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Backpacking

Green Mountains

Getting There Lodging Restaurants Attractions Stowe Fishing Hiking Backpacking Hut to Hut

Everything we said about Hiking in the Green Mountains is true for Backpacking. Trails here can be tough and the weather can turn hostile in just a few minutes. The peaks here may be lower but the trailheads are only slightly above sea level, whereas out West the trailheads are at 7000 ft., so your elevation gain is often about the same. Trails elsewhere zigzag up steep gradients, sometimes switchbacking back and forth many times. Here, trails go straight up. Down South and out West you're hiking on dirt with an occasional rock or tree root. Here, you're hiking on a never ending array of boulders, football sized rocks, gravel, granite slabs and tight squeezes. This is why sprained and sometimes broken ankles are so common here and why so many hikers have to be helicoptered out. These first three photos look idyllic, but these trails can quickly become VERY difficult.

All of that said, as long as you're in condition, have some experience, and are properly equipped, Green Mountain backpacking is some of the best in the nation.

Vermont backpacking is of two types : classic and hut to hut. We review a few of the best classic trips on this page. We review Mt. Mansfield hut to hut backpacking on a separate page.

Tent camping is not allowed on Mt. Mansfield. The "mountain" is really a long ridge which extends from Nebraska Knoll on its southern shoulder to Smugglers Notch on its northern shoulder. It thus looms above the entire Stowe Valley. Therefore, to find classic backpacking, you have to drive north or south of Stowe Valley. Fortunately, the trips are worth the drive. The Green Mountains extend the entire north south length of the state.

The Appalachian Trail and Long Trail wind through the Greens, so many shorter trips include sections of one or both trails, and use the overnight shelters the Green Mountain Club has built along them.

Even though we explained at length how Vermont hiking and backpacking can be very strenuous and demanding, we have tried here to include trips which are quite reasonable. These trips were also chosen because they are ideal during Fall Foliage season.

Vermont trails fill up on weekends, so if your schedule allows, it is always wise to use as many weekdays as possible. A good five day trip might begin Sunday (when the weekenders are leaving) and finish Friday (as they're arriving). That gives you a MTWHF stretch of reasonably empty backcountry.

We've also tried to include trails with good fishing lakes or streams for our readers who like to catch their dinner and not rely so much on freeze dried meals. Brook Trout is the mosr common fish on all of these routes.

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Our first recommendation is the Bourn Pond - Stratton Pond five day trip. The two ponds are remote enough fishing pressure is light and they're full of Brook Trout. The trails rise and fall but there are no steep, rocky or difficult stretches. Your biggest problem is that after a few days of rain sections of trail can become muddy.

To reach the trailhead find the village of Stratton (NOT the ski resort), drive three miles west on Stratton Arlington Road (Route 7), and turn off on Old Rootville Road.

Take the spur trail in to the combined Appalachian/Long Trail. Turn south on Branch Pond Trail and spend Sunday night at William Douglas Shelter. It was rebuilt in 1973 and is comfy and weathertight. It sleeps 10 and has water about 50 feet down the trail. There's a new privy.

Monday take Branch Pond Trail south to Bourn Pond (photo, left). There are official campsites on both north and south shores. Spend Monday night there.

Tuesday leave your camp set up and hike west on Lyle Brook Trail to the beautiful Lyle Brook Falls. After a few days of rain the falls is a lot bigger than seen in the photo at right. You should return to your tent in time for lunch.

If it's a warm day, you can swim in Bourn Pond. The water will be cool but not cold. This would also be a good time for a few hours of fishing. Bourn contains healthy populations of Brook Trout and Bullhead Catfish and since the water is pure they're safe to eat.

Then break camp and hike east on Lyle Brook Trail to Stratton Pond (photo below). Spend the night at the Stratton Pond Shelter (photo two down) or the Stratton Pond campsite.

If it's warm weather, you can enjoy swimming in Stratton Pond. It's also a good fishing lake, full of Brook Trout and Bullhead Catfish. There are zero pollution sources in this watershed, so either fish is safe to eat.

