The Top 5 Shorter Trips Along the NFCT

The Northern Forest Canoe Trail, or NFCT, travels over 700-miles from upstate New York to the Canadian Border in Maine. It follows lakes, streams, ponds, and rivers to connect historic old trading routes. Paddlers who travel its waters experience solitude, joy, and challenges. But thanks to its length, few people paddle it in one go, end to end. Most will opt to paddle in smaller pieces in days or weeks, but even this isn’t easy: There are a number of spectacular sections of this trail, but not all are accessible to paddle in shorter chunks. Thankfully, some of the best pieces of the NFCT are do-able in a short trip, and are begging to be paddled.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

1. Fulton Chain of Lakes

Beginning at the Western Terminus of the NFCT, the Chain of Lakes connects eight flatwater lakes and ponds through the Adirondacks. This section requires some straightforward portaging through dense woods and is home to some of the most well-managed and pristine campsites around. There’s a reason thru-paddlers are captivated by this trail from the start.

Where: Old Forge, NY to Raquette Lake, NY

Distance: 20 miles (1-3 days)

Portages: Three; You’ll want a set of wheels for this section. The Fifth Lake (.4 miles) and Eighth Lake Campground (1 mile) portages are a short distance and wheelable, however the Brown Tract Carry from the north end of Eighth Lake follows a rougher trail that might require moving by hand for short distances.

When To Go: Late summer to fall. The bugs can be vicious and the lakes get crowded with visitors during early summer, meaning there could be lots of boats and jet skis.

Camping: Plentiful. Primitive lean-to’s at Seventh and Eighth Lakes between miles 13 and 17. State Campgrounds located on Alger Island (mile 5.5), Eighth Lake (mile 16), and Brown Tract Pond (mile 20) by reservation for a fee.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

2. Long Lake & The Saranac Lakes

In the heart of the Adirondacks lies one of the most pristine sections of the NFCT. The trail travels 9 miles across Long Lake to the winding and gentle Raquette River before entering the Saranac Lakes. This stretch is fairly wild and remote, with quaint waterside towns, and excellent swimming and camping. Depending on the wind, this can be a quick paddle.

Where: Long Lake, NY to Saranac Lake, NY

Distance: 42 miles (3-6 days)

Portages: Three or four. The first of them, the 1.3-mile Raquette Falls Carry isn’t easy. Most of the trail has too many roots and rocks to navigate, making wheeling unlikely. After allocating some time to this portage, paddlers are rewarded with views when they put-in below the falls. During high water in the spring, the bridges along the brief Stony Creek stretch will force paddlers to briefly portage around. Half of the 1.1-mile Indian Carry from Stony Pond is challenging to wheel and finally the Bartlett Carry is quick and wheelable on a road.

When To Go: Spring through fall. This area can be buggy so it might be best to wait until after all the snow has melted in the High Peaks for a more enjoyable experience.

Camping: Plentiful and spread out, but require some planning for the Saranac Lakes area. Many beautiful lean-tos placed along the shores of the 10-mile Long Lake and the Raquette River. There are several primitive campsites along the north shore of Stony Creek Pond and one at Huckleberry Bay on Upper Saranac Lake. On Middle and Lower Saranac Lakes, the sites are state-managed and require a reservation and fee. You can stop in at the State Bridge boat launch and if sites are available, and can register the same day. Once you re-enter the Saranac River, there’s a lean-to near Lower Lock.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

3. The Connecticut River

Sandy beaches along the winding Connecticut River offer a fun, leisurely trip for both new and experienced paddlers. It can be paddled in one long day or split into two. Through bright agricultural valleys and old trestles, New England’s longest river gives a peek into logging and railroad history. The river meanders south, with the occasional rips and osprey nests. As you approach Groveton, the NFCT turns left up the Ammonoosuc River, where you’ll have to travel 1.5 miles upstream before reaching the Normandeau campsite (the alternative is to take out at Guildhall).

Where: Bloomfield, VT to Groveton, NH

Distance: 22 miles (1-2 days)

Portages: None

When To Go: Late summer to fall. Water levels on the Connecticut are not a concern, so it can be paddled anytime between spring and late fall, but the camping areas along this section can be buggy May through July.

Camping: The Maine Central RR Trestle Campsite (7 miles in) and Samuel Benton Campsite (13 miles in) are primitive NFCT camping areas along the river. Both are located on private property where the landowners permit paddlers to stay assuming they pack out all trash and otherwise leave no trace. Remember to treat water from the river before drinking.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

4. The Maine Lakes

This is perhaps the most ambitious trip on this list, but not without great reward. It is mostly flatwater paddling across some of the most pristine immaculate lakes in Maine: Umbagog, Lower and Upper Richardson, Mooselookmeguntic and Rangeley. Paddling times can vary depending on the weather and wind, but the abundance of wild camping provides plenty of places to rest and relax. Most of these lakes are home to more wildlife, namely the Bald Eagle, and few people.

Where: Errol, NH to Rangeley, ME

Distance: 44 miles (3-6 days)

Portages: Three. You will want wheels for this section. The first portage, around Errol Dam, can easily be avoided by coordinating a shuttle. The largest portage of this stretch is the Rapid River Carry, which travels 3.2 miles along an unwheelable trail and then an old road. The Upper Dam portage to Mooselookmegntic (0.1 mile) and Carry Road to Oquossoc (1.5 miles) are easy and  wheelable along roads. Other portages may be required if water levels are too low.

When To Go: Summer and fall. Despite being quite remote, these lakes are popular destinations for travelers during mid-summer. Aim for August or September for ideal conditions.

Camping: Plentiful, but requires planning during peak season. Most of the remote campsites along this stretch are State or privately managed and require a small fee. The remote, water-accessed-only sites on Umbagog Lake, Rapid River, Lower and Upper Richardson Lake, and Mooselookmeguntic Lake are State- or privately-managed and require a reservation and small fee. In late season, it’s possible to pay for empty sites retroactively. On Rangeley Lake, The Rangeley Lake State Park is busy with RVs and car campers; it’s less-than-ideal for paddlers.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

5. The Allagash

Paddling the Allagash River in Northern Maine presents iconic backwoods paddling at its best. It’s on just about every Maine Adventurer’s bucket list and for good reason: Its remote and wild setting is the perfect place to unwind and relax. This marks the grand finale of the NFCT where paddlers are rewarded for weeks of hard work with frequent wildlife sightings, fishing, soaking in the river and stunning camping. There are some shorter sections of Class I to II rapids on an otherwise calm and easily traveled river. It’s an entertaining trip for the whole family, kids included!

Where: Chamberlain Lake, ME to Allagash Village, ME

Distance: 86 miles (5-7 days)

Portages: Three, maybe four. It would be helpful to have wheels here. The Tramway carry from Chamberlain to Eagle Lake is short and wheelable, and features some spectacular logging history. The portages around Churchill Dam and Long Lake Dam are very short (.1 mile), except if you want to avoid the whitewater at Churchill, which requires a longer carry. The final portage, around Allagash Falls, travels on a well-worn path through campsites and is fairly straightforward.

When T Go: Spring to early fall. Spring and early summer allow higher, more enjoyable water levels, but campsites can get full. If you’re looking for greater solitude and cooler temperatures, the Allagash makes for a wonderful fall trip as long as the water levels are above 300 to 400 CFS.

Camping: Plenty available for a small fee. The Allagash Wilderness Waterway sites cost $6/night per person for Maine residents and $12/night for non-residents. When you get to Churchill Dam, visit the Ranger Station and pay (cash or check only) for the number of nights you’ll camp along the river. Groups cannot exceed 12 people and children under 10 are free. The campsites include privies, picnic tables, and fire pits.


5 Shorter Local Thru-Hikes to Tackle this Year

Not everyone has the time, savings or desire to head out on a 5 month thru-hike adventure on the Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trails. Thankfully, for those of us who want to keep our jobs, there are plenty of shorter long-distance trails right here in the Northeast that are just as gorgeous and challenging as a longer trail, giving you the experience of thru-hiking and long periods spend in the woods, without forcing you to sacrifice a large part of your life. Plus, some can be completed in as little as one or two weeks. Here are five favorite thru-hikes that are worth your vacation time this summer.

Courtesy: Haley Blevins
Courtesy: Haley Blevins

The 100-Mile Wilderness

Explore the Appalachian Trail’s most remote section along a substantial stretch of uninterrupted trail. Stretching from Rt. 15 in Monson and continuing to Abol Bridge, the 100-Mile Wilderness offers a challenging adventure deep in Maine’s woods.

Location: Monson, Maine to Baxter State Park

Length: 100 miles (5-10 days)

Terrain: Easy to moderate elevation change with roots and rocks in sections (18,000ft. of total elevation change). Occasional water crossings.

Season: Summer to Fall. The trail can be muddy in early spring and buggy in early summer. Opt for July through October for the best conditions.

Camping: Plenty of shelters throughout. Summer and fall hikers will find themselves sharing shelters and stories with AT thru-hikers as they near the end of their multi-month adventures. Seeking more solitude? There are lots of backcountry camping options (permitted 200 feet from trails water sources).

Resupplying: None. Unless you arrange a food cache through Shaw’s Hostel in Monson.

Why It’s Worth Hiking: The 100-Mile Wilderness travels through some of the most remote country in the Continental U.S. (it doesn’t cross a paved road). It’s a parade of changing scenery, with low elevation forests featuring glassy ponds and waterfalls, to the traverse across the Barren-Chairback Range and climb up White Cap. Have an extra day or two? When you finish, continue another 20 miles up Mount Katahdin and enjoy 360-degree views after a grueling 4,000-foot climb.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

The Cohos Trail

Still relatively unknown, the Cohos Trail extends from the Canadian border near Pittsburg, New Hampshire to Crawford Notch in the White Mountains. Its remote nature guarantees frequent wildlife sightings and varied terrain through dense woods and across steep ridge lines through New Hampshire’s North Woods.

Location: Coos County, New Hampshire

Length: 170 Miles (10-15 days)

Terrain: Rolling hills combined with steep, rocky climbs through lush forests and by remote lakes. A combination of singletrack trail, snowmobile trail and dirt road.

Season: The Cohos can be hiked from May through October. August or September will provide ideal weather, with fewer bugs and more berries. Head out in early- or mid-October to catch the leaves change while enjoying cooler temperatures and a crowd-free White Mountains.

Camping: There are a few newly-crafted shelters, some state and private campgrounds on or just off the trail that provide more facilities, and two B&Bs in the small towns of Stark and Jefferson. Backcountry camping following LNT principles (camping at least 200 feet from the trail and water sources, packing out all trash) is permitted outside of the Connecticut Lakes Region.

Resupplying: A handful of general stores, campgrounds and inns that may accept resupply packages, and opportunities to get rides into the towns of Gorham and Groveton.

Why It’s Worth Hiking: The Cohos travels through diverse ecosystems and terrain including Dixville Notch, Nash Stream Forest, White Mountain National Forest, and Connecticut Lakes regions. It’s a quiet, but challenging trail for both new and experienced hikers. With its panoramic views and frequent mushroom and wildlife sightings, this is a trail for anyone seeking solitude.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

The Long Trail

Stretching the length of Vermont, The Long Trail is authentic, demanding New England hiking. It shares 100 miles with the AT and summits most of the prominent peaks in the Green Mountains, including Killington, Camel’s Hump, and Mount Mansfield. While it’s the toughest of any on this list, that doesn’t go without huge reward and bragging rights: The trail climbs over 60,000 feet in elevation.

Location: Vermont; Massachusetts to Canada

Length: 272 miles (15-25 days)

Terrain: Rugged. Steep, muddy and rocky with lots of elevation change.

Season: June to September. “Vermud” is the real deal on the Long Trail, so it’s best to hike later in the summer or fall than at the height of wet trail season. The trail can be crowded in July and August with end-to-enders and AT hikers, but you’ll have longer daylight and pleasant summer temperatures. If you can tolerate, and have the proper gear for colder weather, October would be a quiet and colorful month to hike. Late fall hikes bring higher chances of snow.

Camping: There are over 70 shelters and nicer lodges (fee required) along the Long Trail built and maintained by the Green Mountain Club. You’ll find other lodging options directly on, or not far off the trail such as the famous Long Trail Inn.

Resupplying: Most hikers will only carry 2 to 4 days of food at a time. Resupplying by sending boxes to locations closer to the trail is also an option.

Why It’s Worth Hiking: Not only is the Long Trail the oldest (established in 1930) long-distance trail in the country, it’s also one of the toughest. Through rocky high peaks and evergreen tunnels, hikers will experience challenging terrain with rewarding panoramic views. The culture of thru-hiker camaraderie and history the generations of passionate outdoors-people who’ve sustained this trail, are something special.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

The New England Trail

Stretching from the Long Island Sound to Massachusetts’ northern border, this trail follows classic New England landscapes: unfragmented forests, traprock ridges, historic towns, river valleys, waterfalls and farmlands. It is comprised mainly of the Mattabesett, Metacomet, and Monadnock (M-M-M) Trail systems and makes for an attainable thru- or section-hike.

Location: Massachusetts & Connecticut

Length: 215 miles (10-20 days)

Terrain: Moderate elevation change on well-maintained single-track trail with some river crossings and some road walking.

Season: Year-round. If you’re not afraid of cooler temperatures, October is a gorgeous time to hike the NET, thanks to colorful leaves, no bugs, and beautiful temperatures (and do-able ford of the Westfield River). Summer hikers will see optimal daylight and more crowds because the trail travels through popular day-use areas. Spring would be marvelous and lush as well.

Camping: With only 8 “official” shelter and tentsite locations, camping can the biggest challenge of an NET hike. Much of the trail crosses private property or State Parks where backcountry camping is not permitted. The map clearly outlines the boundaries of these areas and since the trail crosses roads often, it is entirely possible to avoid camping illegally with the fitness to pull bigger mileage and/or finding a ride into nearby towns for the occasional hotel stay.

Resupplying: Logistics are a breeze on the NET. The trail stays pretty urban for the most part, with opportunities to eat at restaurants and re-up on food at gas stations or post offices (via resupply box) along the trail. In addition, there are many places to get rides into towns for full amenities including grocery stores, lodging and laundry. By studying the maps, hikers can easily plan for major resupplies in Northampton, Massachusetts, Farmington, Connecticut, and Middletown, Connecticut.

Why It’s Worth Hiking: The New England Trail offers the unique experience of hiking through historical woods and townships among sweeping vistas, diverse resources, and plenty of summits. In addition, the trail is so accessible, providing easy logistics and gentle terrain. Highlights include the 12-mile ridge of the Mount Holyoke Range above Northampton, Rattlesnake Mountain overlooking Hartford, and Ragged Mountain.

Courtesy: Andy Kulikowski
Courtesy: Andy Kulikowski

The Northville-Placid Trail

While many people have experienced the joy of the High Peaks region, possibly bagging one of the Adirondack’s 4,000 footers, fewer have traveled the remote valleys between them. From Northville to Lake Placid, hikers can enjoy the solitude of backcountry lakes, rivers and woods.

Location: The Adirondacks, Upstate New York

Length: 136 miles (7-12 days)

Terrain: Moderate rolling hills at low-elevation, with some rocky and wet sections.

Season: June through September is the most appropriate time to hike. Since the Northville-Placid Trail stays at lower-elevation, there’s a few areas the trail runs through swamp lands, which would be buggy in early-mid summer. Days can be warm and humid with cooler temperatures at night. For warmer lakes to swim in, drier trail, and fewer bugs, hike it in September.

Camping: One of the greatest aspects of the NPT is the scenic lean-tos placed along the entire length of the trail close to many of the pristine lakes that are available on a first come, first serve basis. Backcountry camping is prohibited within 150 feet of any road, trail or body of water except at designated camping areas marked with a yellow sign.

Resupplying: In the heart of the Adirondacks, the NPT is remote and does not come within distance of any larger towns, requiring mailing resupply packages or finding a way into a town. Most hikers will send resupply boxes to the tiny towns of Piseco (mile 40) or Blue Mountain Lake (Mile 80) and get a ride into Long Lake, where you’ll find the Adirondack Trading Post and restaurants, laundry and lodging. Lake Placid (the northern terminus) is an outdoor town with many services, including shuttles and an EMS.

