Difficulty: Moderate-strenuous. The loop hike to the summit of Round Top Mountain, including the spur trail to views near the top, is 4.5 miles total. The trail is fairly level at the beginning and increases in steepness when it reaches the slope of Round Top Mountain. Large boulders and rock slabs make the footing tricky in many areas. In the winter, the trail is extremely icy unless covered in layers of snow.
How to get there: From Route 27 in Rome, Maine, turn onto Watson Pond Road and drive about 4 miles. Turn onto Wildflower Estates and you will see a parking area to your right. The trail starts from the parking lot.
Information:Rising 1,133 feet above sea level, Round Top Mountain is the highest peak of the Kennebec Highlands, a group of hills and mountains in central Maine. The rocky trail travels through young forest at first, then through patches of old conifers. You will pass many large boulders, and some of the trail travels over exposed granite.
At about 1 mile, the trail will cross the Kennebec Highlands Trail. Continue straight, following the blue blazes up the mountain. As the trail approaches the summit, a 0.3-mile spur trail leads north to a few outlooks. The spur trail also leads to the highest point you’ll reach on the hike, which is close to the mountain’s wide summit, according to my GPS.
Past the spur trail, the Round Top Trail continues northeast, passing several rocky overlooks. Features to look for are the small nearby ponds, Beaver Pond and Round Pond, as well as the much larger Long Pond and Great Pond. Nearby mountains are Mount Phillip, French Mountain, Sanders Hill and Vienna Mountain, all of which have hiking trails.
The rocky Round Top Trail soon descends and meets the Kennebec Highlands Trail. Turn right onto this broad trail and walk until you reach an intersection where a sign that reads “Round Top Trail” will point you to turn right onto a narrower trail. You will soon reach the Kennebec Highlands Trail again. Turn right again and walk a short distance to an intersection. You are back to the first intersection you met on the hike. Turn left, following the sign that reads “Round Top Trailhead.” Hike a mile back to the trailhead.
The trail is 3.9 miles round trip, according to www.belgradelakes.org. If you add the 0.3-mile spur trail (out and back), the hike is 4.5 miles total. Pets are allowed, and trail use is free.
The trail is in the 6,000-acre Kennebec Highlands Public Reserved Land, conserved by the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance’s Land Trust. Founded in 1988, the alliance (BRCA) works with area lake associations, state and town governments and agencies, other conservation groups, and private landowners to preserve the area’s natural resources and maintain public access for low-impact recreational activities like hiking, fishing, hunting, canoeing, and cross-country skiing.
For information, visit www.belgradelakes.org, and for a trail map, visit www.belgradelakes.org/pdfs/Round_Top_Trail_Map.pdf.
Personal note: My cousin Eve Jordan and I hiked to the top of Round Top Mountain on Feb. 8, 2013, just before snowstorm “Nemo” hit Maine with high winds and heavy snowfall. Soon after leaving the trailhead, we realized the trail was too icy to navigate without ice cleats. Fortunately, I had packed two pairs of ice cleats (though still in the vehicle), a Christmas present I had yet to test out. We returned to the parking area, strapped the cleats tightly to our boots and set off on the trail with a new confidence, knowing we could tackle any slippery surface. Our new foot gear clacked over ice and rocks dusted with fresh snow.
As we hiked through snow flurries under a white sky, we counted five woodpeckers (hairy and downy), and saw evidence of porcupines — teeth marks on trees stripped of bark. We wrapped scarves around our faces to shield them from the biting cold, as the temperature hovered around 10 degrees Fahrenheit. The highest point of the hike, which is located on the Spur Trail, was close to the summit, but we did not find a summit sign anywhere on the trail network. The trail did pass by several outlooks, though the views of nearby mountains and ponds were mostly obscured by clouds and snow that day.