So often, we don’t take advantage of exploring where we are. Sometimes, we forget to explore or live in the place where we hang our hat and lay our heads. Or, perhaps, the place where we usually live does not provide enough interesting sights or adventures for our particular tastes. However, sometimes you have to make your own adventures. And if you look closely enough, you can find adventure almost anywhere. For some time, I thought my stay at Sterling College would be too occupied with my academic commitments to have time for adventures. Eventually though, I discovered that if you make the time to explore, great adventures await for even the busiest college student. This last summer, I visited a number of beautiful locations across this green, hilly state of ours.
I will provide some photographic evidence of these locales, coupled with short descriptions. This is not intended to the most comprehensive guide to the Northeast Kingdom, it is simply meant to be a nudge. A piece of incentive designed to peak your interest in some local, accessible parks and forests. I will provide some details, explaining why I think the place is worth visiting. Each entry is accessible by car from Sterling. The furthest entry is probably Burlington.
What you do with all this information is up to you. Like I said, this is incentive. If you have the time, even if it’s just on a weekend or a break, a great adventure awaits only if you make it happen.
Of course, during these uncertain times, make sure you adventure safely. I was able to easily access every entry here, although some were not being maintained at the time. Keep yourself updated and even if you find yourself on the trail, make sure to practice the proper etiquette, social distance and keep those masks up.
Enjoy and adventure responsibly.
Every Sterling student is, of course, familiar with Hardwick. Even the new students should be able to familiarize themselves with it sooner rather than later, considering how close to campus it is. On the surface, everyone knows it well. A nice little town with a good diner, a Positive Pie, and some cutesy shops. Doesn’t seem like a prime place for hiking at first glance, does it?
However, as you drive through town, you may notice signs here and there pointing to the Hardwick Trails. Follow them to the Hazen Union school parking lot and you’ll find yourself at the entrance of a wooded area dotted with sugaring shacks and poetry. The Hardwick Trails comprise of looped paths all leading back to the parking lot. All the trails are color coded, green being the shortest and blue being the longest. Technically speaking, the trails are not especially challenging. But if you happen to find yourself in Hardwick, or if you simply want to go on a nice little hike, these trails can provide a welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of academia.
The trails are open to ATVs, but I never encountered any trouble with this. Some areas are also open to hunters, but again, I had no issues. If you happen to be hiking in the winter, or if some of the snow and ice is just stubbornly clinging onto the ground, some uphill and downhill areas can become slippery. So, as with all adventures, be aware and be safe.
Greensboro is also fairly well known to Sterling students. It is the site of the Willey’s Store and the Giving Closet. However, Greensboro offers more than being thrifty and buying random junk. While Caspian Lake is obviously accessible, there are a few more less obvious places to explore. The first of these places I visited was Barr Hill. Not the distillery, the natural area.
Barr Hill Natural Area is owned and managed by the Nature Conservancy. A few short looping trails lead up and around the highest point in Greensboro. The picnic area gives you a good view of the surrounding area, including some other great areas to explore later such as Camel’s Hump, Elmore Mountain, and Groton State Forest. Like the Hardwick Trails, and in fact many entries on this list, the trails at Barr Hill are not all that difficult. Still, the area does make for some pleasant hiking.
As I said above, Caspian Lake is easy to find and access. While there are likely many ways to approach this peaceful lake, a short road right across from the Willey’s Store leads to a public beach. While going to public places may not be the best idea during these strange times, if you keep your distance or come early enough, this is a lovely spot to hang out and swim. If you bring a canoe or kayak, you are welcome to paddle on the calm waters of this beautiful spot.
Another spot maintained by the Nature Conservancy, the Long Pond Natural Area is a remote, undeveloped, 99-acre…well, pond. There are also a fair number of ways to access this area, including at least one spot along the road which isn’t very obvious, as it lacks any major signage. However, the start of the trail leading to the pond is marked and obvious when you see it.
Long Pond is surrounded by a northern hardwood forest, making the trek to the pond a very enjoyable one. At the south end lies a mature white cedar swamp. The pond itself is beautiful, offering spots to slip in to swim or paddle.
Okay, hear me out. The next couple of these entries are in Burlington, and I know how much the average Sterling College student dislikes cityscapes. That being said, the Burlington Waterfront is no stranger to Sterling students. Which is precisely why I wanted to find other, less obvious places to explore there. While I did go to the waterfront, I avoided the well-known park area and found a different path.
That path led me to the Urban Reserve, which then offered a lot more to see and do than even I had expected. A paved path leads from the waterfront to North Beach, which itself is a nice area. Bicyclists are welcome on the path, but one can just as easily walk the whole thing. Along the way are views of Lake Champlain, benches to stop and take a break and outdoor fitness stations.
