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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As you ascend you’ll reach rock ledges that need to be negotiated but take some time to explore these fun places.
You’ll find lots of moss, overhangs, cracks, natural steps, and lemon squeezers at various points.
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.
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.
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.
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;
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.