Green Mountain National Forest Overview
|Green Mountain National Forest (James Randklev/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty)|
Now and again, even urbanites need to escape to a pocket of wilderness for a breath of fresh air. In the Northeast, the Green Mountain state is revered as a rough-cut refuge from city life. Find out why. Explore sugar maple, white birch, and conifer forests on the same paths that Native Americans and French/Canadian fur trappers traversed. Test your bike-handling skills on the rocks and roots of 19th-century carriage paths gone to seed. And ski narrow, twisty trails that tumble down the mountainsides' natural contours like spring-fed streams, but make sure to watch out for patches of rock and black ice.
The Green Mountain National Forest follows the backbone of Vermont north from the Massachusetts border for 100 miles and goes all the way to Appalachian Gap. Within its boundaries are cold streams and beaver ponds famous for brook and rainbow-trout fishing; the Long Trail, a tramper's treasure; a latticework of remote forest roads and old logging roads, all perfect for mountain biking, cross-country skiing, or simple scenic drives; and major alpine ski areas from Stratton to Sugarbush.
As anyone who's driven Route 100 during foliage season can testify, the proximity of such a special place to the homes of millions can make certain quarters of the forest feel a bit cramped at times. But despair not. Seek ye a quiet corner of the Green Mountainsa lush, green ravine haunted by wood thrushes; a windswept ledge along the Long Trail; an arm of the Somerset Reservoir you'll share with none but a bull mooseand let these old Appalachian hills work their magic on you.
Backpack the Long Trail
The Long Trail, a rugged, 270-mile footpath along the ridge of the Green Mountains, is the oldest long-distance trail in the nation. In its southern reaches it coincides with the Appalachian Trail; north of Rutland the AT forks off to the east, and the northbound LT grows narrower, wilder, and somehow more wonderful. There's no finer way to see the Greens than to walk a stretch of the LT; you can access it from the gap roads or via side trails that ascend to the ridgeline. There are shelters—both open-front lean-tos and cabins—for hikers along the trail, spaced a day's hike apart. Our favorite section? Vermont's own Presidential Range, which runs from Middlebury Gap (Route 125) through Appalachian Gap (Route 17); much of this section runs along steep-sided, knife-edge ridges. When the sun's out expansive views open up on the 'Dacks on the west and the White Mountains to the east; when the mountains are socked in and cloud tendrils weave among the upper-elevation dark spruce forests, the scene takes on a Narnia-like quality.
Two-Wheel the Woods
There are also a number of quiet dirt roads in the national forest that make for mellow, sublime mountain-bike trips. Bicycles may be ridden on gravel Forest Service roads when those roads are not posted closed to bikes. There are also several good mountain-bike rides on U.S. Forest Service roads that are smooth, gently graded dirt roads not maintained in the winter. They were originally intended for access to the backcountry by Forest Service employees, but now they are used mostly to reach recreational areas such as hiking trailheads. We recommend the Natural Turnpike and Steamill Hill Roads, an easy to moderate 23-mile loop.
For more aggressive riders, Mt. Snow turns into a downhiller's paradise when the snows recede. The Minnie Baker Trail, the singletrack Leicester Hollow Trail, Hogback Mountain, and Silver Lake Trail are trails that are designated open to off-road bicycles.
Strap on the Planks
Despite all the moans of late about the global-warming-related decline of New England skiing, Vermont still has the best snow in the Northeast, and its better ski hills have an appeal way beyond the middling expectations their vertical and average snowfall figures would indicate. Major resorts on or bordering forest-service lands are Mt. Snow, Stratton, Okemo, Killington, Pico, Sugarbush, and the mythic Mad River Glen.
Cross-country skiing is an ingrained part of the Vermont lifestyle. There are many cross-country areas with groomed trails in and adjacent to the national forest; for skiers willing to break away from established trails, terrain for skiing is virtually limitless. The Catamount Trail extends the length of the state, north to south. About 60 percent of this trail is open for skiing, with inns and bed-and-breakfasts spaced one day's ski apart. Many other opportunities are available on unplowed roads, logging roads, hiking trails, and the innumerable snowmobile trails that ply the forest. And don't forget bushwhacking, an alternative for skiers trying to get away from the beaten (or skied) path to find solitude and untouched beauty.
Drown a Worm (or Cast a Dry-Fly)
Rainbow, brook, and brown trout are stocked and plentiful in the chain of fishing spots that laces through the forest. Most of the popular fishing spots are located in the Middlebury area. They include the New Haven river, Beaver Meadows, Alder Brook, North, South, and Middle Branch, Middlebury River Narrows, Silver Lake, Goshen Dam, and Steam Mill Brook. Lake Dunmore and Chittenden Reservoir provide the most diversified fishing in the area. Land-locked salmon and lake trout plus various warm water species all are found in abundance in these great bodies of water.
Dip a Paddle
The Winooski, the Lamoille, and Lemon Fair are three rivers that cut through the Green Mountains and flow into Lake Champlain. The Lamoille is a good bet for some good paddling; it goes from flatwater to class III during its 47-mile progression to Lake Champlain from the town of Johnson. This is an eventful trip that passes through the second deepest trench in the Green Mountain range, some runnable rapids, and a pleasant, island-studded lake. The Lamoille is also a classic trout stream and has earned a reputation as one of Vermont's premier fishing spots. For flatwater trips, there's some great canoe camping at Harriman and Somerset reservoirs.
Keep in mind that Vermont is a small state, and there are plenty of other paddling opportunities, many not more than a few minute's drive away. Good paddling can also be found at Batten Kill, Otter Creek, the Missiquoi, the Connecticut, and the White river.
See Fall's Fireworks
Vermont's annual fall-color extravaganza is, of course, so overexposed that you'd think the very color of the leaves ought to look washed out by now. Every year Route 100 and Route 7 are clogged with RVs and busloads of leaf-peepers, a source of quiet grumbling among the locals (no one wants to kill the golden goose).
Aside from rural traffic jams, however, autumn in Vermont is worth seeing, over and over. It's not just the color—sugar, red, and silver maples; birches; oaks; apple trees; ash; cherry; all a million shades of yellow, red, and purple against the evergreens. It's the snap in the air; the V-formations of Canada geese overhead; the racket of the wind rattling countless bone-dry leaves. You can get away from the masses at spots like the Robert Frost Memorial Drive on State Route 125 or the Kelley Stand Road from Arlington to West Wardsboro; trailheads from both of these roads lead to some of the more picture-perfect beaver ponds, mountain views, and boulder-strewn streams in the forest.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication