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!


The Top 6 Summit Views in the New Hampshire 48

With almost 50 4,000-footers to choose from, picking out just a few with the best views can be as challenging as hiking them. No matter where you hike in the White Mountains, you’re in for a visual treat, but these six take the cake for the most impressive summit views. That is, if you can get up to them.

Easy Hikes

Looking towards Mt. Washington from Pierce. | Credit: Tim Peck
Looking toward Mt. Washington from Pierce. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Pierce

If you are looking for a big view, with a minimal investment in “sweat” equity, try Mount Pierce. It delivers the best view-to-effort ratio among New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers. Beginning from Route 302 in Crawford Notch, a little over three miles of hiking on the gentle (for the Whites) Crawford Path brings you to Mount Pierce’s stunning summit. With its almost 360-degree views, a lot can catch your eye. But, first, you’ll have to avert your gaze from the jaw-dropping perspective of Mount Washington’s southern aspect, the Ammonoosuc Ravine and the Cog Railway.

From Pierce’s summit, you can head back to Crawford Notch. Or, if you’re feeling fit, follow the Crawford Path for an additional 1.2 miles to Mount Eisenhower, another New Hampshire 4,000-footer with fantastic views. From Eisenhower, you can backtrack on Crawford Path or take the Edmands Path to Mount Clinton Road, and then road-walk back to Crawford Notch.

Franconia Ridge from Cannon. | Credit: Doug Martland
Franconia Ridge from Cannon. | Credit: Doug Martland

Cannon Mountain

Another moderate 4,000-footer with great views is Cannon Mountain. Located directly off Route 93, this 4.4-mile round-trip hike up the Hi-Cannon Trail gains approximately 2,000 feet on the way to one of the Whites’ best views.

Once you get to the top, climb the summit tower, and look east for a breathtaking vantage of the iconic Franconia Ridge. On a clear day, you can look past the ridge to see the Presidentials, including Mount Washington. To the south, you can see the Kinsmans and, to the west, the Connecticut River and Vermont’s Green Mountains.

On days when the tram is running, Cannon’s summit gets busy, however. Luckily, the Hi-Cannon Trail has a few great places to sit back and admire the view without the crowds along the way. Plus, you can poke around the summit’s Franconia Ridge side for slides offering solitude and stunning vistas.

 

Moderate Hikes

Franconia Ridge from Garfield. | Credit: Tim Peck
Franconia Ridge from Garfield. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Garfield

Most climb Garfield via the Garfield Trail, which starts at the Garfield Trail parking area off Gale River Loop Road. From the lot, it is five moderate miles to the foundation of an old fire tower on Garfield’s bald summit. From there, you can look out at the entire Pemi-Loop. Here, the distinct peaks of Franconia Ridge extend on your right and Twins and Bonds to your left. In the middle lies Owl’s Head and the eastern half of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. On clear days, don’t forget to look further east towards the Presidentials to find Mount Washington looming on the horizon.

If day-hiking 10 miles feels like too much effort, or if you like to linger, the Garfield Ridge campsite is only 0.2 miles from the summit. Stopping here makes this trip a little more accessible for those looking to step up the effort level or just wanting to take it slow.

Signal Ridge from Carrigan. | Credit: Tim Peck
Signal Ridge from Carrigain. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Carrigain

Another 10-mile out-and-back trip brings you to what many consider to the Whites’ best view, Mount Carrigain. Leaving from the parking lot on Sawyer Pond Road, off Route 302, hikers can follow the Signal Ridge Trail as it slowly gains altitude towards the 4,700-foot summit. As you approach, you’ll gain a ridge that meanders in and out of the trees. In between, a few spots give you a sneak peek of what’s to come. Forge past these appetizers to the main course, the observation tower on Carrigain’s summit.

From the tower, you’ll get an unimpeded view of many of the Whites’ most notable areas. To the northeast, you will see Mount Washington and the mighty Presidential Range with Crawford Notch laid out before it. To the west is a breathtaking view of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Look back toward Signal Ridge to get a great look at the terrain you covered to earn this dramatic view.

Then, after taking in some of the Whites’ hottest vistas, cool off in the numerous pools and eddies found along the river that hugs the Signal Ridge Trail for the first mile.

 

Difficult Hikes

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Bondcliff

If you’re looking to truly “earn” your views, Bondcliff and Madison are strenuous yet rewarding options. Of all the 4,000-footers, Bondcliff might be the best at making you truly feel like you’re in the mountains. With views in every direction and a sheer cliff on one side, it exemplifies the ideal summit. Although none of the hiking up is particularly difficult, there is a lot of it.

From the Lincoln Woods Visitor Information Center, follow the Wilderness Trail to the Bondcliff Trail roughly nine miles to the summit. Standing on the cliff’s side can give you the feeling that you’re on the edge of the world—that is, until you look out. Look to the west to clearly see the eternity of Franconia Ridge. Then, turn your gaze to the right, where the Pemigewasset Wilderness unfolds with the prominent peaks of Mount Bond and West Bond in the foreground and Mount Garfield looming in the background. Turn away from the cliff, and the Pemigewasset Wilderness’ entire western half dominates the landscape.

Mount Washington from Madison. | Credit: Tim Peck
Mount Washington from Madison. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Madison

For those willing to expend the effort, Mount Madison, located at the end of the Presidential Range, delivers big views after a heavy dose of hiking. While numerous trails lead to the summit, the most common, and perhaps “easiest” way, is to leave from the Appalachia Trailhead parking lot on Route 2. Then, follow the Valley Way Trail to the Madison Hut, before connecting with the Gulfside Trail for just under a half-mile above-treeline push to the top. Despite being under eight miles round trip, this route is rocky, rugged, and gains roughly 3,500 feet in elevation.

The summit delivers a dramatic view of the northern Presidentials and the three tallest 4,000-footers: Mount Jefferson, Mount Adams, and Mount Washington. From here, what’s always striking is the expansiveness and remoteness of the Great Gulf Wilderness—a glacial cirque walled off by the Presidentials’ prominent peaks.

If Mount Adams looks enticingly close, that’s because it is. At a little under a mile and a half away, tagging a second summit is very doable for fit and motivated hikers. For even more of a challenge, the Star Lake Trail, which leaves from Madison Hut, has much better views than Air Line, the normal thruway, and is among our favorite trails in the Whites. Farther down, the AMC’s Madison Hut can turn this long day hike into an enjoyable overnight, or provide the perfect place to stage a summit attempt on Mount Adams.

Honorable Mention

Limiting ourselves to the six “best” summit views forced us to leave several great 4,000-footers off our list. Fantastic cases can be made for others, including Moosilauke, Washington, and Franconia Ridge’s Lincoln and Lafayette. So, whether you agree with us or not, make your case for the Whites’ best views in the comments below.