Why It’s Worth Hiking: With its mellow terrain and many backcountry lakes to cool off in, the Northville-Placid Trail travels through some of the wildest and most remote valleys of the Adirondacks. Some highlights include the Cedar Lakes, Canada Lakes, Long lake and the High Peaks Wilderness. The conveniently-placed shelters and straightforward logistics make it a fantastic hike for both new and experienced long-distance hikers.


6 Springtime Waterfall Hikes in New England

Melting snow and muddy trails may put a mild damper on high elevation springtime hikes, but one of the major benefits of melting snow is the ferocity it adds to some of the already impressive waterfalls in New England. Impressive flows and spraying water can make them some of the most scenic hiking objectives in the area. Don’t miss these ones this spring.

Courtesy: Chris Luczkow
Courtesy: Chris Luczkow

Arethusa Falls

Regarded as perhaps the most scenic waterfalls in New Hampshire, Crawford Notch’s Arethusa Falls is an incredible reward at the end of a moderate 1.5-mile hike that should not be missed! The height of the plunge is nearly 200 feet, and while it serves as a popular ice climbing spot in the winter months, once the warmer temperatures add to the snow melt, the massive cascade becomes even more worth the sweat.  During spring and early summer, the flow is impressive,  but by the end of the summer, it’s likely to significantly decrease, so plan your visit early.

The hike itself begins at the end of Arethusa Falls Road. Only 0.1 miles into the Arethusa Falls Trail, you have the option of cutting left to the Bemis Brook Trail. This offers a steeper climb with the addition of two other waterfalls until you reach the main event.  If you were hoping for a longer hike, you can always add the Frankenstein Cliff Trail to your loop for a total of 4.2 miles.

Courtesy: Richard
Courtesy: Richard

Glen Ellis Falls

At 65 feet tall, Glen Ellis Falls in Jackson, New Hampshire is impressive even in times of low water, but even more magnificent in spring.  The falls itself drops over the headwall of an ancient glacial valley and features deep green pools that tempt you closer to the water. Don’t underestimate the danger of the fast running water: Swimming is prohibited in the area.

Nestled in Pinkham Notch, there is a designated parking lot off Route 16, and a short 0.2 mile hike will lead you to this breathtaking view. There is a short waterfall just upstream from the main falls, and a second just downstream, and the series of staircases will get your blood pumping as you take in the magnificent sight. As the waterfall is easily accessible, it is also extremely popular. However, the crowds will be sparser in the early spring, which is definitely one of the better times to visit.

Courtesy: SridharSaraf
Courtesy: SridharSaraf

Falling Waters Trail

The Falling Waters Trail is a popular trail to the summit of Little Haystack Mountain in Franconia Notch State Park. The trail features three stunning waterfalls and finishes with breathtaking views from the summit. The first waterfall seen on the trip is Stairs Falls, soon overshadowed by Swiftwater Falls: a 60-foot tall mix of cascades and smaller plunges. The last waterfall, and by far the most impressive of the three, is the 80-foot Cloudland Falls. This features a horsetail-like drop. The best views are off the main trail as you get a bit closer to the falls. The hike is definitely worth just reaching the waterfalls, even without summiting Little Haystack.

Courtesy: Doug Kerr
Courtesy: Doug Kerr

Moss Glen Falls

Situated at the end of an incredibly easy 0.1 mile hike from Stowe, Vermont is a spectacular 125-foot combination of several falls one after another. Moss Glen Falls culminates with a 62-foot slide leading into a plunge followed by several cascades. In high water, such as in the early spring, this is essentially a single falls of nearly 75 feet.  This makes the total drop (125 feet) one of the largest in the state. There are so many angles and varyingly dramatic views of the falls, it is essential to view them from below as well as from above. The lower views are accessible by wading your way upstream into the gorge, but if you want to access the gorge above the falls, use the trail to the left.  This is a favorite swimming hole spot in the summer, but be aware that the rocks are extremely slippery.

warren-falls-1935615_1920

Warren Falls

Though small in stature, Warren Falls has some incredible features. Consisting of a rumbling series of cascades along the Mad River in Warren, Vermont, Warren Falls are made of three distinct tiers, totaling only about 20 feet in height, broken up into individual drops of about 7, 10 and 3 feet. The pools below each drop make for excellent swimming holes, but only when the river is running low. This would not be recommended in early spring, as the recent snow melt will only increase the water level. These pools are clear and surprisingly deep, with the pool after the final tier being nearly 20 feet deep.

Warren Falls is located just off of Route 100 south of Warren. There is a large dirt pullout on the west side of the road. A trail begins from the right side of the pullout and follows the river downstream. It is a quick walk to the falls.

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Screw Auger Falls

The waterfalls of the Gulf Hagas Gorge in Northeast Piscataquis, Maine are among the most popular in the state of Maine.  Often referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the East” The gorge consists of a series of waterfalls, cascades, and is part of the Appalachian Trail Corridor. However, a 7.5-mile trail will allow you to view various waterfalls in the area.  A majority of the crowds flock to see Screw Auger Falls, which is the most photogenic of all the waterfalls on this hike.  Here the brook drops about 15 feet into a punchbowl formation, often used as a swimming hole. However, if you continue along the rim of the gorge. you will encounter Buttermilk Falls, Billings Falls, and Stairs Falls.  When you enter through the entrance gate (it does require an entrance fee), ask about the water level, as the trail can be slick and more dangerous in high water.


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.


Explore the Mad River Valley in Winter

When the temperatures begin to drop and the snow begins to fall, the Mad River Valley of Vermont is what skiers and hikers dream about. Miles and miles of trail—groomed and wild, downhill and cross-country, hiking and snowshoeing—are easily accessible within a short drive.

Loosely defined by the path of its namesake river, the Mad River Valley runs from Granville Gulf Reservation in the south to the Winooski River in the north. Anchoring the valley are the three villages of Warren, Irasville, and Waitsfield, which offer no shortage of downtime, eating, or aprés ski opportunities.

No matter what you’re looking for, the Mad River Valley is the place to be, come winter.

Courtesy: Mad River Glen
Courtesy: Mad River Glen

Skiing

Vermont is a the premier destination for skiing on the East Coast and the Mad River Valley is about as good as it gets. Sugarbush Resort, comprised of two mountains, Lincoln Peak and Mount Ellen, is the largest option in the neighborhood, boasting 53 miles of skiing over 111 trails.

A short ways up VT-17 is Mad River Glen, the famously throwback, co-op-owned operation. It’s skiers-only and natural conditions over 45 challenging trails. Chances are you’ve seen their “Ski it if You Can” bumper stickers—they’re about as ubiquitous in New England as those “This Car Climbed Mount Washington” ones.

Courtesy: Mad River Glen
Courtesy: Mad River Glen

The mountain breeds an “old school New England skiing” vibe, thanks to its natural snow, narrow trails, plentiful trees, and sing-person chairlift—One of only two remaining in the country. For more advanced skiers, our scouts recommend taking it up Stark Mountain and dropping into the trees off the left side of Upper Antelope, where you’re sure to find the good snow. After that, link back up with Lower Antelope as it winds down the ridgeline in narrow, bumpy steps.

For newer skiers, a plethora of blues and greens intertwine on the other side of the mountain, but experts shouldn’t stay away from this area, either. Well-spaced trees off the side of TK let you break in and out of the trail as you see fit and enjoy some buttery glades.

Legs shot? Stop by General Stark’s Pub (see below) to recharge with a brew and a burger.

Groomed trails at Ole’s in Warren | Credit: Hans-Peter Riehle
Groomed trails at Ole’s in Warren | Credit: Hans-Peter Riehle

Cross-country

The Mad River Valley also boasts significant cross-country skiing options. In the town of Warren, Ole’s Cross Country Ski Center and Blueberry Lake Cross-country Center each has miles of groomed, varied terrain suitable for all skill levels.

For backcountry options, look no further than the Catamount Trail. Running roughly parallel to the Long Trail, the Catamount Trail traverses the entire length of Vermont by way of old woods roads, groomed trails, and snowmobile routes. Difficulty varies from section to section so advance planning is essential.

