Hunter-Westkill Wilderness Area
The Hunter-Westkill Wilderness Area is a high elevation east-west ridge that lies between the Westkill Creek to the north and the Esopus Creek to the south. Hunter-Westkill Wilderness is a remote mountainous location of more than 19,250 acres. The terrain is very steep in places with elevations ranging from 1,000 feet to 3,880 feet.
There are five named mountain peaks - Westkill (3,880'), North Dome (3,610'), Sherrill (3,540'), Balsam (3,340'), and Sheridan (2,220'). This area serves as watersheds for two New York City water supply reservoirs, the Schoharie and the Ashokan.
More than 17,000 acres of the Hunter-Westkill Wilderness Area are located in southwestern Greene County in the Town of Lexington. A small area of almost 2,000 acres lies in the Town of Shandaken in northern Ulster County.
The terrain is mountainous and characterized by high ridges, rocky terraced slopes and deeply-carved mountain streams.
The area can be accessed from NYS Route 28, Route 42, Greene County Route 6 (Spruceton Road) and the Diamond Notch Road via NYS Route 214. Watch for trailheads and forest preserve access parking areas along these routes.
From the North
Along Greene County Route 6 (Spruceton Road):
- Angler parking area approximately 2.7 miles east of the hamlet of Westkill.
- Devil's Path Trailhead - approximately 3.75 miles east of Westkill. (See trail description below)
- Diamond Notch Trailhead - approximately seven miles east of Westkill. (See trail description below)
- Hunter Mountain (Spruceton Road) Trailhead may also be used - 6.75 miles east of Westkill on the north side of the road.
From the East
- Diamond Notch Trailhead - approximately 1.5 miles north of State Route 214, at the end of the Diamond Notch Road (note: the last 300 yards of this road surface is very rough, use caution - improvements are planned).
From the South
- Peck Hollow- Just south of the county line, approximately 1.7 miles north of State Route 28 in the Shandaken Wild Forest.
- Broad Street Hollow - approximately three miles north of State Route 28 on Broad Street Hollow Road. **Seasonal parking is allowed; please do not block this snowplow turnaround**
From the West
- Route 42 lot - approximately four miles north of Shandaken along State Route 42.
A variety of wilderness recreational opportunities ranging from hiking, snowshoeing, bird-watching, mountain biking, cross-country skiing and primitive camping to horseback riding, hunting, fishing, and trapping await the visitor. Visitors are encouraged to travel and camp with care, utilizing the principles promoted in the Leave No Trace Outdoor Ethics Program.
There are 10.2 miles of marked and maintained trails available for hiking in this area.
The Devil's Path
Seven miles of the very popular Devil's Path traverse the northeast portion of the area, rising to the summit of Westkill Mountain. The hike is considered moderate, rising approximately 1,600' from Buttermilk Falls, and 2,000' from the Devil's Path Trailhead along Spruceton Road. This scenic trail offers hikers breathtaking views of the Central Catskills from the Buck Ridge Lookouts - located just east of the Westkill Summit. The Devil's Path is tagged with red trail markers.
The Diamond Notch Trail
A gentle three mile hike with an ascent of 1,300' from the south of the notch, and a 700' ascent from the north to the notch. Hikers will find the Diamond Notch Lean-to just to the north of the notch, and can visit Buttermilk Falls at the Devil's Path Junction. This beautiful waterfall drops about 25 feet in an amphitheater-like setting, with a small meadow nearby. Just to the east of the Falls, the Devil's Path enters the Hunter Mountain Wild Forest.
The northern portion of the Diamond Notch trail, leading from the parking lot along the Spruceton Road to the Falls, is a popular 2 mile round trip family hike and is identified as such in the "Catskill Adventure - Day Hikes and Paddles for Families" brochure. The Diamond Notch Trail is tagged with blue markers.
The Northern portion of the Diamond Notch Trail is also marked as a horse trail. Riders can travel the 1.6 miles from the Hunter Mountain (Spruceton Road) Trailhead, past the falls to the lean-to. This short length of trail compliments additional equestrian trails located in the Hunter Mountain Wild Forest.
Mountain Bikers can access all Catskill Forest Preserve trails. Bikers may find the terrain limiting along certain portions of the area's trails, particularly the steep and rocky Devil's Path. Riders are encouraged to follow the International Mountain Bicycling Association's "Rules of the Trail" to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.