It's also a great place to pitch your camp chair and watch wildlife. Birds here are Common Loon, Belted Kingfisher, Downy Woodpecker, Philadelphia Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, Black Capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch and Ruffed Grouse. Mornings and evenings you're also likely to see Deer, Beaver, Snowshoe Hare, Coyote and Moose.

There's a nightly charge, usually $6, to use the shelters or campsites and a Green Mountain Club member monitors them.

The Stratton Lake Shelter (photo, right) sleeps 16 with bunks and a loft. It was redone in 2019 and is very nice. Drinking water is available nearby. There's a picnic table not visible here which is nice for fixing dinner.

 

 

Wednesday hike the 10 mile Stratton Pond Trail-Appalachian Trail Loop, stopping at the Stratton Mountain fire tower for lunch. You can climb to the top of the fire tower for the view seen ar left. There's some climbing as the trail approaches Stratton Mountain, but it's not difficult. Spend Wednesday night back at Stratton Pond.

Thursday follow the Appalachian/Long Trail along Winhall River, then turn left and spend the night back at William Douglas Shelter.

Friday hike back the spur trail to your vehicle.

Total mileage is 25 miles. Highest elevation is 3936 feet.

It's 130 miles (2.5 hours) south of Stowe to the trailhead, but well worth it. This is a beautiful backpacking trip.

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Our second recommendation, Lincoln Gap - Monroe, is a lot closer to Stowe but requires a shuttle. You need to talk someone into dropping you off at Lincoln Gap and either drop your vehicle at Monroe trailhead or have that same someone pick you up at the Monroe trailhead. Both are within an hour drive of Stowe.

This is a 28 mile trip along some of the most spectacular views in Vermont. Even the Lincoln Gap Covered Bridge (photo, right) is worth a picture.

Everyone agrees this is the second most spectacular segment of the Long Trail (behind Mt. Mansfield). You climb Mt. Abraham, Lincoln Peak, Mt. Ellen, Burnt Rock and finally Camels Hump. There's some difficult trail here, with ladders, ropes, gnarled roots and rocks, so don't expect to make much time. We allot five nights for this trip. You'll meet others doing it in three but they're not enjoying it. In addition to the jaw dropping scenery, we like this trail because it offers several good shelters and tent sites and plenty of streams for water.

The first day you'll have to leave a car at Monroe Trailhead and find Lincoln Gap Trailhead, so we suggest a short hiking day. Leaving Lincoln Gap heading for Mt. Abraham, you come to Battell Shelter about two miles in. It's a decent small shelter, weathertight and well maintained, even tho it only holds 10. We recommend it for your first night. Next morning, you have a steep but short climb to Mt. Abraham (view from the summit, left). The Green Mountains roll off into the distance.

This trail is a mess from mid - late April to mid - late May as Mud Season descends over Vermont. Streams will run right down trails and when not under water trails will be deep gooey mud. The wooden boardwalks ("puncheons") the Green Mountain Club places in particularly wet areas to help hikers will also be underwater. All that melting ice and snow has to go somewhere plus it rains most of April and May. However, it dries out nicely in early June and is fine through November, when the snow moves in once again. So hike this trail between Memorial Day and Halloween and you'll be fine.

Once up on Mt. Abraham, you'll hike along a fairly level ridgeline, coming to Lincoln Peak, Nancy Hanks Peak, and Cutts Peak. As you approach Cutts Peak, begin looking for a good tent site. With rocks, dense bushes and steep slopes there aren't too many, but there are several good ones. Assume you'll be pitching your tent some distance from the nearest stream so when you cross one get out your filtering unit and fill up your bottles.

Day Three will begin with Mt. Ellen (view from summit, right). You'll then be hiking through mostly forest until you come to the Barton Trail cutting off to the right. Take this trail, which will lead to the Glen Ellen Cabin (photo below). We recommend spending the third night here. There's water and an outhouse.

