Diamond Notch Falls, sometimes referred to as West Kill Falls, is a pleasant 25-foot waterfall located on the West Kill at the end of Spruceton Valley in the Hunter-Westkill Wilderness Area. Diamond Notch is the gap between Hunter Mountain and West Kill Mountain.
From the end of Greene County Route 6 (Spruceton Road), the falls are easily accessible via a relatively flat, family-friendly 1.4-mile roundtrip hike along the West Kill. For a different starting point, the trail to the falls can also be accessed from the end of Diamond Notch Road, 1.5 miles off of Route 214 near Lanesville. This route to the falls, which follows along Hollow Tree Brook through Diamond Notch Hollow, is approximately 4.0 miles roundtrip. The entire blue-blazed Diamond Notch Trail from Lanesville to Spruceton Road is 2.7 miles long one-way, or 5.4 miles roundtrip.
Diamond Notch Falls is located on the regionally famous Devil’s Path, at its junction with the Diamond Notch Trail. The 25.2-mile Devil’s Path is an extremely challenging hike that crosses the summits of Indian Head, Twin, Sugarloaf, Plateau and West Kill Mountains, all of which are over 3,500 feet. With its notorious rocky terrain and approximately 9,000 feet of elevation gain, the Devil’s Path is considered one of the most challenging hikes in all of the Catskills, and perhaps even the tri-state area.
The 11-mile-long West Kill, on which Diamond Notch Falls sit, forms between Hunter Mountain and Westkill Mountain, flows through the Spruceton Valley and past the hamlets of Spruceton and West Kill before joining the Schoharie Creek at the hamlet of Lexington.
Spruceton, located near the northern terminus of the Diamond Notch Trail, is one of four historic hamlets located within the town of Lexington, the other three being Lexington, Westkill and Bushnellsville. The Spruceton hamlet is beautifully situated within the West Kill valley, with the hamlet of West Kill (junction of County Route 6 and Route42) at the western terminus of the valley, and the parking area for the Diamond Notch Trail at the eastern terminus of the valley. The focal point for today’s Spruceton hamlet is the Spruceton Methodist Church, which was founded in 1889, and its adjacent graveyard enclosed by a stone wall.
According to noted professor, author and naturalist Michael Kudish “the name of the hamlet of Spruceton does originate from the presence of this conifer in the valley of the West Kill. Most of the red spruce were and are today on the upper slopes and ridgecrests of Rusk and West Kill Mountains. West of these two peaks, no spruce was or is to be found along the ridges. In the West Kill Valley, spruce descended to about the hamlet of Spruceton and not any farther west. Most of the red spruce in the valley was logged off during the nineteenth century.” (Kudish, Michael. The Catskill Forest: A History. Fleischmanns, New York: Purple Mountain Press, 2000. p. 124.)
J. B. Beers wrote in 1884 in his definitive History of Greene County, New York of the origin of the hamlet of Lanesville, which is located near the southern terminus of Diamond Notch Hollow. “Still lower down is Lanesville, named from its early pioneer, Peter R. Lane, who came within the bounds of Greene County about 1830. It is a small settlement and its few citizens are mostly farmers, among them are Edward Lane, Orrin B. Crosby and the genial post-master, Mr. Barber, who keeps a small general store. The other early settlers were the Martins, Connolly, William Barber, Jacob D. Lane, Robert Kerr, H. D. Devall, Mr. Fairchild and a few others. Their chief business from the earliest dates has been lumbering, and the stream abounds in old mill and dam sites, many owned and run by the above men. At present there are but a few in operation, but to locate the sites by other methods than a map, would be impossible.” (Beers, J. B. History of Greene County, New York. New York: J. B. Beers & Co., 1884. p. 83.)
By the mid-1880s the well-regarded Diamond Notch House, with accommodations for 30 people, had been established at the hamlet of Lanesville. The Diamond Notch House was early managed by Orrin B. Crosby (1813-1900) and later by his son Asa Crosby (1860-1926). A 1915 advertisement noted that the farm house included “excellent table; airy rooms; dancing, fishing, etc.; homelike; restful; telephone.” Asa Crosby was a lifelong resident of Lanesville, and in addition to the boarding house, he also managed his farm and operated a general store business.
In 1892 the Diamond Notch House was the scene of much excitement. “David J. Crosby, son of O. B. Crosby, who keeps the Diamond Notch House at Lanesville, in the Catskills Mountains, one night, a short time ago, had two sheep killed by some wild animal. He set a trap, and the next morning found a large animal fast in it. Believing the animal to be dead he carelessly unloosed the jaws of the trap. This proved an unfortunate circumstance, as the animal was by no means dead. In a “York second” Crosby and a large catamount were rolling around in the snow. Crosby managed to get a large jackknife from his pocket, and after one or two well-directed stabs the catamount yielded up its life. Mr. Crosby had his clothing torn into shreds, and his body was terribly scratched. The catamount was four feet in length and weighed forty pounds.” (“New York State News.” Republican Watchman. Monticello, New York. February 12, 1892.)
David Crosby, brother of Asa Crosby, would establish Echo Cottage, also located at Lanesville. Echo Cottage had accommodations for 40 people. Other boarding houses operating at Lanesville in 1919 included the Lanesville House (Mrs. J. McGinn), the Central Farm House (F. A. Barber), The Ruggles (C. R. Lane), Pleasant View House (T. H. Jansen), Clover Leaf Cottage (A. H. Stryker), Notch View Farm (E. Kerr), The Brunswick (H. S. Lane), The Elmwood (Louisa North) and The Norwood (George Lindsley).
A similarly named Diamond Notch House was located at the hamlet of Spruceton and was operated by Henry I. Van Valkenburgh.
Between 1890 and 1910 there was a massive landslide on the east wall of Diamond Notch that “removed all vegetation and soil helping to create a landslide-prone boulder talus slope with very little vegetation even today. The area was also reportedly logged during this period.” (Hunter Mountain Wild Forest Unit Management Plan. November 1995. pp. 21-22.)
The Diamond Notch Trail from Lanesville to Spruceton was an old public road that was eventually abandoned, and later converted to trail use. Both the 1856 Map of Greene County, N.Y. by Samuel Geil and the 1867 Atlas of Greene County map by F. W. Beers did not show a road through the notch between Lanesville and Spruceton. However, the U.S. Geological Survey of 1900, as seen on the Phoenicia Quadrangle, did show the route through Diamond Notch. This route was shown as a trail, not as a road.
The road through Diamond Notch was officially abandoned on November 26, 1924 by order of the Town Board of Lexington, although the portion of the road operated by the town of Hunter was maintained for some years after. Lands within Diamond Notch were purchased by New York State in 1932 to incorporate as part of the Catskill Forest Preserve. The Diamond Notch Trail “was developed during the 1937 season primarily as a ski trail from Stony Clove Road (Route 214) near Lanesville to the Spruceton Road near its junction with the old Spruceton-Hunter Road.” (Delaware Republican Express. Summer Vacation Issue, 1974.) The original 5-mile cross-country ski trail, with exposure to the north and south, was rated by the New York State Conservation Department as “novice.”
The lean-to located within Diamond Notch, approximately 1/2 mile from the Falls, was originally constructed in 1968, and rehabilitated in 2010. It is a popular overnight spot for backpackers given its proximity to the Devil’s Path and to Diamond Notch Falls. The Diamond Notch lean-to is one of three shelters located within the Hunter-Westkill Wilderness Area, the other two being the John Robb lean-to on the Spruceton Trail and the Devil’s Acre lean-to on the Devil’s Path.