You can either take the path the whole way to North Beach or get your feet in the sand earlier, as there is one branch of the path that leads to a somewhat less public area of the beach. This is the area where dogs are allowed, and while it’s all public, I saw a lot more people at the other end of the beach.
North Beach itself of course offers swimming and another great view of Champlain. There is parking at this end, as well as a snack bar and a car camping area. So if you find yourself in Burlington, don’t fret. While it doesn’t offer much in terms of nature, the Urban Reserve offers a nice break from the typical Burlington Waterfront scene.
Arms Forest Trail
Okay, I’m not going to lie. This one is kind of weird. There are a few entrances to the Arms Forest throughout Burlington, but it doesn’t seem to be well advertised. It’s somewhere between Rock Point and North Avenue, but I found no signs for the trail whatsoever. The entrance I found was in the back of church parking lot, and while the trail is fairly well blazed, the entrance was not. However, if you do manage to find it, the Arms Forest Trail offers a nice break from the cityscape of Burlington. Again, the hiking here is not difficult, but if you find yourself needing an escape from the roads and streets of Burlington, the Arms Forest is a good place to be.
Leddy Park is close to one of the entrances to the Arms Forest, but much easier to find. Like the Urban Reserve, Leddy Park has a paved path for walking and biking, which connects to the Burlington Greenway. From there, one can take a number of scenic walks or bike rides around Burlington. Leddy Park itself has a beach and few small trails, along with basketball and tennis courts. While it doesn’t offer much in the way of nature hikes, Leddy Park is a nice place to explore and recreate. And hey, it’s free.
Ethan Allen Park
As the name would suggest, this park leads to the Ethan Allen Homestead, where one can find even more hiking trails, a kayak launch and other recreational opportunities. However, the park itself has a number of paved trails which connect to the Burlington Wildways. In addition, there are smaller dirt trails that lead right through the forested parts of the park, for when you get tired of walking on asphalt. There are two main points of interest in the park; the Pinnacle, a high point with a stone gazebo and the Tower, dedicated to Ethan Allen. The Pinnacle offers a nice open area while the Tower gives you a great view of Burlington. The Tower itself was closed when I was there, but even looking on the outside, I appreciated the view and the small but impressive structure.
Following the Wildways takes you to the Ethan Allen homestead, which, as I mentioned above, offers ample opportunities for hiking, biking, paddling and bird watching. The museum there was, of course, closed when I was there, but the trails were still open and free for public use.
Located near Newport, Eagle Point Wildlife Management Area primarily consists of short but beautiful trail resting at the United States-Canada border. A great grassy plain stretches out in almost all directions. When you get to the end, you’ll find another shorter looped trail which leads into a wooded area. So if you get tired of the field by the end, you can always take the wooded path back around. Near the parking area, there’s also a small path which leads to a wetland. A wooden platform rests there so you can overlook the wetland. While none of this offers any challenging hiking, Eagle Point does provide stunning views and a reminder of why these sorts of wilderness management areas are vital in the first place.
Newport Bike Trail
Now, to be fair, this one is, as the name implies, probably most fun if you have a bike. But it can be a pleasant place to walk as well, with a boardwalk overlooking the lake and several places to stop, rest and take in the views. The bike trail snakes through much of Newport, so there are multiple spots to enter and park.
Willoughby State Park
Near Barton, Willoughby State Park is a free and relatively remote place good for hiking. In fact, it may be the most remote location on this list. The main trails at Willoughby are the Mount Hor North Trail and the Moose Mountain Trail, with shorter offshoots here and there. On the Mount Hor North Trail, one of these offshoots leads to the Mount Hor Brookside Trail. Taking this leads you to the entrance to Moose Mountain Trail, which you could also drive to if you so wish. But hiking is more fun.
Groton State Forest
Instead of a single park or centralized area, Groton State Forest is home to several state parks, each with their own trails and landmarks. Some of these are free, while others require entry fees. While this was somewhat confusing, I managed to explore and cover a lot of ground simply by driving on the main road going through the forest. A major landmark is Owl’s Head, a mountain which, after a short hike up, offers a great view of the surrounding forest. From there, you can scope out where you want to go next.
Mount Elmore State Park
Now, most Sterling students are at least somewhat familiar with Elmore. But instead of entirely focusing on the obvious features of the area, like the fire tower, I wanted to photograph the actual trails leading up to it. Because sometimes, people forget that the journey often matters more than the destination. There is an entrance fee, but for one adult, it’s only four dollars, and the price increase for groups isn’t too drastic, so this is an affordable adventure.
