Hiking: Hunter Mountain via the Spruceton Jeep & Devil's Path Trails | Catskill Mountains, NY | 7/16/09

You have to love a hike where for the first three miles you're able to hop a ride in the back of a pickup and get rid of the vast majority of the climb. That's where we lucked out on our trip over Hunter Mountain. Knowing the right people can be helpful. We caught a ride with the ranger since he was on his way up to do some work around the new leanto site and to post the old John Robb Leanto site as “no camping.”

FYI – at the moment there's no official camping area where the John Robb Leanto used to be along the jeep trail. The old leanto site is in the process of being revegetated and while a replacement leanto is in the works, it's not yet complete. In the meantime you'll have to camp below the 3500 foot elevation and more than 150 feet from the trail.

Our hike started at the old John Robb Leanto site, which is about a two and a half miles up the Spruceton Road Jeep trail (and horse trail). The ride cut out most of the steeper sections, though we had something of a climb from the leanto site up to the junction with the Colonels Chair Trail. As for the weather, we rode up through quite the downpour, but as we started walking, things slowly started clearing and we'd have breaks of sunshine from time to time. It didn't rain again for the rest of the day, but it was sure humid and by the end of the trip, the lack of rain let the black flies and mosquitoes come out in force. I know, black flies in late July – it's crazy with the weather we've been having.
Hunter Mountain Hike - 7/16/09
Hunter Mountain Hike - 7/16/09
Hunter Mountain Hike - 7/16/09
Hunter Mountain Hike - 7/16/09
The Colonels Chair Trail heads over to the top of the Hunter Mountain Ski Area and you can use it to climb Hunter if you've taken the sky ride up the to the top of the ski area.

From the jeep trail's intersection with the Colonels Chair Trail, it makes its way to the summit of hunter along a series of practically flat sections interspersed with a few steep sections. It can be muddy during wet times and since we've probably had the wettest summer in the Catskills in a very long time, it was quite muddy as we made our way along.

Along the way is an overgrown viewpoint that used to give you a view down and across the ski area. Right now it's pretty much grown over.
Hunter Mountain Hike - 7/16/09
Hunter Mountain Hike - 7/16/09
So we took a look, but continued along our way towards the summit.
Hunter Mountain Hike - 7/16/09
Right before the summit, the road goes up its final steep section that ends at the clearing for the Fire Tower and the observer's cabin.
Hunter Mountain Hike - 7/16/09
Hunter Mountain Hike - 7/16/09
You can see the tower as you come up the last section and then you'll come to the trail junction where the yellow trail continues over and across the summit of Hunter Mountain to Devil's Acre Leanto. This also marks the end of the horse trail that followed the Spruceton Jeep Trail.
Hunter Mountain Hike - 7/16/09
Hunter Mountain Hike - 7/16/09
Hunter Mountain Fire Tower Panorama
If you're up on Hunter on a clear day, it's well worth your time to climb the Fire Tower, even if there isn't a volunteer there to open up the observation cab on top. The view from the top of the stairs is amazing. You get 360 degrees of view up there and can see just about the entire Catskill region.
Hunter Mountain Hike - 7/16/09
Hunter Mountain Hike - 7/16/09
Climbing the tower isn't for everyone though, it is quite exposed and when you get to the top, it is quite high. I'd stay away if you don't like heights.
Hunter Mountain Hike - 7/16/09
Hunter Mountain Hike - 7/16/09
Hunter Mountain Hike - 7/16/09
Hunter Mountain Hike - 7/16/09
There's also a small observer's cabin that's on the ground next to the tower. It's not open to the public unless a volunteer is there manning the tower, but the porch does offer some respite from the weather if you're up there in the rain. There is a fairly detailed regional map up on the cabin on the porch should you want to get an idea of what you're looking at when you're up on the tower.
Hunter Mountain Hike - 7/16/09
From the tower we got on the yellow trail and started walking across the summit area (the actual summit isn't where the tower is, but down the yellow trail a bit). Not too far down the trail (maybe a third of a mile) you come to the trail junction with the Becker Hollow Trail (ref. my hike up Hunter via Stony Clove and then down Becker Hollow) and a side trail to what I think is one of the best views in the Catskills. The open ledge looks right down into Spruceton Valley and I just love the view.
Hunter Mountain Hike - 7/16/09
Spruceton Valley Overlook Panorama
It was quite hazy when we were there so the view wasn't as tremendous as normal, but I like it nevertheless. The wind was blowing up across the ledge and you just feel like you're on top of the world as you look down.