Hunting, Fishing, and Trapping
Hunting, fishing, and trapping are traditional uses that are encouraged within the Forest Preserve. For more information check out the NYSDEC Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources website.
The terrain of the Catskills presented a physical barrier to Native American and early European settlers. However, the "Indian proprietors" of this time found purpose for the mountains in separating their groups by language, customs, and hunting area. It is known that the Mohican Indians inhabited the Esopus valley to the south of Westkill Mountain. Early Europeans found little utility in the hills, and primarily used the valleys as travel routes while traversing the area. It was not until the early 1700's when a handful of wealthy English subjects received title to the 1.5 million acre "Hardenburgh Patent" that settlement began. The wealthy subjects made themselves and their heirs landloads for the next 200 years. Farmers could not purchase lands in the area, but could lease it from a landlord.
The late 1700's saw settlement of many villages and hamlets in the area, among them Lexington and the Westkill Valley. The agriculture that supported these early settlement had little impact on the mountains. Clearing for farming purposes was generally limited to the valley floors and the gentle lower slopes. It was not until the early 1800's, when tanneries sprang up in the region, that the first human disturbance in the mountain areas occurred. Locally, the Bray, Bushnell, and Hare mills in Lexington, and the Pratt and Watson mill in Spruceton valley heavily upon the Westkill area hemlock.
The tanneries impact on the forest was great, but relatively short-lived. The depletion of hemlock closed the curtain on this era, but the arrival of the railroads brought new industry to the region.
By the mid 1800's furniture manufacturer's and hardwood mills began cropping up. Chair factories became numerous wherever tanning had encouraged the growth of young hardwoods, or left access roads to older stands of timber. Lumber, furniture, and produce from the prospering agricultural community was shipped to Kingston and even world-wide from the area.
The growing railroads of the late 1800's also provided mobility to an expanding middle-class. Society's "elite" who frequented the elegant and grand hotels now began seeing new faces in the area. Summer boarding houses were constructed to serve the new visitors. This new clientele did not have the luxury of hired help to escort them to high vantage points. Thus, hiking and camping became necessary for the boarders to enjoy the mountain's splendor. Tourism in the Catskills began to grow, and was fueled by the introduction of the automobile after the turn of the century. One popular attraction of note in the area was Tiskilwa Park, located north of Chichester in Ox Clove. Tiskilwa offered motorists a two and a half mile circuitous route through the Park's scenic 6,500 acres. The tour afforded visitors the chance to penetrate the deep woods and enjoy remote springs, a "natural trout stream", and beautiful scenic views.
Often touted is the notion that the Catskill Forest Preserve was created to protect the region's water resources. However, the origins of the Catskill Forest Preserve are more closely tied to a favorite New York issue, taxes. In 1885, the Catskill Forest Preserve was conceived when Ulster County successfully transferred it's tax delinquent mountain lands to the state. The transfer abolished the County's $40,000 debt, and allowed the Towns to then collect annual taxes from the state. So, added to Chapter 283 of the Laws of 1885, originally drafted to create the Adirondack Forest Preserve, were the counties of Greene, Ulster, and Sullivan (Delaware County was added in 1888). The Catskill Forest Preserve was born. To some, an example of doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.
The first parcel of public land acquired in what is now the Westkill Mountain Wilderness resulted from a mortgage foreclosure on 187.5 acres in December of 1874. Since that time, the unit has grown to 19,250 acres through the acquisition of over 65 parcels.
The Forest Preserve continues to enhance the tourism and character of the Catskills. Hunters, hikers, campers, fishermen, bicyclists, snowmobilers, and many others enjoy their pursuits on public lands. And, although the nature and type of tourism has changed over the past century, it remains one of the most important economic and social influences in the Catskill region.
We would like to thank all of the volunteer groups and individuals who dedicate their time and energy in assisting us with the maintenance of this area.
For Further Assistance:
Forest Preserve Management
NYSDEC Region 4
Stamford, New York 12167
Telephone: (607) 652-7365
Additional Phone Numbers:
Fishing: (607) 652-7366
Forest Rangers: (607) 652-5076 or 652-5063
Hunting: (607) 652-7367
Law Enforcement: (607) 652-6705