Descending the Long Trail into App Gap | Credit: John Lepak
Descending the Long Trail into App Gap | Credit: John Lepak

Winter Hiking

Vermont is a hiker’s paradise and it only gets better in the winter. The Long Trail, the nation’s oldest long-distance hiking trail and a Vermont institution, runs right by on its journey from Massachusetts to Québec. There are several outstanding side trails that serve as access points to the LT and two of Vermont’s five 4000-foot peaks—Mount Abraham and Ellen—are right there. It’s also worth noting that the other three—Mount Mansfield, Camel’s Hump, and Killington Peak—are within an hour’s drive.

In and around town, the Mad River Path offers several miles of easy going trails that are good for the whole family. These ice over pretty good in winter though, so despite their relatively chill vibe, traction is a must.

The Skatium in Waitsfield. | Credit: John Lepak
The Skatium in Waitsfield. | Credit: John Lepak

Skating

When the conditions are real grim up high, it’s good to stay down low, and pick-up hockey is a great way to pass the time. The Skatium, a laid-back outdoor rink in Waitsfield Center, delivers. Against the backdrop of the Green Mountains one can play some hockey or just skate around and chill out. Everything you need—skates, sticks and pucks—are available for rent and a warming hut is open to keep the game going.

A light lunch at The Mad Taco in Waitsfield. | Credit: Katharina Lepak
A light lunch at The Mad Taco in Waitsfield. | Credit: Katharina Lepak

Eating and Drinking

Food and drink in the three villages isn’t at all hard to come by, and the diversity of options will keep you interested in the time between the hiking and the skiing. The Mad Taco in Waitsfield is a legitimate taco joint and a favorite of the goEast staff. An arsenal of hot sauces and craft beers round it out. In Warren, The Warren Store is an eclectic general store that serves up excellent sandwiches. If you’re looking to stay in and cook at home, stock up on local meat, cheese and liquor at Mehuron’s Supermarket in Waitsfield.

After a long day skiing the glades at Mad River Glen, stop into General Stark’s Pub at the base, a cozy scene for a generous selection of brews as well as food. Local brewery Lawson’s Finest Liquid’s is the “official beer” of the hotspot, so our scouts recommend grabbing a glass of the Fayston Maple Imperial Stout, from Lawson’s, for a quintessential Vermont taste in a dark, rich, and heavy taste.  It might be a one-and-done.

It isn’t too difficult to stay hydrated in these parts either. Mad River Distillers operates daily tours out of their distillery space in Warren. You can also try their offerings, including their Maple Cask Rum (outstanding in an après ski hot toddy) at tasting rooms in Waitsfield and Burlington. On the beer side of things you can check out Lawson’s Finest Liquids in Waitsfield. Get a taste and some snacks to stay or load up on packaged beer to go.

 

With additional reporting from Ryan Wichelns. 


Alpha Guide: Mount Mansfield

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Hike up Vermont’s tallest peak, scramble along an alpine ridge, and bask in 360-degree views, all on an ascent of Mount Mansfield via a section of the Long Trail, the U.S.’s oldest long-distance hiking trail.

The Green Mountain State delivers on this must-do hike up one of the state’s five 4,000-footers. A roughly five-mile out-and-back trip along Vermont’s most-famous footpath, the Long Trail, gains 3,000 feet in elevation on the way to the state’s highest peak. The journey begins by wandering through an idyllic hardwood forest, and eventually earns an extraordinary alpine ridge that delivers you to a rocky New England summit—one of only three places in the state to find alpine tundra. As you take in the views of Lake Champlain, mountain ranges in three states (the Greens, the Whites, and the Adirondacks), and, to the north, Canada, you’ll quickly discover what the Von Trapps meant when they sang, “The hills are alive…”

Quick Facts

Distance: 5 miles, out-and-back
Time to Complete: Half day
Difficulty: ★★
Scenery: ★★★★


Season: May through October
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://bit.ly/2GxSR87 

Download

Turn-By-Turn

When viewed at a distance, Mansfield’s elongated ridgeline resembles a human head, with the various high points named for facial features: the Forehead, Nose, Chin, and Adam’s Apple. The most straightforward way to get to the true summit, the Chin, follows the Long Trail South’s white rectangular blazes beginning on Mountain Road (Route 108).

From Burlington, take Route 89 south to exit 10 for VT-100 South towards Waterbury US-2. Follow this a short way, before turning on VT-100 North. Continue on VT-100 North for just under 10 miles, and take a left on VT-108 North/Mountain Road. After you drive approximately nine miles, the parking lot will be on your right.

If you’re coming from Stowe, there’s a small parking lot on the left side of Route 108, just after Stowe Mountain Resort. Since the lot is small and easy to miss, pay close attention after the resort. If you begin driving uphill on Route 108 into Smugglers’ Notch, turn around; you’ve gone too far.

Once you’ve geared up, walk on Route 108 back toward Stowe Mountain Resort. The trail starts at a break in the trees (44.537126, -72.790910) about 50 yards down the road. Look for an information board and trail marker a short way into the woods.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Getting Started

The hike begins on relatively smooth trail through a hardwood forest. It is well marked and easy to follow. It also starts climbing almost immediately, which is no surprise, considering the trail gains 3,000 feet in a little over two miles and occasionally crosses some small streams.

Around the one-mile mark, the trail becomes rockier, climbing up short, slabby sections. The footing here is not quite as good, but nothing out of the ordinary for anybody who’s climbed some of the Northeast’s 4,000-footers. Trekking poles are helpful.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

The Taft Lodge

Just past the 1.5-mile mark is the Taft Lodge (44.542551, -72809568), the oldest hut on Vermont’s Long Trail. For a moderate fee, hikers can stay here overnight either on the way to the summit or as part of a longer outing. The lodge, built in the 1920s and recently renovated, sleeps up to 24 and has outhouses and a water source nearby.

Whether you’re day-hiking or backpacking, Taft Lodge is on Vermont’s Register of Historic Places and worth visiting, even if only to have a snack. And, because the lodge is near treeline, it’s also a great place to assess whether you’ll need to add a layer (or two).

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

The Ridgeline Push

From Taft Lodge, stay on the Long Trail South and continue climbing toward the ridgeline. The trail above the lodge remains rocky, offering hikers regular glimpses of Mansfield’s ridgeline through the thinning tree cover. There are also a few spots to turn around and look south, with Stowe in the foreground and the Green Mountains in the distance. If you’re out of breath due to the elevation gain, spend a few moments trying to spot the unmistakable double-bumped alpine ridgeline of Camel’s Hump, another of Vermont’s classic alpine summits.

In one-third of a mile, the Long Trail South reaches the col between the Chin (the true summit) and the Adam’s Apple. Here, the Hell Brook Trail and the Adam’s Apple Trail join the Long Trail. Since the junction (44.545639, -72.811772) is moderately sheltered, it’s a great spot to add an extra layer before popping further above treeline.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

The Ridgeline

From the junction, the Long Trail South makes a sharp left, climbing the ridge toward Mansfield’s proper summit, the Chin. This section is open and exposed to the elements. If wind is coming from the west, this will be the first time you feel it.

Near the top of the summit cone, there are a few short-but-exposed sections that require scrambling and careful footwork. As you ascend, try to memorize the hand and foot holds for the descent.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

The Summit

Mansfield’s summit is a large, flat alpine area that offers plenty of room to spread out. So, find a rock, sit back, and enjoy the broad, open summit (44.5430453, -72.815436) and incredible 360-degree views. Looking west, hikers can see Burlington and Lake Champlain, with New York’s Adirondacks in the distance. To the north is Canada! In the distance to the east are New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Finally, the Green Mountains spill out to the south.

Mount Mansfield is home to 200 acres of alpine tundra, and is one of only three places in the state of Vermont where it is found (Camel’s Hump and Mount Abraham being the other two). In addition to its rarity, alpine tundra is also very fragile and susceptible to human impact. Because of this, please stay on the rocks and in the designated paths when traveling above treeline.

Whenever you can pull yourself away from the summit, just retrace your steps to your car, first by taking the Long Trail North to the clearing. Use particular caution on the exposed portions of the ridge, as they can be harder during the descent. Once you’re back at the junction, continue on the Long Trail to Route 108.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Bonus Points

Hikers not ready to return to their car can make a short (five- to 10-minute) detour from the col to the Adam’s Apple (44.546573, -72.810353). The Adam’s Apple Trail offers great views of the Chin and Mansfield’s other features and is usually much less crowded than the Chin. Since it is also slightly less exposed to the weather, it’s a worthwhile objective if conditions put the true summit out of reach.