Lamoille Valley Rail Trail
The Lamoille Valley Rail Trail runs through Waterville, Johnson, Hyde Park, and Morrisville. I visited the Morrisville section, which wasn’t the most naturally striking locale on this list, but it was interesting enough for me to check out. Now, the trail might be a bit more interesting for those who are biking it, but it is designed for a number of activities, including hiking, snow shoeing, and other winter activities. Because Vermont loves it’s winter activities. The Morrisville section starts in Oxbow Park, which is in itself a
pleasant little area. The trail on this section follows along the river, which you can slip into if you can find an open path to it.
Mill Trail and Bingham Falls
Located in Stowe, the Mill Trail snakes its way through and past Bingham Falls. Close to the start of the Mill Trail, a shorter path leads to the riverside and an old sawmill. Entry is free and the hike, while simple, is beautiful. Bingham Falls is a series of waterfalls that cascades over the rocky riverside. At any point, you can get off the main trail and look out over the falls and even take a swim in some accessible pools. You know, just don’t jump in. You’ll know the safe spots when you see them.
Sunset Ridge, Mount Mansfield and Underhill State Park
Sunset Ridge is a trail leading up to Mount Mansfield, located in Underhill State Park. Well, technically, it’s in the Mount Mansfield State Forest, but it is accessible through the park and a few trails in Stowe. Underhill State Park itself offers some camping, with a fee, of course. If you just want to park your car and take a hike, one adult day pass is only four dollars, just like in Elmore. Taking the Eagles Cut Trail leads you to Mount Mansfield State Forest. From there, you can chose whatever path you want to take.
You can take the CCC Road to three different trails, or head the other way to take the Sunset Ridge Trail or the Laura Cowles Trail. Sunset Ridge takes you on an optional detour to Cantilever Rock, a unique feature which juts out from the cliffs and a stunning view of the land below. Obviously, there’s quite a bit of uphill travel, but I would classify it as a moderate hike. Not too challenging, but enjoyable and rewarding. The Laura Cowles Trail is a bit more difficult, because of its rocky and steep terrain. If you take it up, you might have to do some climbing and rock scrambling. If you take it down from the summit, like I did, you just have to take it slow and steady.
Whichever trail you take, eventually you will find yourself in the alpine zone. There, it is extremely important to stay on the trail. Plant life in alpine zones take a long time to grow back because of the harsh, exposed conditions and the low temperatures. You’ll receive plenty of reminders on the way up. The summit of Mount Mansfield is awe-inspiringly beautiful, so I highly recommend this one. The Long Trail connects up on the summit, along with a bad weather bypass. I’ve heard many people talk about Mansfield, but usually in the context of winter activities. But this mountain is beautiful all year round, so I thought it was important to include here.
Like Mount Mansfield, Camel’s Hump is also fairly well known around here, but it is often mentioned only in conversation about winter activities. However, I found Camel’s Hump to be an enjoyable hike even in the summer time. Although the hike is easier than both ways up Mount Mansfield and the summit isn’t quite as high, going all the way up is highly rewarding for the gorgeous view. Monroe Trail is the main path up to the summit, named after noted educator Will Seymour Monroe. There are numerous connections to the Long Trail and a few other trails and areas. Right before reaching the summit, you’ll find an open area which connects to a number of trails, including the Long Trail. Also like Mansfield, you’ll be entering an alpine zone, so be careful where you step.
North Branch Cascades
This may be the most obscure place on this list, because I merely stumbled upon it one day. Only a short drive from Elmore State Park, the North Branch Cascades is easily overlooked. I only noticed it because a parking and trail sign on the side of the road. Even then, I did not know the name or nature of the trail until I pulled up to the trailhead. There are three parking areas and trailheads for North Branch, all very small. Even at the trailheads, I didn’t see much information regarding trail mileage or history, but what I discovered was a pleasant, easy trail following a river with quite a few swimming spots. The land is maintained by the Vermont River Conservancy, a nonprofit land trust which works on protecting numerous bodies of water and the land around them across Vermont. They promote swimming, paddling, and fishing in many of the waters they protect. And if North Branch is any indication, the VRC appears to be doing a fine job.
I hope you enjoyed the pictures and learned something new about these areas. As I stated in the intro, this was not meant to be an exhaustively comprehensive look into each and every area listed. This was simply meant to inspire others to look into these places themselves. A little incentive, if you will. It’s up to you to get out there and explore. See the sights, learn, and enjoy. This is just a sample of what Vermont has to offer. If you live here as a student, faculty member, or if you are just visiting, feel free to use this adventure guide as a jumping off point to plan your own adventure.
Remember to be safe, respect the land and each other, and never stop exploring. See you on the trail.