Daytripping in Vermont's Green Mountain National Forest

Southern Vermont's Green Mountain National Forest region is perfect for roadtripping. If you live anywhere in western MA, eastern upstate NY, NH, or VT, then you don't even need to spend a night in a hotel in order to escape for a day to this pristine, scenic region.


Daytripping in Vermont's Green Mountain National Forest

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by funrun_9602 on March 8, 2005

When in Vermont, a loosely planned drive is the best way to experience the greatness of the Green Mountains. If you see something intriguing (which you certainly will), you can’t properly enjoy it from 55 mph; you must take the time to stop and experience it all.

Southern Vermont’s roads wind through a variety of ecological systems and elevations, helping to make this area one of the nation's premier destinations to see fall colors. In addition, many small towns dot the perimeter of the Green Mountains. Most of them offer handmade crafts, homemade foods, real antiques, and the sense of raw "pioneerism" that many other New England towns have lost to creeping commercialization. Thankfully, glowing Golden Arches shall never compromise Vermont’s picturesque sky; the state passed legislation in the 1970s that prohibits billboards and excessively tall, large, or glowing signs.

As the birthplace and home of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, you can find B&J products that you never knew existed in almost any gas station or grocery store in the state. You might also drive by (or stop at) one of the many freestanding Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream parlors in the state.

The Appalachian Trail crosses a few "major" roads, and each has roadside parking near the trailhead. Serious hikers on multi-day hikes use the nearby town of Bennington (Vermont’s second-largest town) to shower, eat, sleep, and restock supplies.

Driving enthusiasts will love raw Vermont’s combinations of steep inclines, sharp switchbacks, generous curves, smooth, open roads, and more old, wooden covered bridges than any other state.

Whether you enjoy scenic vistas, short hikes, shopping, or homemade foods, the Green Mountains region is a great place for a free-spirited drive. ${QuickSuggestions} The Green Mountain National Forest website will give you an idea of what you can do in the area. A current detailed map is necessary for real exploring, because it’s easy to get lost on winding mountain roads—and you can’t count on your cell phone to have a signal out here, or on a house with a land phone to be within reach. To find a detailed regional map, you’ll likely have to go to a local gas station or travel office. Also, many businesses in most of the small towns carry free cartoon-esque maps that are drawn with all their downtown roads, attractions, and businesses—very handy for locating good shopping and eating. . .

. . . and gas stations. Gas is usually cheaper in "these parts" than in any city within a 2-hour drive, so you can afford to drive, drive, drive and fill up before you head home! ${BestWay} Public transportation is not available here; you must drive your own vehicle or rent one from whichever major airport you come from. If you are the adventurous driving type, like me, you will get the most enjoyment out of a manual-shifting car that is engineered with torque for steep inclines, precision steering for sharp turns, a good suspension system for off-roading, and horsepower for passing slow trucks, and is small enough to fit on single-lane, covered bridges. If you plan on camping, an RV or camper trailer is fine, but please be courteous to the string of cars that will form behind you—pull over every so often to let them pass.

In the small towns, walking is the best transportation. Most of these small towns aren't even big enough to accommodate a bike ride. Parking is usually in ample supply near businesses, and it's free all day.


Stewart's

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by funrun_9602 on August 8, 2005

I was initially drawn to Stewart's Shop because their gas was three cents cheaper than the cheapest gas I’d seen in weeks. I was also intrigued because the place looked old-fashioned (dusty wooden building) and the Stewart’s sign looked like the famous root beer label. But this is not a store for Stewart's old-fashioned root beer—forget root beer—this is Stewart's convenience store and ice-cream parlor, with prices that’ll take you back a decade or three.

When was the last time you paid $0.99 for an ice-cream cone with a big ol’ scoop of creamy, premium ice cream? And extra scoops were just $0.50? Well, that’s exactly what you’ll get at Stewart’s. They make their own brand of ice cream using local farmer’s milk. You can choose from 48 unique flavors like Raspberry Velvet and Crumbs Along the Mohawk, and samples are free. For $2.25, a two-scoop, make-your-own sundae is the deal of this millennium. A self-serve sundae bar offers every topping imaginable, from cherries to Oreo crumbs to raspberry sauce, and you can pile on as much of as many toppings as you want! Oh, and don’t forget that extra scoops are still only $0.50. How can the owner be making a profit with this?! I need a Stewart’s in my neighborhood!

If all this talk of old-fashioned ice cream and prices has you reminiscing about soda fountains, well, don’t despair, Stewart’s has ice-cream sodas and root beer floats, too! The milkshakes are massive, and of course, you can also order a banana split.

Incredibly, and even better for me, Stewart’s is a 300-store franchise in the eastern New York–southwestern Vermont area. All the locations I have seen have the same, dusty, old-fashioned aesthetic and prices. Not all of the Stewart’s Shops are attached to gas stations, but when they are, the gas is always undoubtedly the cheapest within many miles. By the way, that Raspberry Velvet ice cream really does have a unique, ultra-smooth, velvety texture that is absolutely amazing.

