Remote peaks and pristine waterways make this 19,250-acre pocket of the Catskill Forest Preserve a favorite with hikers and backpackers.
Located in south Greene County, the wilderness is bordered by two waterways: West Kill Creek tumbles over Diamond Notch Falls to form the northern boundary, while the popular trout fishery Esopus Creek runs along the southern edge. Six trailheads with parking areas offer access to hikers, cross-country skiers, and snowshoers. For a family-friendly hike, turn off NY-42 onto Spruceton Road and continue seven miles to the last trailhead. From there, the Diamond Notch Trail leads one mile east and climbs 300 feet to the 25-foot waterfall cascading down moss-covered shale ledges. This trail also sees the most reliable snow cover in winter for snowshoers and cross-country skiers.
The wilderness also offers access to 4,039-foot Hunter Mountain, the second highest peak in the Catskills. For the shortest route up, sprinkled with punchy climbs, start at the Becker Hollow trailhead on US-214. Follow yellow markers 1.7 miles to the summit, where hikers can climb a decommissioned fire tower—the highest in New York State—to look over the ski area below.
The Devil's Path, a classic Catskills test piece, also runs through the area. The complete route clocks in at 25.2 miles and includes five summits as it spans the Indian Head Wilderness and Hunter-West Kill Wilderness on an east-west track. Just more than 11 miles of the trail crosses the northeastern section of Hunter-West Kill, linking trailheads on Spruceton Road and US-214. Expect steep climbs, rock scrambles, and off-camber trails. Carry a headlamp in case the hike takes longer than expected, and know that water sources along the hike disappear during dry spells.
All hiking trails are open to cross-country skiers and snowshoers in winter, although they are not maintained for snow travel. And with three trailless peaks—3,340-foot Balsam, 3,540-foot Mount Sherrill, and 3,610-foot North Dome—and a trio of lean-tos shelters, Hunter-West Kill offers ample opportunity for four-season adventure. For more information, contact the Department of Environmental Conservation at dec.ny.gov or (607) 652-7365.