A longer detour—and one that requires pre-trip car shuttling or a short road march at the end— is to continue on the Long Trail South from the Chin, crossing all of Mansfield’s features. Over 1.5 miles of ridgeline hiking, you’ll pass the Lower Lip, the Upper Lip, the Mount Mansfield Peak Visitor Center, the parking lot for the Mount Mansfield Toll Road, and, finally, the Nose. From the Nose, hikers can head back to the Visitor Center, and then descend a short way on the Toll Road to link up with Haselton Trail, which ends at the base area of Stowe Mountain Resort. Alternately, arrange to have somebody pick you up at the top of the Toll Road.

Pro Tip: If you do decide to hike the full ridgeline and the weather turns, the Cliff Trail is an early option for bailing out. Connecting with the Long Trail just before the Lower Lip, it descends to Stowe’s Cliff House, near the top of Stowe’s Gondola SkyRide. From there, hikers can follow a marked access road or ski trails to the base area.


Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

The Kit

  • Traction is at a premium on the exposed sections of Mansfield’s ridgeline. The Asolo Fugitive (Men’s) and Revert (Women’s) are longtime favorites.
  • Lightweight and packable, a windshirt is ideal for any trip above treeline. The Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hooded Jacket (Men’s/Women’s) is perfect for handling the ridgeline’s variable conditions, and much like Vermont’s craft brews, it has developed a cult-like following over the years.
  • A puffy coat is great for cool mornings and cold summits, and is handy to have in case of an emergency. The EMS Alpine Ascender Stretch is a great winter midlayer that’s breathable enough to be worth stuffing in your pack for cool spring and summer days.
  • One minute it’s sunny, and the next, you’re stuck in a downpour. Green Mountain weather can change in a heartbeat, so be ready with the EMS Thunderhead, a reliable and affordable way to ensure you stay dry on your summit bid.
  • In the spirit of the state of Vermont, consider a pair of locally sourced socks from Darn Tough, made in nearby Northfield. Living up to their name, these socks come with a lifetime guarantee.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Keys to the Trip 

  • Depending on the season, you might encounter a Green Mountain Club caretaker at the Taft Lodge. They’re all super nice and great resources for trail information.
  • Vermont takes sustainability seriously when it comes to its trails, so get out before the snow melts, or wait until Memorial Day weekend to climb this ultra-classic mountain.
  • Celebrate a successful summit day at Doc Ponds in Stowe. The bar is packed with Vermont’s best beers (Hill Farmstead, Lawson’s Finest, and Foley Brothers, just to name a few), and the homemade onion dip with housemade BBQ chips is not to be missed.
  • Vermont’s repuation for great beer is well deserved. Since you’re so close, Alchemist Beer’s brewery in Stowe is a must-visit. And, don’t forget to bring your cooler, in case you decide to pick up some souvenirs to bring home!
  • If you’re spending the weekend exploring Vermont, make sure to check out our guides to Exploring Burlington Like a Local and hiking Camel’s Hump.
  • If you’re looking for a great place to camp, the Smugglers’ Notch State Park is just a few minutes away from Stowe Mountain Resort. Sites book well in advance for popular weekends, so make your reservations early.

Current Conditions

Have you hiked Mount Mansfield recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!


Explore Like A Local: Getting the Most of Fall in Burlington, VT

For this installment of Explore like a Local, we visited Burlington, Vermont, just as fall took hold. With its cool nights and warm days, we found this to be the perfect time of year to get outside and get after it. We packed in as many adventures as we could, but found ourselves wishing we had more time (isn’t that always the case when you’re having fun?). Given all of the possible activities in town and within a short drive, we just scratched the surface of this area—all the more reason to go back soon.

About Burlington

Located in Northwest Vermont, Burlington is nestled alongside Lake Champlain with roughly 43,000 residents, making it the most populous city in the state. The city has a distinct outdoor and progressive vibe along with a bustling restaurant scene and a busy pedestrian-only area on Church Street. The University of Vermont and Champlain College are both located here and contribute to the energy of the city. The city is served by a convenient airport and a major interstate (I-89), so getting here is easy.

EMS-Burlington-Causeway-2600

Activities

Cycling (Spring to Fall)

In Town—Activity Level: Easy

The Island Line Trail sits along the waterfront and heads north into Colchester. If you didn’t travel with your bike, head down to Local Motion and rent a bike directly on the path. The bike path is paved and almost completely flat. Approximately 35 minutes out of town, you’ll reach the amazing Colchester Bike Causeway (gravel, not paved). Ride directly out into Lake Champlain on an old rail causeway. Complete the trip out to the island community of South Hero by taking a bike ferry across a 200-foot gap, left open for boat traffic.

Stowe—Activity Level: Easy to Exhilarating

If you are seeking more challenging terrain, drive over to Stowe and the Cady Hill Forest Trail (on Mountain Road, not far from the intersection with Route 100). You’ll find a mix of beginner, intermediate, and advanced singletrack trails. The trails are generally smooth and windy, with some quad-burning climbs.
EMS-Burlington-MtMansfield-9124

Hiking/Backpacking (Late Spring to Fall)

Mt. Mansfield—Activity Level: Easy

For some of the prettiest views around, drive to Stowe and pay the $23 fee (+$8 per each additional passenger) to head up the Auto Toll Road. Follow the twisting road to a parking lot on the summit ridge, next to the visitors’ center. From there, hike 1.3 miles (600-foot elevation gain) along the Long Trail to the summit. Bring sunscreen, because you’ll be on exposed rocks for much of the way. Look for the geological survey marker in the stone at the tip of the summit. Fun Fact: For those who have skied at Stowe, the Green Trail “Toll Road” is actually the Toll Road that one drives up in the summer and fall!

Sterling Mountain—Activity Level: Moderate (Difficult if wet)

Sterling serves as one of the three peaks at Smugglers’ Notch Ski Resort. Hiking up the backside of the mountain in late spring, summer, or fall is a terrific way to access Sterling Pond, which sits a stone’s throw from the top of the Smuggs’ lift. The trail is steep in most spots and is slippery when wet. It’s 2.5 miles out-and-back with a 1,066-foot elevation gain. We hiked up pre-dawn with headlamps to catch the sunrise over the pond—well worth the effort, I can tell you. The views are spectacular, at sunrise and otherwise. Campers are welcome at the pond; there’s a lean-to that can accommodate approximately 10 folks, but not too many flat surfaces for tents.

To access the trail, head up Mountain Road (Rt. 108) from either the Smuggs or Stowe side and park in the parking lot at the top of the notch. The trailhead is directly across the street from the information station.

EMS-Burlington-Bouldering-1199

Cave Exploring and Bouldering (Late Spring to Fall)

Both activities are accessible from the parking lot at the top of the notch on Mountain Road (same as above). Huge boulders have fallen from the mountains over the ages and are known as the Smuggler’s Notch Boulders.

Cave Exploring—Activity Level: Easy

Just steps from the parking lot, caves have been formed within the clusters of boulders. Wander in and out of the spaces and marvel at the size of the boulders. A few of the more amazing spaces require a bit of scrambling to access the interior.

EMS-Burlington-MtnBike-9925

Bouldering—Activity Level: Difficult

Bring your crash pads and get after the amazing boulders of Smuggler’s Notch. Situated on either side of Mountain Road, the boulders present a range of difficulty levels. Pick your problem and go about solving it. Just make sure to have a spotter or two along for the adventure. It’s really amazing to see folks climbing the boulders just steps from the beautiful twists and turns of Mountain Road. A group of cyclists took a break to watch us and others work on the rocks.

EMS-Burlington-MtMansfield-0955

Rock Climbing (Late Spring to Fall)

Bolton Valley—Activity Level: Difficult

The Lower West Bolton area is a popular climbing spot in Bolton Valley, located just off Route 2 on Notch Road. It can be busy after work or on weekends in the warmer months. Take your pick between leading a route or top-roping. An easy trail leads to the top if you prefer to top-rope, and large trees and bolts are available to serve as anchors. The difficulty of routes ranges from 5.5 to 5.10b.