If you're hiking this in Summer, be sure to have a a bug shirt and head net accessible. During most of this hike you're high on the ridgeline with a steady breeze, so bugs are not a problem, but as you drop down to lower elevations, especially near water, gnats, black flies and mosquitoes will annoy you. If you hike it in October the insects are gone.

Notice we're recommending a very leisurely pace on this trip. That's because of the up and down terrain and rocky trails. You're better off to take your time and enjoy the stunning scenery than to try and rush and risk injuring an ankle. Often the descents are trickier than the ascents, especially after a day or so of rain.

Day Four will begin with General Stark Mountain. After two miles, you'll come to the Theron Dean Shelter and, near it, the Theron Dean Cave. This is a good place for a mid morning break.

The next hour or so will bring you past Mad River Glen Ski Area and then Appalachian Gap.

Further on you'll pass Molly Stark Mountain, Beane Mountain and Huntington Gap, then come to Birch Glen Camp, a lean to shelter which is good place for a mid afternoon break.

The 1.4 miles from Huntington Gap to Cowles Cove is the most technically challenging of the whole trip. You'll encounter boulders, roots, rocks, mud, stone slabs and ledges. A few well placed ladders and ropes help.

The fourth night we recommend staying at Cowles Cove Lean To, at mile five for the day(17 for the trip). Again, you should arrive at mid afternoon.

The fifth night we recommend staying at Montclair Lodge at mile 5.1 miles (22 for the trip).

On day six you should climb Camels Hump, then follow the Monroe Trail down to the trailhead. You'll hike six miles on this day, 28 for the trip. Climbing Camels Hump and coming back down will both be tricky, challenging and exhausting.

There are several routes to the top of Camels Hump. We recommend the Monroe Trail. All the routes look like the photo at right but some get pretty technical. The Monroe Trail is the easiest.

This Lincoln Gap - Monroe Trailhead hike is not difficult (it's officially ranked as only Moderate), but it's a meticulous one. You have to take your time, plan each step, place your feet carefully, and focus on what you're doing. At scenic overlooks you can take your pack off, sit down, enjoy a drink and a snack, and gaze out across the incredible vistas. But while actually hiking, you have to keep your eyes on the trail.

This trip cherry picks some of the best views on the entire Long Trail. It starts with that short steep climb to the top of Mount Abraham, one of Vermont’s four true Alpine areas. Once up high, it traverses the long ridge on the western side of the Mad River Valley, passing over Lincoln Peak and Mount Ellen before dropping down to Appalachian Gap. It climbs again over Burnt Rock Mountain then the Allens, and saves for last Camels Hump. This is the only alpine tundra peak in Vermont which is totally natural. Mansfield and Killington both have relay towers and ski lifts marring the landscape.

The undulating terrain is forested in places, rocky and cliffy in others, and rewards you with excellent views along the high spine of the Green Mountains north and south, as well as to New Hampshire’s White Mountains to the east, Adirondacks to the west, Lake Champlain to the northwest and Quebec due north.

An overnight fee will be collected at lodges and lean tos by Green Mountain Club care takers. The fees are usually $6 per night.

Again, we urge you to leave on Sunday, staying Sunday night at Battell Shelter, arriving at Monroe Trailhead Friday afternoon just as the weekend hordes pass you on the way in. This trail is very popular and gets clogged every weekend, and it's made worse by day hikers doing short segments of the trail. Weekends are also when the speed hiking crazies try to do the entire 28 miles in the 48 hours between Friday afternoon and Sunday after noon. The trail is much better done in at a leisurely pace.

If you were coming here specifically to hike this trail, you should consider the West Hill House Bed & Breakfast near Warren. It offers shuttle service to both the Lincoln Gap and Monroe Trailhead terminals, is filled with people doing both the full length and shorter sections of the trail, and can offer you insights and advice about trail conditions and other details. The West Hill House B&B is famous for its sumptous breakfasts, which help get you off to a good start and then refuel you the morning after you finish. There are other restaurants nearby for dinners. You would need a reservation for Saturday and then Friday and you could leave your own vehicle parked safely at the B&B.
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