Quiet gravel farm roads lined with cows and horses, bucolic red barns draped in sun-worn American flags, covered bridges, an absolute plethora of Little Free Libraries in colonial-looking small towns, spider webs of maple sap harvesting tubes, not to mention a wealth of delicious beer along the way: The Green Mountain Gravel Growler bikepacking route couldn’t possible get much more “Vermont.”

Originally mapped out at 255 miles by Joe Cruz and Logan Watts of Bikepacking.com, the route was designed with two things in mind: gravel roads and craft breweries. “Fortunately for us, a lot of Vermont’s best breweries are in the middle of nowhere — or at least in the middle of quaint towns scattered amongst the rolling countryside. That’s another aspect that inspired this route. Vermont boasts the highest percentage of unpaved roads in the country,” Cruz notes on the route’s page.

When we enthusiastically decided to test out the route in September 2022, we were admittedly green—The route challenged us more than we probably believed it would, and there are things that we would all do differently if we were to do it again. But we came away with a new appreciation for bikepacking, the Green Mountains, Vermont’s gravel roads, and it’s incredibly small towns and breweries—all of which means, at least to me, that the route completed its objectives.

All that said, the beauty of bikepacking is that is uses a network of roads far more prolific than trails, making it incredibly easy to tweak and customize the route to suit you as a cyclist, your time commitments, and your desires without compromising the GMGG’s focus. We began adjusting the route before we even began, continued while we were riding, and would probably have changed more in retrospect. If you’re interested in taking on the Green Mountains yourself, here are some things to consider as you put your trip together.

Credit: Lauren Danilek

Where We Started

Before you take on any mission (let alone a 250-mike bikepacking epic), it’s important to consider where you’re starting from. No one on our four-person team was a hardcore cyclist and only one person had spent any time bikepacking (and it was just a single trip, at that). We knew this going in and while we did do some level of training in the summer leading up to the trip, we kept our expectations solidly on the “slow and steady” end.

We knew we weren’t really looking to get “rowdy” with single track or some of the extremely rough (it’s been called “class IV”) dirt roads at sections of the route, either. None of us has much technically skill on the bike. We also knew early on what bikes we would be riding: Two Diamondback Haanjo 8c gravel bikes, a Marin Gestalt, and a Salsa Journeyman, all with 38c or larger tires. And one more: We knew we were going to have to spend time “working” on this trip: Photographing and posting about it along the way.

To answer all that, we cut out some of the known gnarly sections before we even got going: Some single track above Stowe, some notably rough gravel around the north side of Woodbury Mountain south of Hardwick, single track north of Montpelier, and single track through Boyer State Forest south of Montpelier. For some riders, that may have been a disappointment, but we weren’t in it for the adrenaline and everything was easily replaced by mellower gravel. We also planned to complete the route in 5 days: Strenuous for us but with plenty of time to enjoy the route along the way.

Credit: Lauren Danilek

What We Liked About the Route

Considering how little time our team had collectively spent bikepacking and how little we knew about where we were riding, it was a testament to the great route planning of the Bikepacking.com team that we had almost no issue navigating their ride. With the help of the Ride with GPS app, missed turns were almost nonexistent and we were impressed with the GMGG route. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Not needing to carry much food (or cooking gear) on your bike is a huge weight and space saver. The route makes it reasonably easy to eat along the way (see below for the exceptions)—and eat incredibly well—so definitely leave the Whisperlite and dehydrated meals at home and plan your route around where and when you can eat.
  • We really didn’t have an issue getting ourselves into any of the breweries along our route without reservations, even during Labor Day Weekend. We missed a few simply because their hours didn’t align with our schedule, but there’s no good way around that. We enjoyed where we did visit and found it easy to ride up, lock our bikes somewhere, and grab some food or a drink. For the most part, they were also well spaced-out along the route.
  • For the most part, the decision by the route’s creators to stick to gravel as much as possible was a breath of fresh air. Even though the rougher roads slowed down our climbs a little bit, it almost always felt better picking up those quieter and more scenic roads over pavement. Many of those roads were incredibly remote and off the beaten path, allowing us to explore areas we never would have otherwise.
  • We had a pretty easy time making adjustments to the route on the fly. On a couple different occasions, we decided to cut out a hill in favor of a little pavement, to save ourselves from unnecessary elevation gain. On the fourth day we also made the gamete decision to skip Middlebury entirely (the breweries there weren’t going to be open when we got to town and skipping it saved us a lot of miles on day 5)—all it took was an easy detour to Bristol after Lincoln Pass. Don’t be afraid to be flexible and make decisions based on how you’re feeling in the moment in order to make the trip more enjoyable overall.
  • With a little bit of work, the trip was very do-able with just a tent, allowing you to do it on the cheap (even if some campsites were legally dubious). Even better: Bring a hammock, which we thought would have been easier to tuck back in unestablished campsites among brush and blowdown, or on uneven slopes.
  • The fact that the route was a loop that started and ended in Burlington made logistics incredibly easy. No car shuttles, easy parking, and a plethora of Air BnBs waiting for you when you return.
Credit: Lauren Danilek

What We Would Do Differently

While we were overall happy with the way we took on the route, there are a few things we would consider changing or doing differently for next time:

  • The biggest struggle with food was lining up our meals and campsites with breweries and other places to eat. It’s not unique to this route that most of the food was in town and most of the camping was out of it. What that meant for us was either eating a slightly earlier dinner then biking further to get to camp, or it meant grabbing snacks in the last town before camp and eating gas station food for dinner when we got our tents set up.
  • Maybe it was inexperience, but we had a hard time finding camping on more than one occasion. Locations where we felt comfortable venturing onto private property to find a place to set up were typically overgrown and not super flat, making finding a place to pitch our tents a little more difficult and, at a minimum, making it hard to want to hang out around camp together in the evenings. That said, we made an effort to take advantage of free camping as much as possible. With a little more forward planning (and a good deal of confidence in your riding speed), it might have been easier to reserve campsites in established campgrounds closer to towns which would have both guaranteed us a flat, legal place to sleep, and made it a little easier to eat along the way.
  • Don’t get us wrong, beer is great. It was so hard to not want to sample something from everywhere we stopped, but that did cause some struggles that we weren’t expecting. If you sit down for a big lunch of smoked meet and have a beer at noon, don’t expect to be fast or feel great when you start riding again. But, to an extent, that’s what you’re signing up for with a beer-dominated route like this, so fight past the need to take a nap and try that IPA.
  • This is entirely dependent on you as a rider, but we found 50-mile days to not allow us as much time to explore off and around the route as we hoped. Plan on going a lot slower than you’re used to going on your training rides and spending a lot of time off your bike throughout the day.
  • We would have a hard time saying we would want to climb fewer hills (as mentioned above, it’s easy to cut ones out you’d like to avoid in the moment, and indirect gravel roads have their own benefits), but we wished we had realized what 20,000 feet of elevation gain truly meant and calibrated our expectations accordingly. Be prepared: There is no flat on this route, only up or down (but mostly up).

Again, at the end of the day, the beauty of a route like the GMGG is that you’re not racing to get anywhere fast, so there’s a lot of flexibility and ability to customize. Take what we’ve learned and tweak the route to suit yourself: Add or remove breweries, think about where and how you’re camping, cut out a hill or two, explore that town you’ve always wanted to see. Make the trip your own.

Interested in taking on the GMGG for yourself? Reach out with questions and your own ideas!

Credit: Lauren Danilek