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Roundtop Mountain in the Catskills

Kaaterskill High Peak and Round Top from Plateau Mountain
Average read time 6 min

Roundtop Mountain with it’s taller neighbor Kaaterskill High Peak stand alone at the head of the Schoharie Valley. These two peaks can be seen from many points given their relative isolation from many of the main Catskill chains. Hiking both peaks make for a long day hike. Roundtop is one of the Catskill 67 reaching 3440’ elevation. It is one of three Roundtop Mountains in the 67. Hiking Roundtop from Gillespie Road makes for a nice 3.35-mile out-and-back with 1130’ of climbing.

Hike Length: 3.35-miles (approximately)

Route Type: Out-and-Back

Total Ascent: 1130'

How Hard: Difficult (Bushwhack)

Click map to see interactive version

Hiking in the shoulder seasons is always fun. But.

You’ll need to be ready for changes in temperature and remaining ice and snow in spots. This day the high temperature was forecast at about 60-degrees with sun in the valley. We left the trailhead with 42-degree temperatures and summited with the temperature at 39-degrees, cloudy, and a stiff breeze. If you’re not prepared for this, a 60-degree day in the valley can lead to a hypothermic event on a much colder summit. By the way, the temperature was 55 when we returned to the car at 3:00 PM.

Chris heading down with heavy fleece and winter cap on.
Chris heading down with heavy fleece and winter cap on. Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking

Bushwhacking Roundtop

Probably a minority of people hike both peaks in a day, in our opinion it is preferable to hike them individually so you can “poke around” and enjoy the grandeur of each mountain. The mountains are surrounded by a snowmobile loop that makes access to Roundtop relatively easy. But one should be forewarned that the upper elevations of Roundtop are ringed with cliffs especially on its east and south slopes and rock scrambles are common.

Since the NYC DEP has acquired the land on Gillespie Road one can hike from the parking area (42.1712, -74.1134) at the “end” of the road as shown on the NYNJTC map. Note, the road continues on after the parking area as it was at once part of a trail that provided access to Huckleberry Point. Gillespie Road is gravel and at times a very rutted road. It can be wet and has several rivulets crossing it. Although a sedan could make it to the parking area it may be missing its muffler. Given this, it may be better for cars with low clearance to park at the first parking area before the road becomes rough.

View of parking area
View of the parking area Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking
The first parking area has enough space for about 4 cars and the second for about six. The second area, however, can be very wet which may significantly reduce parking capacity as the grassy area can be extremely rutted and muddy. The day we did this hike only 2 vehicles could park there.

Wet and enough space for about 6 cars
Wet and enough space for about 6 cars Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking
From the parking area, at an elevation of 2310’, you’ll leave uphill following the obvious woods road. The woods road and snowmobile trail can be wet and are very rough in spots partially due to ATVs.

Start of the woods road from the parking area on Gillespie Road
Start of the woods road from the parking area on Gillespie Road Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking
After a short 0.22-miles and about 215’ of climbing, you’ll reach markers painted on the trees designating state land. You are about halfway to the snowmobile trail. Keep a look to your right when the trees are bare you can see Roundtop.

Markers painted on the trees designating state land
Markers painted on the trees designating state land Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking

View of Round Top climb toward the trail
View of Round Top climbing toward the trail Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking
After the markers, you’ll traverse a steeper pitch, and once on top, the walk to the trail is easier. You’ll probably intersect the trail almost at the junction of the loop. When reaching the trail turn right a walk for a few minutes and you’ll be there. Your total climb from the parking area is about 435’ in 0.5-miles.

Reaching the wet and rutted trail before the junction on the loop
Reaching the wet and rutted trail before the junction on the loop Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking
Once at the junction, you can climb directly from there, but you can pick up elevation with greater ease by walking the trail left and climbing to about 2900’ where you can leave the trail at the “nose” of the northwest ridge. Depending on where you entered the trail is about 0.35-miles from the end of the bushwack.

