This story originally appeared in Seven Days and has been edited by Hello Burlington.
The Green Mountains do more than give Vermont its name. Our ranging peaks are as much of a defining characteristic as the ocean is to Rhode Island or bad drivers are to Connecticut. And they sure are pretty to look at. Views of Camel's Hump and Mount Mansfield are among the most sought after in the state. But the best vistas in Vermont aren't of mountains — they're from mountains.
From late mud season through fall foliage — and for some hearty souls, even into winter — Vermont is a hiker's paradise. At 272 miles, the Long Trail is the state's most famous hiking destination, running along the spine of Vermont from the Massachusetts border to Canada. While plenty of folks traverse it all at once in a three- or four-week trek, for most of us a day hike is more than enough. But where to begin?
Amy Potter is the visitor center manager for the Green Mountain Club, which built the Long Trail between 1910 and 1930 and has maintained it and 166 miles of side trails ever since. She was asked to suggest a few hikes ranging in difficulty from family-friendly to "Have you seen 127 Hours?"
Here's what she said:
Photo: Grant Wieler
EASY DOES IT.
Nebraska Notch Trail, Underhill, Mount Mansfield
This 4.4-mile round tripper, some of which runs along the Long Trail, features gentle grades, wooded terrain and spectacular views of Lake Mansfield. Hike out to Taylor Lodge, a four-sided shelter that makes for an ideal lunch spot. "It's not too steep ever, so it's a great trail for families," says Potter. The path passes beaver ponds, so you're apt to see some wildlife, too. Potter says to plan on two to four hours, depending on your hiking speed.
Mount Philo State Park, Charlotte, VT
Mount Philo State Park is one of Vermont’s most relaxing, yet rewarding hikes. Located off of Route 7 in Charlotte, VT. This mountain is a capable trail for most adventurers, stretching only 3/4-mile to the summit and featuring a paved path for vehicles, this park is an excellent destination to explore Vermont’s fall foliage, autumn bird migrations, or sunsets over Lake Champlain. Situated atop of the mountain is a rustic lodge capable of seating up too 60 people, in addition to a small campground on the north side of the park.
HUFFING & PUFFING.
Burrows Trail, Huntington, Camel's Hump
"The nice thing about it is that it is a fairly moderate trail, but you actually get to summit one of our 4,000 footers," explains Potter of this five-mile hike up Vermont's third-highest peak. In addition to 360-degree views, "it has a sustained steepness," she continues. "But there are no real technical sections — no scrambling over big rocks." The trail is also blue-blazed and well traveled: "If you're not an expert in wilderness navigation, it's pretty straightforward," she says. Camel's Hump is one of three Vermont peaks that boast rare, even endangered alpine flora — so look, but don't touch. "We emphasize that people stay on the trails and try to step on rocks," Potter explains. Plan on three to five hours, round trip.
OH, HELL NO.
Hell Brook Trail, Cambridge, Mount Mansfield
What, you thought a trail named Hell Brook would be easy? This short but steep hike ranks as one of the most difficult in Vermont. "It's only about three miles round trip, but it goes straight up," says Potter. Get ready for nonstop inclines, hand-over-hand scrambles, and giant rocks embedded with rebar and ladders to keep you from falling off the face of the Earth. "It can be slippery when it's wet," Potter warns — and it's pretty much always wet due to the brook that runs alongside the trail. "It's called Hell Brook for a reason," she adds. "It's exciting." The trail brings climbers to an open rock outcropping, Mansfield's "Adam's Apple," which connects to the Long Trail and the summit — the highest in Vermont. Potter says to plan on the equivalent of a five- to six-mile hike.
Photo: Grant Wieler
Hiking is fun and great exercise to boot. But it can also be dangerous if you're underprepared. Find a long list of guidelines on greenmountainclub.org. Here's an abridged list of some of the most critical points.
Bring a map. "Lots of people forget maps, and then they get lost," says Potter. "A map is a good thing to have."
Dress appropriately. It's usually about 10 degrees colder at the summit than in the valley, says Potter, not to mention windier. "Especially when you're sweating after climbing up, you don't realize how quickly you can get cold," she cautions.
Bring first aid. "Even the smallest first aid kit can make a huge difference," says Potter.
Stay hydrated. "I usually carry about two liters," says Potter. "Water is very important."
Bring food. "Extra nutrition is important, especially when you're exerting yourself," she says.
Share your plans. "Always let someone know where you're going and when you're gonna be home, so that if you don't show up, people know to look for you."
Stay together. "If you start as a group, leave as a group," says Potter. Otherwise, "that's how people get lost."
Don't be a hero — or an idiot. If conditions are deteriorating, whether yours or the mountain's, "always be prepared to turn around," says Potter, "so you can hike another day."