Hunter area. It can also be a jumping point to climb Southwest Hunter. It can provide access to West Kill Mountain from the north or south.
From Spruceton Road to Diamond Notch Falls, this trail also doubles as a horse trail. Proof of current negative Coggins certificate is required for all horses, and out-of-state horse owners are required to produce a 30-day health certificate.
Becker Hollow Trail
(2.2 miles, ascent 2225′, yellow markers) Becker Hollow Trail Head
The Becker Hollow Trail is the shortest approach to the summit of Hunter Mountain. However, it is probably the hardest with a vertical ascent of 2225′ to the summit. Considering the first 0.50 miles of the Becker Hollow Trail is fairly level (gaining less than 200′), you’ll climb about 2000′ in 1.5-miles to the Hunter Mountain Trail!
Hunter Mountain Trail
(1.7 miles, ascent 530′ from Devil’s Path JNT to summit, yellow makers)
The Hunter Mountain Trail leads to the Hunter Mountain summit from Devil’s Path not far from the Devil’s Acres Lean-to. It passes a short spur trail at the junction with the Becker Hollow Trail, leading to one of the finest views in the area. The trail is stunning in winter.
Colonel’s Chair Trail (1.7 miles, ascent 457′ to Spruceton Trail, yellow markers)
An interesting trail that starts at the Colonel’s Chair on the Hunter Mountain Ski Center. Take the scenic sky-ride to the 3200′ knob and hike your way to the summit—great views from the top of the chairlift (see them here).
Camping in the Hunter-West Kill-Rusk area
Hunter-West Kill Wilderness has three lean-tos, Diamond Notch, Devil’s Acre, and John Robb.
- Diamond Notch lean-to is located on the Diamond Notch Trail 0.5 miles south of the falls and features a fire pit and privy.
- Devil’s Acre lean-to is located on Devil’s Path near the intersection with the Hunter Mountain Trail and features a fire pit but does not have a privy.
- John Robb lean-to is located off the Spructon Trail in the Rusk Mountain Wild Forest.
- 2 designated campsites near the lean-to
At-large camping is also allowed. Camping must be at least 150 feet away from the nearest road, trail, or body of water. Camping for more than three nights or in groups of ten or more requires a permit from a Forest Ranger. Camping is prohibited above an elevation of 3,500 feet in the Catskills, between March 21 and December 21.
Recommended video: Finding five-star backpacking campsites
Rules for lean-to and primitive camping
- Tents are not allowed inside lean-tos and must be at least 150 feet from the lean-to.
- Lean-tos are available on a first-come, first-served basis and cannot be reserved.
- Lean-tos should be shared by multiple parties until filled to capacity (normally 8 people).
- Fires should be built in existing fire pits or fireplaces if provided.
- Campfires must be less than 3 feet in height and 4 feet in diameter.
- Cutting standing trees is prohibited. Use only dead and down wood for fires.
- Extinguish all fires with water and stir ashes until they are cold to the touch.
- Get your firewood from a local vendor (within 50 miles of your destination) and ask for a receipt or label that lists the firewood’s local source.
- Use pit privies provided near popular camping areas and trailheads. If none are available, dispose of human waste by digging a hole 6″-8″ deep at least 150 feet from water or campsites
- Carry out what you carry in.
- Camping for more than three nights or with 10 or more people requires a permit from a Forest Ranger.
All primitive campsites are on a first-come-first-serve basis. You cannot reserve a site. Camping for more than three nights or 10 or more people requires a Forest Ranger permit.
Recommended video: How to Hang a Bear Bag: The PCT Method
DEC contact information
|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.|
|Weather||Hunter Mountain Weather|
Map of the Hunter-West Kill-Rusk area
Click on map or here for interactive version of the map