Skiing (Winter)

Activity Level: Easy to Exhilarating

There are five terrific options for skiers (four for riders) within an hour’s drive from Burlington. Stowe Mountain Resort is the largest of the bunch and draws the most visitors per year. With 116 trails and 485 acres of skiable terrain, Stowe has something for everyone. Smugglers’ Notch backs up to Stowe and covers three mountains. The main draw for Smuggs, as it is affectionately known, is the wonderful children’s program. Top-notch instruction, coupled with wholesome and educational entertainment, has earned Smuggs a well-deserved reputation as a top destination for families.

Mad River Glen caters to a different crowd with their “Ski it if you can” mantra. With some of the toughest terrain in New England and a skier-only policy (sorry, boarders), Mad River Glen has a cult following among experienced skiers.

Less well known is the terrific and affordable Bolton Valley. Only 25 minutes from town, it boasts 71 trails over three peaks. The closest resort to town is Cochran’s Ski Area. While it’s the smallest of the five, it’s perfect for families with small children. It’s only 15 minutes from downtown Burlington and serves as a learning mountain for little and big ones alike.

EMS-Burlington-Farmhouse-1842

Dining

The Skinny Pancake ($)

For breakfast and brunch, you need to visit The Skinny Pancake. I have two words for you: Noah’s Ark. Just order it. Trust me on this one; I wouldn’t steer you wrong (you’re welcome). The good folks at The Skinny Pancake have developed an ingenious menu, centered around crepes, that features sweet, savory, and healthy offerings, allowing this establishment to stay busy from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Vermont Pub and Brewery ($$)

Comfort food writ large. Find all of the classics (shepherd’s pie, wings, meat loaf, etc.) paired with terrific beers brewed on site. The house-made, flavored seltzers were a hit, as well. Just what you need after a long day of adventure, without breaking the bank.

The Farmhouse ($$$)

For a top-notch meal, look no further than The Farmhouse. Order communal appetizers and watch them disappear in mere moments as people figure out how damn good everything is. Better not be in the bathroom! Our visit in late September corresponded with local Oktoberfest celebrations, and The Farmhouse had filled three chalkboards with different types of märzen lagers for the occasion. And, speaking of chalkboards, we may or may not have taken over one of the boards and added a little #goEast artwork.

EMS-Burlington-Farmhouse-1887


Alpha Guide: Camel's Hump via the Burrows Trail

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Climb to one of Vermont’s most imposing, rugged alpine summits in just a day or less. 

Looming over Interstate 89, Camel’s Hump draws thousands of hikers every year to its undeveloped, alpine summit. At just under five miles and gaining roughly 2,500 feet in elevation, the Burrows Trail is a great way to hike Vermont’s third tallest peak. It delivers everything you would expect to find on the Northeast’s longer, more grueling classic hikes in a short, moderate trek that most can do in a half-day.

 

Quick Facts

Distance: 5 miles, out-and-back
Time to Complete: Half to one full day
Difficulty: ★★
Scenery: ★★★★


Season: May through October
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: http://www.greenmountainclub.org 

Download

Turn-By-Turn

Although the hike itself is straightforward, getting to the Burrows Trailhead can feel fairly complex for first-timers. From Interstate 89, take Exit 10 onto Vermont Route 100 South. Follow Vermont Route 100 South for a short distance to a rotary. Then, take the first right at the rotary onto U.S. Route 2 West/North Main Street and follow it for almost 10 miles to Cochran Road.

From Cochran Road, you’ll want to travel roughly a quarter of a mile to Wes White Hill. It’s here, away from I-89 and U.S. 2, that you begin to feel Vermont’s true rural nature, and may begin to question your navigational skills. Follow Wes White Hill for 3.1 miles, until it becomes Pond Road. Then, follow Pond Road until it becomes Bridge Street. Although you’re basically driving straight, amid the fields and farms, and along sometimes dirt roads, it’s easy to wonder if you missed a turn somewhere along the way. So, follow Bridge Street for approximately a half-mile, before turning left onto East Street. After driving about the length of a football field on East Street, make a slight right onto Main Road.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Continue on Main Road for 2.5 miles before turning left onto the appropriately named Camels Hump Road, which, in accord with local nomenclature for the peak, omits the apostrophe. The road is unpaved and narrow, so drive slow and be aware of oncoming traffic as you make your way along the 3.5 miles to the Burrows Trailhead at the road’s end.

If at any point you’re feeling lost, don’t worry. The GPS on our phones worked until just after the turn onto Camels Hump Road. And, if your coverage fades out earlier, consult your map, and you’ll be fine. Or, stop at any of the local stores that dot the landscape and ask for directions. It’s been our experience that everyone is very friendly and happy to help a hiker. Pro tip: They’re especially helpful if you buy some local beer or syrup.

The Burrows Trail is a very popular hike, and the parking lot is relatively small. Those getting a late start should be prepared to either park on the road or at the Forest City Trailhead, where hikers can add a couple of miles to their day by using the Forest City Trail to connect with the Burrows Trail, or just road-march the 0.7 miles up to the Burrows Trailhead.

The lower Burrows Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck
The lower Burrows Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck

On the Trail

The Burrows Trail begins at the back of the parking lot located at the end of Camels Hump Road (44.305058, -72.907684). If you have any questions about where you are heading, look for the plaque on a rock dedicated to Hubert “Hub” Vogelmann. He’s a long-time University of Vermont professor who is well known for his research on acid rain. Nearby, the Burrows Trail begins.

It doesn’t take long to feel the denseness of the Vermont forest, as the lush green landscape has a way of encompassing you on the trail’s early part. Hikers also don’t get much of a warm up. While the trail starts off fairly mellow, it is best described as steep and direct, and quickly becomes a more strenuous climb, with a preponderance of roots and rocks waiting to trip up hikers.

The Burrows Trail gains enough elevation over the first mile that the incredibly green landscape transitions into a pine forest with little to no undergrowth. The trail itself also changes, with the grade becoming more consistent, the rocks getting bigger, and the roots burlier. Take these shifts as a good sign, one signalling that you’re getting closer to the junction with the Long Trail.

Higher on the Burrows Trail. Credit: Tim Peck
Higher on the Burrows Trail. Credit: Tim Peck

The Clearing

Just past the two-mile mark, the Burrows Trail opens into a large clearing (44.312968, -72.885391), where the Burrows, Monroe, and Long Trails all intersect. The clearing is also a great spot to grab a snack and prepare for the upcoming above-treeline hike. Above this, the weather is often vastly different from what hikers have so far encountered on their trip, so add an extra layer and, on colder days, a hat, gloves, and jacket. Keep in mind that layering up is much easier to do in the trees, where the wind isn’t trying to blow your jacket towards New Hampshire.

From the clearing, take the Long Trail south for the final 0.3 miles to Camel’s Hump’s 4,083 foot-tall summit. This is the day’s most challenging section, featuring a short scramble before the trail traverses through the alpine zone and up to the summit on slick and rocky terrain. Since this area is home to rare and threatened arctic-alpine vegetation, try to walk on the rocks and stay between the twine strung out as a directional aid along the path.

Nearing the Summit. | Credit: Tim Peck
Nearing the Summit. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Summit

Despite being atop a busy mountain, the broad, treeless summit of Camel’s Hump—Vermont’s highest undeveloped peak—offers plenty of room to spread out. So, find a rock, sit back, and enjoy the open summit (44.319466, -72.887024) and its incredible 360-degree views. You’ll soon realize why Camel’s Hump is featured on the Vermont state quarter.

In terms of views, to the west are Burlington and Lake Champlain, with the Adirondacks in the distance. Looking north, hikers can pick out the iconic Mt. Mansfield nestled among the most northern Green Mountains. To the east, the green of Vermont eventually merges into New Hampshire’s White Mountains, with Mt. Washington and the Presidential Range guarding the horizon. Finally, the Green Mountains, including Ellen, Abraham, and Killington, spill out to the south.

Whenever you can, pull yourself away from the summit, and just retrace your steps to your car, first by taking the Long Trail north to the clearing. In the clearing, look for the well-marked Burrows Trail, and then, take it to the parking lot.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Bonus Points

Hikers not yet ready to return can search for the remains of a 1944 plane crash. To find it, take the Long Trail south from the summit for 0.2 miles, first crossing some steep rock slabs and then descending into the trees. There, the Long Trail intersects with the Alpine Trail (44.31878, -72.887024). Follow that for a few hundred yards to a cairn marking an unnamed herd path that leaves the trail to the right. Then, follow the herd path a short ways downhill to the plane’s wreckage (44.318165, -72.886650). After taking in this unique sight, retrace your steps to the mountain’s summit.