Stewart's Shop
713 Main St.
Bennington, Vermont, 05201
(802) 442-8992

Appalachian Trail: Harmon Hill

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by funrun_9602 on August 5, 2005

My prior hiking experience was… um, do paved park trails or a wooded backyard count? I’ll let you decide. I was not physically in shape like I was in high school. I’ve never owned hiking boots; I wore old running sneakers. I didn’t bring bug spray. I carried only a backpack with a water bottle, digital camera, iPod, cell phone (no signal), and the digital photo I had taken of the trailhead sign and map.

I conquered Harmon Hill—well, I mean, I conquered the really steep incline part.

I would do it again under the same circumstances.

I am unscarred proof that an educated beginner can hike the Appalachian Trail at Harmon Hill in a few hours with minimal problems. Practically, this is not a trail for just any beginner, especially children, elderly, the overweight, or those with joint or breathing problems. If you have the desire, comfortable walking shoes, water, and basic woods and hiking knowledge, you should be able to hike Harmon Hill, too.

When I parked in the parking lot, I had no real idea what I was getting myself into. The words and numbers on the sign at the trailhead meant very little to me. From my high-school cross-country running days, I knew that I could still walk 3.6 miles round-trip, but elevation measurements meant nothing to this Midwestern flatlands girl.

Crossing Route 9 and entering the dense woods, I started up a fairly average dirt trail marked by white paint blazes about every 10 seconds. A few seconds in, I was walking up a never-ending stream of irregular, white stones, which formed a narrow, jumbled staircase. I spent a lot of time wondering how either nature or humans could create such a stream of exposed stones in these otherwise dense, green woods, covered in rich soil. What I also didn't know was that I was pretty much right about the never-ending part. The stone steps go all the way to the top, with even steeper sections waiting ahead.

When the trail finally leveled out, the stones ended, the trees thinned out, and the dirt trail resumed. I thought I was at the summit of Harmon Hill, but I saw no sign or hint of a clearing with a view. At least 30 minutes later, I was still walking on endless, flat land. I checked the time on my cell and decided that I needed to turn back so that I wouldn’t have to deal with depleting sunlight.

I couldn't believe I took 2 hours to walk about 3 miles. Days later, I learned that an old neighbor of mine had just completed hiking the entire Appalachian Trail, which he started in Georgia. In his journal, he commented that Harmon Hill was one of the longest, steepest sections he had hiked. So, I suppose if you can conquer Harmon Hill, then you'll have no problem with other parts of the Appalachian Trail!

Appalacian Trail
Throughout Manchester
Manchester, Vermont

Emerald Lake State Park

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by funrun_9602 on August 15, 2005

As my new roommate and I drove into Vermont for the first time, I scoured a map in hopes of finding a scenic destination. We brought equipment for hiking and photography, so a public park with a water feature seemed ideal to me. The name "Emerald Lake State Park" sounded like what I was hoping for.

Emerald Lake was situated in a narrow valley that hugged the highway, a stream, and a railroad track together. At the park gatehouse, a teenager told us to pay $5. We asked about activities, and he told us plenty of old marble quarrying and logging trails provided endless hiking, so we paid and took a trail map.

After a quick walk from the parking lot along a fairytale-esque trickling stream, we marveled to discover absolute truth in the name "Emerald Lake". We chose a loop trail that followed the lake’s perimeter and then crossed the highway onto a hill.

Since so many families were camping in the area, I expected the trails to be well-worn, leisurely walks. Our trail was barely worn, and the part around the lake’s edge was covered in uneven rocks. At one point, the trail was nothing but two wooden beams stuck in a bog. After walking around two-thirds of the lake, the trail seemed to end in the weeds near the railroad tracks. We figured we could use our map to pick the trail up on the other side of the highway, so we made our way up a ravine, over the railroad tracks, over a guardrail, and across the highway.

Standing in the highway shoulder in front of the sun-scorched, grass-covered hill, this hill felt more like a mountainous cliff than when we had first drove past. Odder yet, we couldn’t find any trail marker or worn path showing us the way up. We started walking up the road toward the park entrance, then turned and looked back. I noticed something different. From this angle, an exposed dirt ledge the width of a bicycle tire was visible in the grass. Several feet up, a short pole marked the path as if it was a bona fide trail. As insane as it seemed, trail blazes on trees farther up assured us that this was the trail marked on our map.

The mountain was covered in a thick canopy of leaves, but the forest floor was so open and clear that we lost the trail and had to backtrack. Occasionally, the trail neared steep ledges, providing us with overhead views of sunlight sparkling off emerald waters in front of the opposite green mountain. Here’s a true aerial view.

This trail was way more of an adventurous hike than I had hoped for, but this experience was the driving force that gave me the confidence to hike the Appalachian Trail at Harmon Hill a few weeks later.

Note: Emerald Lake State Park is only open May 26–October 15.

