By Tim Rowland
Some mountains get short shrift because they sit in close proximity to more popular destinations. Round Mountain in Keene Valley qualifies as one — it seems safe to say that thousands of High-Peaks-bound hikers stampede past Round’s unassuming trailhead in pursuit of bigger game without even realizing its existence.
Aside from offering a patch of relative solitude among the greater hiking humanity, Round is a nice way to get the flavor of the High Peaks without spending an entire day on the project, and the views are better than you will find on a number of High Peaks themselves.
The hike originates in the Adirondack Mountain Reserve’s lot in Route 73 in St Huberts, the one trailhead that requires advanced permits. I confess this was my first time accessing the reservation system, maybe because I have detected that some people (not many, but some) have hinted around (only very occasionally, in vague, offhanded ways) that I might have a slight (hardly enough to mention, really) problem with authority.
So while I might not actively avoid places with a lot of rules, I don’t gravitate to them, either. Still, I couldn’t be more impressed with AMR’s reservation system, which is not only free but incredibly easy to use. I came away from the experience convinced that AMR should be put in charge of all e-commerce websites and online mortgage applications.
Consequently, my brother and I were in a good mood when we sat out for Round, whose trailhead is the first you’ll see on the left after leaving the AMR parking lot. It immediately begins with an attention-grabbing climb before moderating alongside a high forested cliff from which you can catch occasional glimpses of Giant.
The trail tools along this way, climbing in moderate fashion through some seriously large hemlock, across some small streams percolating down from the ridge and across broadly open forest floors covered with evergreen needles.
The trail is well-marked with red discs, and it pays to keep an eagle eye out for them as you hike this section. Due both to open forests and gentle use, the trail itself is not always evident. We got off the trail for a bit, but — figuring that if you’re climbing a mountain, “up” is always a good bet — toddled along until the trail reappeared in short order.
It reminded me that on the way back down from Round maybe 15 years ago, I got off the trail, descending into the valley floor too soon and stumbling upon — well, never mind. But if you’re reading, sorry ma’am.
About a mile into the hike, overlooks of Giant and Giant Nubble begin to appear, and it’s here that the trail turns to the face of the mountain and goes for the whole enchilada all at once, so to speak, eschewing switchbacks and contours and anything else that might make the job easier — in other words, it’s a good, old fashioned High Peaks trail, but without the typical wear and tear.
In six tenths of a mile the trail gains 1,000 feet in elevation, which might not be the back side of Algonquin, but is stern enough to make you feel as if you have earned however many frosted Pop Tarts you have chosen to lug to the top.
It moderates at about two miles and breaks out of the evergreens with a looming Noonmark and a nicely framed view to the west of the Great Range. From there, the views keep getting better, enhanced in spots with fun little scrambles up some pretty incredible boulders.
The tail continues along the ridgeline, with grand views of just about every compass point, from Giant in the North to Dix in the South, with a dramatic look down the barrel of Hunter Pass.
Having learned our lesson on the way up, we kept our eyes peeled for markers and managed to stay on the trail for the duration of the return trip. If you have the time, it’s possible to make a loop by returning on the Old Dix Trail accessed from the Noonmark trailhead. It’s a bit longer, but will not add appreciably to your day.
Either way, Round has High Peaks feel without the crowds and the all-day commitment. And AMR will have a spot waiting for you.
- Elevation: 3,130
- Elevation Gain: 1,860
- Distance, round trip: 4.5 miles