Roundtop Mountain in the Catskills Adventurous and Beautiful

Kaaterskill High Peak and Round Top from Plateau Mountain
Average read time 11 min

With its taller neighbor Kaaterskill High Peak, Roundtop Mountain stands 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

Seasons to watch

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 weather was forecast at about 60-degrees with the 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 trailhead at 3:00 PM and sixty-four at the quick mart when we stopped for gas and our post-hike ice cream!

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

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.

Related page: Kaaterskill Wild Forest

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 after the parking area as it was 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
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking View of the parking area

The first parking area has enough space for about four cars and the second for about six. However, the second area can be very wet, which may significantly reduce parking capacity as the grassy area can be extraordinarily rutted and muddy. The day we did this hike, only two vehicles could park there.

Wet and enough space for about 6 cars
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Wet and enough space for about 6 cars

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
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Start of the woods road from the parking area on Gillespie Road

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
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Markers painted on the trees designating state land
View of Round Top climb toward the trail
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking View of Round Top climbing toward the trail

After the markers, you’ll traverse a steeper pitch, and once on top, the walk to the trail is more leisurely. 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
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Reaching the wet and rutted trail before the junction on the loop

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
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Junction on the loop trail
Hiking the very wet loop trail toward the bushwhack point.
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Hiking the very wet loop trail toward the bushwhack point.
Trail with gently climbing to bushwhack point
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Trail gently climbing to bushwhack point
Winter's gate hanging on below a rock ledge off the trail
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking “Winter’s gate” hanging on below a rock ledge off the trail

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
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking In the conifers on the ridge
Conifers on the ridge blown over
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Conifers on the ridge blown over

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
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Framed view of Twin and Sugarloaf on the ridge

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
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking On some of the level spots, out of the conifers, you’ll see the bulk of Round Top

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
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Mossy rock ledge on the ridge
A path to scramble up the ledges
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking A winding path to scramble up the ledges?
More ways up through the rocks
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking More ways up through the rocks.

You’ll find lots of moss, overhangs, cracks, natural steps, and lemon squeezers at various points.

Mossy rock in the conifers
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Mossy rock in the conifers
Beautiful mossy areas.
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Beautiful mossy areas.
Small pockets of snow and ice higher up on the mountain in late April
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Small pockets of snow and ice higher up on the mountain in late April
Rock overhang which you could use as a shelter
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Rock overhang which you could use as a shelter
Lemon squeezer near the overhang
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Lemon squeezer near the overhang
Another lemon squeezer
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Another lemon squeezer
Natural staircase up a rock ledge
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Natural staircase up a rock ledge
Traversing below some ice hanging off a small over hang, watch out!
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Traversing below some ice hanging off a small overhang, watch out!

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
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Looking down on what appears to be tiny North-South Lake

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.
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Some final rock ledges below 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.

Chris sitting on the summit cairn.
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Chris sitting on the summit cairn.

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