Junction on the loop trail
Junction on the loop trail Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking

Hiking the very wet loop trail toward the bushwhack point.
Hiking the very wet loop trail toward the bushwhack point. Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking

Trail with gently climbing to bushwhack point
Trail gently climbing to bushwhack point Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking

Winter's gate hanging on below a rock ledge off the trail
“Winter’s gate” hanging on below a rock ledge off the trail Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking
Almost immediately off the trail, you’ll be in first growth forest. According to Micheal Kudish in his book “The Catskill Forest: A History”, Kudish, cites that the forest above the snowmobile trail is in first growth for both peaks.

Not long after departing the trail, you’ll enter a wonderful band of conifers.

In the conifers on the ridge
In the conifers on the ridge Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking

Conifers on the ridge blown over
Conifers on the ridge blown over Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking
If you are climbing on the west side of the ridge at about 3000’ at the top of some cliffs you can get a framed view of Twin and Sugarloaf mountains.

Framed view of Twin and Sugarloaf on the ridge
Framed view of Twin and Sugarloaf on the ridge Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking
The ridge will dogleg a bit and head to the summit. In typical Catskill style, you’ll climb and then walk on the level and repeat. When out of the conifers you may catch glimpses of the bulk of Roundtop.

On some of the level spots, out of the conifers, you'll see the bulk of Round Top
On some of the level spots, out of the conifers, you’ll see the bulk of Round Top Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking
As you ascend you’ll reach rock ledges that need to be negotiated but take some time to explore these fun places.

Mossy rock ledge on the ridge
Mossy rock ledge on the ridge Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking

A path to scramble up the ledges
A winding path to scramble up the ledges? Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking

More ways up through the rocks
More ways up through the rocks. Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking
You’ll find lots of moss, overhangs, cracks, natural steps, and lemon squeezers at various points.

Mossy rock in the conifers
Mossy rock in the conifers Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking

Beautiful mossy areas.
Beautiful mossy areas. Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking

Small pockets of snow and ice higher up on the mountain in late April
Small pockets of snow and ice higher up on the mountain in late April Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking

Rock overhang which you could use as a shelter
Rock overhang which you could use as a shelter Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking

Lemon squeezer near the overhang
Lemon squeezer near the overhang Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking

Another lemon squeezer
Another lemon squeezer Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking

Natural staircase up a rock ledge
Natural staircase up a rock ledge Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking

Traversing below some ice hanging off a small over hang, watch out!
Traversing below some ice hanging off a small overhang, watch out! Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking
Tip: if you descend on this ridge do so on the east side for another experience with more cool rock formations and views of North-South Lake. These views are best when the trees are bare.

Looking down on what appears to be tiny North-South Lake
Looking down on what appears to be tiny North-South Lake Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking
You’ll climb up the ridge and may think the summit is “just ahead” once or twice, but it pops up after one final level section. If you’ve left the trail at the nose of the ridge it is about 0.75-miles to the summit.

Some final rock ledges below summit.
Some final rock ledges below the summit. Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking
The 3440’ summit is a small place that is easily discerned even without the cairn. On the day that we climbed the peak, there were remains of a fire, which we do not recommend in this sensitive high elevation first growth forest. From the summit explore a bit. Head southeast to the cliffs and walk around the summit cone. It is a beautiful place.

Chris sitting on the summit cairn.
Chris sitting on the summit cairn. Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking
You could extend your trip to High Peak or as we did head back down the ridge and pick a different route to explore more great forest and scenery.

Round Top will not disappoint.

Kaaterskill Wild Forest
Contact Information:DEC Region 4 Stamford
Office hours: M-F 8:30AM - 4:30PM
Phone: (607) 652-7365;
Email: r4.ump@dec.ny.gov
Backcountry Emergency: (Search, Rescue & Forest Fire): 518-408-5850 or dial 911
Location: Towns of Hunter and Catskill in Greene County and the town on Saugerties in Ulster County
Map: Kaaterskill Wild Forest map
Amenities:Lodging and dining opportunities, as well as gas, food and other supplies may be found in the communities of Hunter, Tannersville, and Pallenville.
Weather:Kaaterskill High Peak weather

Roundtop Mountain Trail and Bushwhack Map

Click the map or here for an interactive version of the map.

Kaaterskill High Peak and Roundtop Trail Map
Kaaterskill High Peak and Roundtop Trail Map Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking

Last Updated on June 11, 2020