Overall, this detour is just under a half-mile round trip. But, due to having to descend and then re-ascend the summit slabs, it may take hikers a little longer than they anticipated.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • A wind shirt is a must-have for any hike that ascends above treeline. The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite is a lightweight, packable jacket that is perfect for the final push to the summit.
  • The weather can change pretty quickly in Vermont’s mountains, and more than once has a sunny forecast turned into a rain-soaked adventure. The EMS Thunderhead is a reliable, affordable way to ensure you stay dry on your summit bid.
  • Rocks, roots, and slabs put a premium on traction. For short hikes like Camel’s Hump, a light hiker like the Oboz Sawtooth Low WP is fantastic.
  • Vermont is known for its local products, so celebrate the state’s industry by hiking in a pair of super-durable Darn Tough socks, made down the road in Northfield.
  • The Green Mountain Club’s Camel’s Hump and the Monroe Skyline Waterproof Hiking Trail Map is an inexpensive insurance policy against getting lost.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • Spotty cell service can render your phone’s GPS useless, and can make finding the Burrows Trailhead the most challenging part of the day. So, if you’re unfamiliar with the area, it’s worth taking along an old-fashioned yet reliable map. The DeLorme New Hampshire Vermont Atlas & Gazetteer is an excellent supplement to your phone and will help ensure you make it to the trailhead.
  • You might encounter a Green Mountain Club caretaker on Camel’s Hump. They’re all super nice and great resources for trail information, so ask them a question!
  • Vermont closes its trails for mud season. So, hiking is a no-go from when the snow melts to roughly Memorial Day weekend.
  • Stop at the Prohibition Pig on South Main Street in Waterbury for amazing local barbecue, beer, and cocktails on your way home!
  • If barbecue isn’t your thing, Waterbury is home to the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory. Take a tour, and at the end, have a pint of your favorite flavor. You’ve earned it.
  • If you’re looking to make it an inexpensive weekend, the Little River State Park is a great campground about 30 minutes away.

Current Conditions

Have you hiked Camel’s Hump recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!

Header photo credit: Tim Behuniak


Hiking the Vermont 4,000-Footers

The Northeast has many 4,000-footers—115, to be exact. New Hampshire and New York—each with 48—feature the region’s dominant ranges. Even Maine, known for rocky Katahdin, has 14 of these peaks.

So, it would be easy to overlook Vermont, with just five summits over 4,000 feet. But, if you weren’t paying attention, you’d definitely be missing out. Short hikes, challenging trails, and amazing above-treeline views of Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York make the Vermont 4,000-footers some of the Northeast’s best-value hikes.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Abraham

Named after the 16th President of the United States, Mount Abraham is the shortest and “easiest” of Vermont’s 4,000-footers. Luckily, this stunning peak doesn’t need a superlative elevation to attract all types of hikers. Rather, its moderate terrain and fantastic summit views entice almost everyone. In addition to its hiker-friendly trail, Mount Abraham delivers all kinds of walk-worthy views, with Mount Ellen looming on the ridgeline to the north, and the Green Mountains, the Adirondacks, and the White Mountains on competing horizons.

Leaving from the appropriately named Lincoln Gap Trailhead, hikers will follow the Long Trail for roughly 2.5 miles while gaining 1,600 feet in elevation on the trek to the summit. Along the way, hikers will experience a mostly smooth and obstacle-free trail, with a few strenuous sections as it gently picks up elevation. At 1.7 miles, hikers will encounter the Battell Shelter, both a favorite overnight stop and a nice place to sit down and have a snack, if you’re looking to go up and back in day.

Hikers looking for an extra adventure and a different type of view can find the remains of a 1973 plane crash just past the summit on a herd trail located further down the Long Trail.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Ellen

Despite being the only Vermont 4,000-footer to have its summit in the trees, don’t overlook hiking Mount Ellen. Thanks to a great vista when it intersects with the top of Sugarbush Resort, the hike is not without views. And, with impressive ridgeline hiking along the Long Trail, Mount Ellen delivers comparatively unique terrain.

Hikers will leave on the Jerusalem Trail from Jim Dwire Road and follow it for 2.4 miles, before it connects with the Long Trail. Along the Jerusalem Trail, it’s easy to get lost in your thoughts and marvel at the web of tubes woven for maple sugar collection. Once on the Long Trail, hikers will follow a ridgeline section as it climbs up and down before reaching the 4,017-foot-tall summit and having cumulatively gained 2,600 feet in elevation.

Fit hikers, looking to bag two 4,000-footers and sample part of the Long Trail’s “Monroe Skyline” section, should stash a car at either the Lincoln Gap or the Jerusalem Trail and hike Mount Abraham and Mount Ellen together. From either summit, simply follow the Long Trail across this excellent ridgeline stretch while taking in the views and enjoying what many consider to be a classic section of the Long Trail. The almost-11-mile hike covers mostly moderate terrain and also takes you across Lincoln, Nancy Hanks, and Cutts Peaks.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Killington

Ascending Killington via the Bucklin Trail is a great, moderate way to tag Vermont’s second-highest summit and the tallest spot on the state’s portion of the Appalachian Trail. Most can hike it in half a day, and it crosses two iconic thru-hikes, the Long Trail and the AT. At the top, Killington delivers outstanding 360-degree views and is a must-visit spot for any dedicated New England hiker.

Hiking 7.2 miles round-trip and gaining a little over 2,500 feet in elevation, those used to spending time in the Whites or the Adirondacks might be surprised by how quickly they’ll be able to dispatch this peak out-and-back, thanks to the modest terrain—that is, if they can avoid lingering on its lovely summit. Leaving the Brewers Corner parking lot in Mendon, hikers will follow the gentle Bucklin Trail for the first 3.3 miles, before connecting with the Long Trail/Appalachian Trail for the steep and scrambly summit push.

Depending on the day, your summit experience will vary. From the summit proper, a few manmade structures in the distance are easy enough to put at your back and ignore as you look out to Pico Mountain from the open summit slabs. However, on busy days when the Gondola is running from Killington, expect to share the summit with other hikers and non-hikers. Regardless of the crowds, you’ll get plenty of views of the Green Mountains, Adirondacks, and Whites.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Camel’s Hump

At just under five miles round-trip, hiking the 4,083-foot-tall Camel’s Hump—Vermont’s third-tallest mountain—via the Burrows Trail is a great option for a morning or afternoon. The impressive alpine zone hiking and the treeless summit’s vast 360-degree views, including an awesome perspective of the Green Mountains and Lake Champlain, make this a must-do. On a clear day, hikers can even see as far west as the Adirondacks and as east as Mount Washington.

To begin, access the Burrows Trail at the end of Camel’s Hump Road. You’ll find that the trailhead is easy to spot at the back of the parking lot. In spite of its relatively short length, the Burrows Trail packs a punch. To the summit, attention-demanding rocks and roots characterize its just-under 2,000-foot climb.

GEAR OF THE TRIP

Just before the summit, the Burrows Trail intersects with the Long Trail at a clearing. Here, think about getting your wind shirt, hat, and gloves ready—and maybe even a puffy coat on cooler days. As you head above treeline and onto the Hump proper, you’ll find that temperatures quickly change. Also, when descending, take an extra second at the clearing to make sure you’re heading down the right trail. At this spot, it’s easy to be excited by the summit views and accidentally go the wrong way.

Camel’s Hump is an amazing and challenging hike that can be accomplished with plenty of time left to explore Burlington and Stowe, both of which are nearby. But, because this peak can get busy and the parking lot packed, start early, or be prepared to share it with others.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Mt. Mansfield

Another one of Vermont’s iconic 4,000-footers, Mansfield is the tallest, most northern, and arguably the most difficult peak here, and is a must-do for any Northeast hiker.

When viewed at a distance, Mansfield’s ridgeline resembles a human head, and its various high points are named after such distinct features: the Forehead, Nose, Chin, and Adam’s Apple. To get to the true summit, the Chin, follow the Long Trail South’s white rectangular blazes beginning on Mountain Road (Route 108) just past Stowe Mountain Resort.