The trail then starts dropping down into the saddle between Hunter Mountain and Southwest Hunter where the Devil's Acre leanto is located. It's not much of an exciting walk as it tends to wind its way down through the thick evergreen forests at first and then just traverses down through the deciduous forests right before the leanto.
Hunter Mountain Hike - 7/16/09
Thanks to the endless rains this spring and summer, the growth along the trail is simply amazing. What would have been small weeds and brush look almost like a tropical rain forest at the moment. The trail wasn't hard to follow, but it was overgrown in places.

Just before the leanto you'll come to the trail junction with the Devil's Path as it climbs up from Stony Clove Notch.
Hunter Mountain Hike - 7/16/09
The leanto isn't anything to behold. I think it's probably one of the older ones and while it's in decent shape, the area is like a porcupine farm. The one time I did stay there, I literally had porcupines crawling over my sleeping bag at night. On this trip we just stopped for lunch as it was starting to look threatening again and we thought it might start raining.
Hunter Mountain Hike - 7/16/09
Hunter Mountain Hike - 7/16/09
Hunter Mountain Hike - 7/16/09
Hunter Mountain Hike - 7/16/09
Devil's Acre Leanto Panorama
Thankfully the rain held off and it started to clear up again, so we headed along the Devil's Path down off of Hunter to its junction with the Spruceton Valley Trail, the Diamond Notch Trail and where it continues up and over Westkill Mountain.

The area around the leanto site was a base camp for a lumber operation back in the 1800s. They actually had several narrow-gauge rail lines running around Hunter Mountain and Southwest Hunter. The logs would be brought to the base camp and then sent down to Lanesville where they were shipped out for lumbering. You can still find the old railroad grades (the Devil's Path follows an old grade for a while) and you can find piles of coal slag from the steam engines.

The trail crosses a small stream/spring just after the leanto.
Hunter Mountain Hike - 7/16/09
This is a pretty secure source for water in almost any season, though you should always purify it.

From there you make your way through the saddle between Southwest Hunter and Hunter Mountain. An unmarked trail branches off the Devil's Path and its beginning is marked with a small cairn. This trail goes out to the summit of Southwest Hunter, a supposedly “trailless peak,” even though the trail looks almost as well maintained as the Devil's Path.

After that the trail starts descending towards Diamond Notch, though it sure takes its sweet time getting there. You follow old road grades for the vast majority of the time and make long traverses, which keeps the steepness to a minimum. Though at some point you'll start wondering when you'll get down.

Not too far down is one more viewpoint though. You have views across to Southwest Hunter and Westkill and down into Diamond Notch a bit.
Hunter Mountain Hike - 7/16/09
Hunter Mountain Hike - 7/16/09
After that, you're back in the woods and there really aren't any views.
Hunter Mountain Hike - 7/16/09
Hunter Mountain Hike - 7/16/09
Eventually you'll reach the trail junction with the Diamond Notch Trail and the Spruceton Valley Trail at Buttermilk Falls. This small waterfall is pretty and there's a fairly decent swimming hole beneath it.
Hunter Mountain Hike - 7/16/09
Hunter Mountain Hike - 7/16/09
Hunter Mountain Hike - 7/16/09
After the trail junction, the trip out to the parking lot at the end of the Spruceton Valley Road is really easy. It's about a mile in length and has the gentlest dip downhill so you can make some really good time. The parking lot is located about a hundred yards or so down from the end of the road, which is a snowplow turnaround and isn't open to parking.
Hunter Mountain Hike - 7/16/09
Hunter Mountain Hike - 7/16/09
Hunter Mountain Hike - 7/16/09
All told, it was a good hike, especially with that ride that saved us about two and a half miles of walking up Hunter.