Emerald Lake State Park
65 Emerald Lake Lane
East Dorset, Vermont, 05253
(802) 362-1655

Green Mountain National Forest

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by funrun_9602 on August 15, 2005

Folklore, old history, Green Mountain men, fall leaves, lush greenery, and the sight of real mountains got a young Ohio girl daydreaming during history class about what the Green Mountain National Forest (GMNF) in Vermont would be like to visit. As a college student now, I can’t tell you with any certainty exactly what I learned about Vermont back then, but I can tell you that I never completely forgot that I dreamed of going there. After I moved to western Massachusetts for the summer of 2003, I realized that Vermont was now a mere hour’s drive away, and even better, the nearest place that I recognized on the map was GMNF.

After my first Vermont weekend road trip with my new roommate gave me a somewhat restricted sample of what Vermont was really like, I knew I had to come back on my own and just wander the wilderness. I probably spent at least six Saturdays or Sundays aimlessly driving around and exploring the bottom third of Vermont, eighty percent of which is encompassed by the GMNF.

I never went to Vermont with a solid itinerary. With a map and a general direction in mind, I just drove in whatever direction pulled me most. One day I felt like getting some exercise, so I headed toward the Appalachian Trail. If I felt like shopping, I would take a road with a lot of small towns near it. If I felt like enjoying scenery, I looked for a road to a mountain peak. A lot can be inferred from a good map.

Green Mountain National Forest is so large that it encompasses more than just natural parkland and campsites. Small towns with antiques, unique shops, and original general stores with penny candy and homemade baked goods are the gems of the region. You never know when you’ll turn around a forested corner, cross an original wooden covered bridge, and find a local farmer selling his own Vermont honey, maple syrup, or cheese from an honor box the end of his driveway.

The national forest itself is dotted with many roadside day parks with any combination of picnic tables, latrines, and grills. I noticed very few people taking advantage of these roadside parks, so you shouldn’t have a hard time finding one all for yourself. Of course, camping by tent or RV is available in designated areas. A few outfitters rent canoes, kayaks, and boats for the many streams and small lakes, or you can bring your own boat. Hunting and fishing requires a permit. Every length of hiking trail imaginable crosses through some part of GMNF; Long Trail and Appalachian Trail are the most famous ones. Some trails can be used for mountain biking, day hiking, backpacking, and horseback riding. In the winter, people can cross country ski, snowmobile, and snowshoe. A few farms also offer horse drawn sleigh rides when the snow is deep enough.

Green Mountain National Forest

Southwestern Vermont

Mount Equinox

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by funrun_9602 on September 6, 2005

How many places in the world can offer a view of five or more mountain ranges? I can't imagine there are many, but I know of at least one: Mount Equinox. On a clear day, the Green, White, Adirondack, Berkshire, and Taconic mountain ranges are within view. At an elevation of 3,848 feet, Mt. Equinox is the highest peak in the Taconic Mountain range, which defines the border between New York and Vermont. The summit is an easy drive (for a mountain road) on the longest privately owned paved toll road in the US—the Mount Equinox Skyline Drive. This 5.2-mile drive goes up 3,235 feet of sharp turns and steep sections of road, making a powerful car engine a handy thing to have.

From the summit, a nearly 360-degree view beckons people to the edge of the stone walls surrounding the parking lot and desolate summit inn. Still intact but locked up, the inn has an air of mystery that conjours images of ole grandeur. Peering in the windows was akin to watching a scene from "Titanic," wherein the underwater view of the deteriorating ship fades into the same view of its original glory.

I hiked from the summit parking lot northeast to the Trail to Lookout Rock, which is marked as a beginner trail of .02 miles. This trail started behind the inn and went into the pine forest, where I hiked for a very long time over uneven white rocks poking out of the dark, fertile soil. Immediately, I wondered if I was following the right path. I couldn't comprehend how anyone would consider this bumpy mess a beginner trail. I also highly doubt the trail was only .02 miles, since I was hiking for at least 20 minutes.

Despite failing my expectations on these posted trail facts, the trail exceeded my expectations of a usual dull walk in the woods. The most striking thing was the powerful smell of real, fresh pine. I quickly understood why someone thought to capture the scent in car air fresheners, but it’s too bad they failed to get it right. The density of the forest was also beyond my belief; I could only see a few feet off the trail and then everything was dark. The view from Lookout Rock was also amazing. There I sat on a bench on the edge of a cliff and watched a tiny, white-steepled town change under the shadows of passing clouds. This spot is perhaps the closest thing to what it must be like to look down from heaven, a distant place enveloped in total peace, where time moves slowly in the sun, with no unnatural sounds to interrupt your thoughts and the sweet smells of nature under your nose.

Tolls
$7 car and driver
$2 per passenger
$6 motorcycle and driver
$2 per passenger
(Children under 12 are free.)

Note: The toll road is open 9am to dusk, May 1st to October 31st, weather permitting.

Equinox Skyline Drive Toll House
Route 7a
Manchester, Vermont, 05254
(802) 362-1115

http://www.igougo.com/journal-j40694-Vermont-Daytripping_in_Vermonts_Green_Mountain_National_Forest.html

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