Approximately five miles round-trip, the hike begins moderately on relatively smooth trail. About 1.5 miles in, the Long Trail becomes rockier as it approaches the Taft Lodge, where hikers stay overnight either on the way to the summit or as part of a longer outing. Around the lodge, hikers also get their first glimpse of the Chin through the trees.

After passing the lodge, the Long Trail approaches treeline, gaining elevation quickly over 0.3 miles to the junction between the Chin and the Adam’s Apple, one of Mansfield’s many sub-peaks. At the junction, follow the Long Trail South to the left, for a memorable climb up the final 0.3 miles of alpine ridgeline to the summit proper. But, be careful. The ridgeline is very exposed to weather, and a couple segments involve some scrambling.

On the summit, enjoy the alpine flora and the 360-degree views. The view west towards Burlington, Lake Champlain, and the Adirondacks is outstanding, especially near sunset. But, if you stay that late, try not to linger too long, as the scramble back to the Adam’s Apple junction can be treacherous in the dark. As one alternative, try to view the sunset from the Adam’s Apple, which has a similar feel without the exposed descent.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Killington: Skiing The Beast of the East

At 4,241 feet, Killington is known as the “Beast of the East.” Featuring six mountain areas, 1,509 ski-able acres, 155 trails, 21 lifts, and a 3,050-foot vertical drop, it’s a giant, to say the least. For boarders and freestyle skiers, the mountain boasts six terrain parks and two half-pipes. It’s regularly the first to open and last to close in the Northeast, and you have the chance to rip down the same run where Mikaela Shiffrin won the 2016 Audi FIS Ski World Cup slalom race. She’s a badass, and so is this mountain.

Courtesy: Killington Resort
Courtesy: Killington Resort

Getting There and Renting Gear

Killington is in the heart of the Green Mountains, making it an accessible skiing destination for most of New England. As you drive north up U.S. Route 4, you’ll know you’re getting close when you see both a gas station and First Stop Ski & Bike Shop. This place is perfect if you’re antsy to grab rental gear or if you’re planning to take the lift from Skyeship.

If you’re traveling from VT Route 100, you’ll see Base Camp Outfitters, which also offers rentals. As a tip, if you’re into alpine tour, telemark, or cross-country skiing, BCO has all the gear and info you’ll need. As well, the Access Road itself has an abundance of ski and board shops.

Courtesy: Killington Resort
Courtesy: Killington Resort

Base Lodges

Killington’s vast area encompasses five base lodges, so don’t forget where you parked. Here’s the breakdown:

K-1

The main base area is home to the K-1 Express Gondola and is the quickest way to the highest terrain. K-1 is essentially the mountain’s home base, featuring Guest Services, Killington Sports, food options, a bar, and an outdoor patio with live music in nice weather. Speaking of weather, the Roaring Brook Umbrella Bar is a MUST in the spring, and let’s not forget the wonderful Waffle Cabin for everyone who has a sweet tooth. As a whole, K-1 is definitely the mecca of base lodges.

Snowshed

As the starting point for adult beginners, it has learning terrain, lessons, and designated slow areas. But, don’t let this intro stuff fool you; Snowshed still gives you access to the entire mountain and has the Double Diamond Demo Center for high-end equipment, a great starting point for groups of friends at all levels. As another tip, just this summer, they moved an Umbrella Bar to Snowshed for people-watching galore!

Ramshead

More family oriented, it has kids’ lessons and rental gear, childcare, and kid-friendly food courts, and is smoke free. With two magic carpets and an abundant amount of beginners’ terrain, this is the place to head with your little ones.

Bear Mountain

With plenty of advanced terrain, and the most likely place to find the sun on a partly cloudy day, it gets you to the steeps, bumps, and trees and has three terrain parks and one of the half-pipes. Bear Mountain is also known for its annual Mogul Challenge, open to anyone hoping to give their knees some work.

Skyeship

You can’t miss the bridge that crosses over U.S. Route 4. The Skyeship Gondola takes you to Skye Peak and provides access to the rest of the mountain. There will be much smaller crowds here, but you can’t rent gear. Food and drinks are available.

Just in case you end the day in a different spot from where you started, there is a shuttle service that runs between the base lodges.

Courtesy: Killington Resort
Courtesy: Killington Resort

Terrain

Now for the fun part: Know where to get those turns in! Pick your speed or ability, and get out there:

Advanced and Expert Trails

Start by taking the K-1 Gondola—you can get to pretty much anywhere on the mountain from there. If you don’t need a warm up, head right to the Canyon Area for some thrills on the steeps. Need to loosen the legs? Take a skier’s left to North Ridge Triple Chair for a few runs, or go skier’s right and cross over to Needle’s Eye or the Skye Peak Express quad.

No matter where you start, make sure to get some runs in on Bear Mountain. For park fanatics, Skye Peak and Bear are the most advanced places to get in your kicks and tricks. Here, The Stash was designed and built by Jake Burton and his team, and has 66 features that go in, out, and even over the trees, and is guaranteed to impress! You also can’t forget Superstar. A headwall starts off the run, and then, it just lets you rip and carve all the way down.

Credit: Amy Fuller Ahlberg
Credit: Amy Fuller Ahlberg

Intermediate

Ramshead is the place to start if you want to get those skis turning and under control. It also has the small- and medium-sized terrain parks. Next, take Caper to the Snowdon Quad, and enjoy that area for a few runs.

As you keep making your way across the mountain, find Skye Peak, which arguably has the most intermediate terrain of any mountain area in Killington. It would be easy to spend hours exploring and jumping around the many blue trails that are serviced by its six lifts.

Beginner

Enjoy what Snowshed and Ramshead have to offer: Snowshed Slope is short and wide and provides plenty of room to turn, while Easy Street and Caper on Ramshead are longer and narrower, with turns in the terrain that create a flowing feeling as you ski down.

Feeling lost? Great Northern trail traverses from the top and will bring you to the K-1 Base Lodge and Snowshed. Bear Trax and Bear Claw will take you to Skye Peak and Bear Mountain. If you’re feeling really lost, Killington has ski ambassadors everywhere, all of whom are knowledgeable, friendly, and always willing to lend a hand or lead the way if needed.

Credit: Robin Cox
Credit: Robin Cox

Fuel Up

Looking for a quick breakfast to take with you to the mountain? Stop by the Phat Italian, where they use Boar’s Head meats and aren’t stingy about it. Want to sit down for a bit? Venture off the Access Road and head to Maple Sugar & Vermont Spice in Mendon, or stay local and eat at the Butternut Inn and Pancake House. Either place is a win.

Sometimes, a late start isn’t always a bad thing, especially on the weekend, when The Foundry serves brunch starting at 11, with menu items like omelettes, crepes, breakfast burritos, and homemade waffles—is your mouth watering yet? Pair your breakfast with a mimosa or a Bloody Mary, and you’re on your way to a successful day!

Lunch can be found both on and off the slopes. Every base lodge gives you the option of buying food, but a favorite is always going to be the Peak Lodge. Don’t let the cafeteria-style restaurant fool you, though; the food is delicious. The Peak Bar has an amazing view, along with beers on tap and signature drinks. If you’re up for something different, try the Jerk Jamaican Mountain Grill at the bottom of Needle’s Eye.

Après ski needs to be at The Lookout. It’s the first bar on the left as you drive down the Access Road. It might be busy, but the crowd gathers here for a reason.

Credit: Stephanie Levin
Credit: Stephanie Levin

Spending the Night

In order to get everything in that Killington has to offer, it’s best to stay at least one night.

The Killington Grand Resort Hotel is the only mountainside full-service hotel. Preston’s restaurant and its proximity to Snowshed are huge bonuses for staying there.

Fall Line, Highridge, Trail Creek, and Sunrise are condo units that have shuttle access to the mountain and, if the snow is cooperating, ski-home trails.

Birch Ridge Inn, Summit Lodge, Mountain Sports Inn, and Chalet Killington are all on the Access Road and are only a five-minute drive from the slopes.

Looking to stay outside of Killington? About 15 miles away, Rutland has a Comfort Inn, Days Inn, and Holiday Inn.

 

It’s not hard to see why they call this place The Beast—it definitely can be a little intimidating! But, if you play your cards right, you’re in for one of the Northeast’s best days on the snow.

Credit: Amy Fuller Ahlberg
Credit: Amy Fuller Ahlberg