As you drive South on Highway 7, as you near Jasper a mountain with a uniquely shape top comes into view. It's an interesting looking mountain, accurately named Round Top Mountain, and it dominates the mountain-line near Jasper.
There is a great hiking trail here, that is full of a lot of beautiful scenery, wildflowers and a bit of unusual history that's worth checking out.
Part of the trail was washed away three years ago in some serious April rains. It just reopened a little less than a year ago after a lot of work by the folks at the Newton County Resource Council -- which has managed the area since 1997. They do a great job of managing the trail, and even though we hiked this on August 30, when many trails are over grown, this trail was well maintained and easy to travel.
To get there, take Highway 7 South out of Jasper and go about 2 miles. After you pass the Newton County Fairgrounds, and road leads up the side of the mountain. About 1/2 way up the hill, you'll see a small sign with a hiking symbol on it and a sign saying "Round Top Mountain" that will point to the right. Take this right and drive up the short (but steep) hill to the parking area. There is another entrance a few hundred yards further up the hill (no sign) that allows for a less steep entry if desired.
Park wherever you find room. There is a small visitor's center (I'm not sure it's open yet) and a bathroom here, along with a trail map. There is also a place to leave donations to the Resource Council for their work in maintaining the area.
Probably the easiest way to think of this trail is to think of it as having two loops and a spur trail. As you go up the mountain, there is a loop that runs along a bench midway up, and then a second loop that runs along the top of the mountain.
You will start on the trail going up the mountain. The trail will head up with several switchbacks as you work your way up. The trail is gradual, so while there is a bit of an incline, it isn't as bad as you think hiking up the mountain could be.
After about .3 miles, you'll reach a fork in the road. If you are planning on hiking both loops, turn RIGHT at this junction. This is the lower loop trail. You will come back on the trail on your left.
The trail follows a nice bench and is a very thickly wooded area. To you left will be a lot of nice rock formations and to your right, either a lot of trees or an occassional view of the valley below. It's a really nice stretch of trail.
At about .8, you will find a unique historical marker. On Feb. 6, 1948, on a fogger cold night, a B-25 Bomber crashed into this site killing all five military passengers. There are also a quite a few fragments of the plane that sit on a a couple of rocks at the site, and then many others that you will see scattered around the area. Please respect these remnents of the crash and leave them for others to see and experience
After exploring a bit in the area, you will continue along the trail, enjoying the bluff lines. There are a couple of volunteer spur trails you'll see on the left. A couple go to small caves and another goes to a very nice rock climbing area.
After about 2.2 miles, you'll get to the south side of the mountain where the trail cuts through few large rocks in a very scenice area that will take you up through a crack in the rock bluff you've been following. Enjoy the cool rock formations and the fact that someone made a nice trail through here for you! The trail will go up through the ledge, then back down through some more rocks (there is even a hand rail here).
On the other side of the South Gap, you will follow directly beside the bluff line, then have the bluff overhang the trail, and then along the bluffline again. This is a great stretch of trail and then another set of steps that lead down through some large rocks that also has a nice hand rail.
At about 2.8, there is a fork in the road. Turn LEFT at this fork.
Immediately, this trail begins to climb up through nother gap in the rocks on a nice little stone staircase. Soon enough, you'll get to the top to the upper loop.
The Upper Loop
Once on the upper level, you'll almost immediately come to a junction where three trails emerge. Turn RIGHT here. This loop takes you out to the North Bluff Overlook.
Follow this trail gradually up and then it will turn right and switchback down a bit, and then continue back North. At 3.2 there is another fork. Take a right, and take a short spur trail to the overlook area.
This area offers a huge view of the Little Buffalo River Valley, the community of Jasper, and the expansive valley below. There are also some really determined trees that are growing on this rocky spot that appear to have weathered a lot of conditions over the years.
When done enjoying this spot, head back on the spur trail and when you get to the fork, turn RIGHT and continue the loop.
As you turn right, the trail is officially called the "West Trail". I don't know why they don't just call it loop, and call this a different trail. However, this part of the trail was the best maintained and had the best views and wildflowers of all on the mountain.
I've read that there are wildflowers of different sorts on the mountain in the spring too. I can't speak with certainty about that, but the yellow wildflowers on the West Trail in August were simply magnificent.
At about 3.4, you get back to the 4 way interchange. Turn RIGHT. This spur takes you out to the top an overlook area on the other side of the mountain -- that sits above South Gap. There are some great views here, as well as some really good rock formations (just like you would have imagined when you hiked through them down below!)
Enjoy the time here, and head back on the trail. When you get to the 4 way intersection, go RIGHT and head back down the stairs. At the base of the stairs, you'll turn LEFT to head back to the first intersection you came to, then turn RIGHT at that intersection to descend back to the parking lot.
I've seen a lot of mileage differences on this trail. The trail map at the visitor's center says it's a 4 mile trail. Tim Ernst logs it as a 3.6 mile trail. So plan to go 3.5-4 miles and you'll enjoy your trip!
Mileage: 3.6 miles
Kids: Yes! Although be sure they stay behind fenced boundaries at overlooks
Trail Guide: Tim Ernst's Arkansas Hiking Trails
Trail Rating: 4 stars out of 5