3 Low-Elevation Vermont Hikes for Mud Season

Days are longer, the sun is shining, and temperatures are becoming more tolerable. This seems like the perfect time to dust off those neglected hiking boots and hit the trails. However, the end of winter marks the beginning of mud season.

Mud Season?

This is the time of year with snowmelt, heavy rains, and completely saturated hiking trails. During mud season trails are often closed to help preserve landscape and fragile alpine foliage. As hikers tramp on wet soils, they result in erosion, damage to the trail, and destruction of surrounding vegetation. In Vermont specifically, the Green Mountain Club asks hikers to stay off muddy trails until Memorial Day weekend. The trails that are usually closed are above 3,000 feet, such as trails on Mount Mansfield, Mount Ellen, Camels Hump, Smugglers Notch, and most parts of the Long Trail.  It is recommended to hike at lower elevations, stick to trails with southern exposure (which are often dryer), avoid spruce-fir forests, and to walk though the mud rather than on the vegetation beside the trail—or to just turn around altogether.

So, do you just stay inside? Of course not! There are plenty of opportunities for hiking outside during mud season in Vermont, if you know where to look.

Credit: Carolyne Riehle
Credit: Carolyne Riehle

Mount Philo

One of the best Vermont hikes in and out of mud season is Mount Philo in Charlotte. While the summit may seem low at only 968 feet, and the trail only .75 miles long, the views of the Lake Champlain Valley are well worth it. This is a wonderful hike for the entire family, a great challenge for beginner hikers, and extremely enjoyable for the more experienced.  On the summit you will find welcoming Adirondack chairs allowing you to relax and enjoy the views, the 1930’s Lodge house that has grills and nearby restrooms, and plenty of picnic tables to bask in the warmer weather. Even if the trail is too muddy, you can always walk up the access road to reach the views. There won’t be any vehicles using the access road in the early mud season, making it a safe trip.

Credit: Carolyne Riehle
Credit: Carolyne Riehle

Mount Elmore

A bit more challenging mud season hike is up Mount Elmore (2,608 feet) in Elmore State Park in Wolcott. This is a 4.3-mile loop via the Fire Tower Trail and the Ridge Trail.  The best part of the summit is the fire tower—On a nice day you can see all the way to Mount Washington from the top. However, the view from the Fire tower isn’t the only extraordinary thing to see: A quick side trip brings you to Balanced Rock. This is a giant boulder that appears to defy gravity as it remains poised at a ridiculous angle on the smaller rock below.  After the hike, you can enjoy the warmer temperatures with a snack on Lake Elmore beach, embracing the beginning of spring.

Credit: Carolyne Riehle
Credit: Carolyne Riehle

Island Line Rail Trail

If you really want to make sure that you are not harming the fragile trails during mud season, it may be time to check out the Island Line Rail Trail that runs from Burlington, through Colchester, all the way to South Hero. This is a 14-mile asphalt and gravel trail that rolls through the Burlington waterfront, crosses Lake Champlain on the spectacular Colchester causeway, and finishes with a bike ferry to cross a 200-foot gap to South Hero island.  Throughout this trail there are views of the Adirondack Mountains across Lake Champlain, as well as beach spots to stop and rest. Once you reach the Colchester Causeway you are sandwiched between views of the Adirondack Mountains to the west and the Green Mountains to the east.  If you would rather not walk this, you can always rent a bike at one of the local shops in Burlington.

Remember to use discretion when you are on the trails, and turn around when the mud becomes too much. These trails are meant to be enjoyed for a long time, so please help make sure they remain preserved.