The entire trip photo set on Flickr


Stats

Mileages
Spruceton Valley Road to Old John Robb Leanto Site via the Spruceton Jeep Trail – 2.2 miles
Old John Robb Leanto to Hunter Mountain Summit via the Jeep Trail – 1.3 miles
Hunter Mountain Summit to Devil's Acre Leanto via yellow trail – 1.7 miles
Devil's Acre Leanto to Buttermilk Falls via the Devil's Path – 2.3 miles
Buttermilk Falls to Spruceton Valley Trailhead via Spruceton Valley Trail – 1 mile
8.5 miles in total (2.2 riding & 6.3 walking)

Elevation Gain & Loss
Approximately 2,050 feet at Spruceton Road & 4,040 feet at Hunter Mountain Summit
Roughly 2,000 feet of elevation gain and 2,000 feet of elevation loss




Need more information on hiking and planning your 
trips to the Catskills and the Catskill Park?




Need a hiking map for your hikes in the Catskills? We recommend the Trail Conference's Catskills Trails 6-Map Set. These maps are the best available for hiking and outdoor adventures in the Catskills and the Catskill Park. The Catskill Center offers a regional map of the Catskills that provides an excellent overview of the region, it's roadways, attractions and trails. National Geographic Trails Illustrated also produces a map for the region. 

How about a guidebook? Both AMC and ADK publish trail guides to the Catskill Region and thAdventures in the Outdoors Bookstore carries many more books and maps that will help you as you hike and explore the Catskill Mountains region. 

If you are looking for more information about the extensive history of the Catskill Mountains and the Catskill Park, we would suggest reading The Catskills, From Wilderness to Woodstock and The Catskill Park, Inside the Blue Line. For the most comprehensive natural history of the Catskill Park and the Forests of the Catskill region, we recommend reading The Catskill Forest, a History by Michael Kudish.

   

Comments

  1. hey, i'm thinking of hiking Hunter mtn this week. did you investigate other trails, like diamond notch or becker hollow trails? is the best place to stay in Spruceton? (to be near the hiking trails) or can I stay in Edgewood, or Hunter? I may camp, but if it's too warm at night, I may stay in a motel.

    thanks for any tips,
    David

    ReplyDelete
  2. I've pretty much hiked every trail on Hunter - they all have their pluses and minuses. Becker Hollow gets you up the mountain very fast, but it is very steep. The trail up from Diamond Notch is a long slog up from Buttermilk Falls. The Devil's Path up from Stony Clove Notch is steep at first and then has quite a slog to get to the Devil's Acre Leanto. The easiest hike up is from Spruceton via the old jeep road. It's fairly long, but it's an easy grade.

    You can pretty much stay anywhere around the mountain and not have too much trouble getting there. Spruceton is the closest for the Diamond Notch or Jeep trail, while Hunter is closer for the Stony Clove and Becker Hollow approaches.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for the tips. I plan to camp at Devil's Tombstone and hike from there.

    Best,
    David

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi,
    I am planning to go for a hike via Spruceton trail on 10/11/09, should I purchase the map for this hike or just follow the markings?

    Please advice,
    Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I know it's after the fact, but I don't really think you need a map so long as you can take a good look at the map at the trailhead (each trailhead has a map) and you just follow the trail signs so that you end up coming out where you started. There aren't that many trails around the area to be too confusing.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thank you for the information. I went there with the friends. We took Spruceton trail. It was really beautiful, very windy on the tower though (BTW, tower was open). The leaves were already changing color, so the trip was well worth it.
    Thanks again. I hope I can hike Devil's path in future, that should be more challenging.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Ah, you must have seen us all working on the new John Robb leanto then! Glad you enjoyed your walk up Hunter and that the tower was open. If you have any other questions, let me know.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I think then we talked to your group then. I passed by the people working there and I made a comment about the weather, someone from your group said, "its easy to roll down the hill", if you remember the conversation. We were a group of 4, 3 guys and 1 gal.

    ReplyDelete

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