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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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