Luxury Hiking Vermont

Northern Vermont - Highest Peaks and Best Ice Cream
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We decided to begin our Vermont hiking adventure in Stowe, located significantly at the base of the state's highest mountain, Mount Mansfield (4,393 feet).

Rising with the sun the next morning in our comfortable mountainside condo at the Stowe Mountain Resort, we examined our options for getting to the top of Mount Mansfield. The easiest way would be take the resort's Toll Road to a parking lot near the top from which it's a pleasant two-mile walk along the ridges to the summit. We could hike up the Long Trail from route 108 or the more difficult Sunset Ridge Trail from Underhill State Park on the opposite side of the mountain. But we chose what we thought would be an easier climb. We took advantage of the Stowe gondola to do the majority of the uphill for us. From its upper station, the one-and-a-half mile Cliff Trail leads to the top.

As it turned out, this is not the wimp route, but a challenging option. It's more of a rock scramble than a hike. The trail traverses the narrow Cave of the Winds, a cleft between two cliffs. Finding the right hand hold was sometimes tricky, and I knew that coming back down this way was out of the question because of the steepness and the exposure.

However, the climb is definitely worth the effort, because on top is a wonderful solid granite ridge, which covers the mountain for several miles north and south. The elevation gives delightful views of Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks beyond. It's a popular spot with families who come up on the Toll Road, as well as hardy Long Trail backpackers. Between the rocks grows rare tundra-like, arctic-alpine vegetation, and hikers are asked to keep their feet on the rocks.

Mount Mansfield's highest spot is called the Chin. Here, a Green Mountain Club "caretaker" in a green t-shirt and cap answers hiker's questions, advises people to walk on the rocks, and takes pictures of couples and families who want a souvenir of themselves on the top.

As Tony and I ate our lunch in the shelter of a bolder, we watched the clouds roll in from the west. The clouds' "fingers" seemed to reach for the valleys until Lake Champlain was hidden behind a curtain of white mist.

We hiked south along the ridge, over the "Nose" and the "Forehead" until we reached the summit of the Toll Road. From there, the fastest way down seemed to be a ski trail named Nosedive. By the time we reached the bottom, my thighs were burning. But I can now brag that I've done a double-black-diamond trail.

The day's exertions called for a special dinner, so we headed back up on the gondola to dine at the Cliff House, the gourmet restaurant on the mountain. Restaurant critics like to say, "the better the view, the worse the food." In the case of Cliff House, the axiom is definitely false. We enjoyed a fine meal of a crabcake appetizer, Caesar salad, rack of lamb, and chocolate mousse for $35 per person including the gondola ride.

The next day we drove through the pass called Smugglers' Notch, where Route 108 narrows to one lane as it twists around gigantic boulders. We parked next to Smugglers' Cave, in which Vermonters hid smuggled goods from Canada during the War of 1812. From there we hiked the Long Trail to Sterling Pond followed by a walk on Elephant's Head Trail, making a loop back to the road.

Although it had not rained in several days, the first impression on this hike alongside a flowing stream is that of constant moisture. The steep path is lined with banks of thick, moist moss. Occasionally, bright orange mushrooms and white "Indian pipe" flowers break through the blanket of green. From the Elephant's Head Trail, we had clear views of Mount Mansfield on the other side of the valley and could better understand how it got its name. The mountaintop is in the shape of a man's head in profile with the chin, nose, lips, and forehead clearly outlined.

Back in our car, we headed south on Route 100 through the town of Waterbury. A must stop in this village (especially after all our hard work!) is Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Factory. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield have become Vermont legends since they started dishing out rich scoops of Heath Bar Crunch and Cherry Garcia more than a decade ago. There are half-hour tours throughout the day with a brief film giving the company's history and philosophy and free samples at the end. The company store sells an "udderly" amazing amount of items decorated in cow motif.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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