Mount Mansfield Ridge
GOOD FOR: All Ages
RATING:


Source:Outdoors with Kids Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont (AMC Books)
Address:Toll Road, Stowe
Hours:No posted hours, Memorial Day weekend–October 19
Fee: Contact Stowe Mountain Resort for current Auto Toll Road fees
Contact:

Underhill State Park, 802-899-3022, vtstateparks.com/htm/underhill.htm; Stowe Mountain Resort (Auto Toll Road information), 888-253-4849 (toll-free), 802-253-3000, stowe.com/activities/summer/auto-toll-road

Bathrooms: At base area and summit station
Water/Snacks: At base area and summit station
Map:

USGS Mount Mansfield quad; Mount Mansfield and the Worcester Range Hiking Trail Map (Green Mountain Club)


After an easy drive, this ridge-top trail winds through alpine tundra to the highest point in Vermont for breathtaking views—all for minimal effort.

Unlike most of the trips in this book, which depend 100 percent on human power to get to the final destination, this option gives people of all abilities the chance to experience the alpine splendor of Vermont’s highest peak.

Driving the historic Auto Toll Road does require a hefty toll; check with Stowe Mountain Resort for current prices. While parking at a trailhead at the bottom of a mountain is usually far less expensive if not free, paying the toll to get up the road has its advantages and may be the only way some families will be able to experience this part of the world. Driving the road is an exhilarating experience in itself, as it winds its way up the steep flanks of Mount Mansfield. Once the car reaches the summit station, your 2.4-mile round-trip hike is completely above treeline. The car does all of the heavy lifting; your family gets to just soak it up and enjoy it.

If you view the mountain’s profile from the east or the west, the summit ridge resembles an elongated facial profile, with a distinct forehead, nose, chin—and even an Adam’s apple. You will be hiking right over the Nose and up to the Chin, the highest point on the mountain at 4,393 feet. Your overall elevation gain and drop is just 500 feet; this route requires surprisingly little effort to get to such an exposed and beautiful place.

From the summit station near the Nose, park and head north on Summit Ridge Trail (part of the Long Trail that goes the entire length of the state) toward the Chin.

The hike along this exposed ridge takes you through hundreds of acres of alpine tundra, an ecosystem that is very rare in New England. Vermont only has three peaks that harbor this ecosystem (Camels Hump, Mount Abraham, and Mount Mansfield). It is characterized by a complete lack of trees, and very limited plant growth. Because the conditions are so harsh in alpine zones with wind, ice, and cold temperatures, it takes hundreds of years for soils to form from eroded rocks, and then hundreds more for grasses and sedges to take
root. Wildflowers, lichens, and low shrubs may form as well. Given how long it takes vegetation to establish itself in tundra landscapes, it is very important that all hikers—no matter how small—stick to the established trails so as not to disturb this very fragile environment.

The treeless ridge treats you to wide-open expansive views for the entire hike, so take your time and soak it in. The summit at the Chin provides 360-degree views of Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, and Lake Champlain. The landscape is simply astounding.

For adventurous souls who travel above treeline for extended periods, properly prepare yourself and your family with warm layers, wind protection, and rain gear. Weather can change quickly here and the effects can be dangerous and devastating. Each year, hundreds of hikers in alpine zones get hypothermia in summer months due to being unprepared for storms, rain, and high winds on these exposed ridges. Keep an eye out for lightning storms and retreat quickly if you see lightning anywhere in the vicinity, as exposed ridge tops are the last place you want to be in a lightning storm.

Plan B:

Bingham Falls is just up VT 108 from the Toll Road. A 0.25-mile hike leads to stunning waterfalls with some shallow swimmable holes below the main fall. Expect big crowds here, but it’s a beautiful spot nonetheless.

You’ll also find excellent swimming at Fosters, a deep pool in the West Branch Little River on Notchbrook Road, 0.25 mile from VT 108. The pool is chock-full of brook trout, and you can try to catch them with your hands where they hide behind the falls.

Where to Eat Nearby:

Stowe Village is home to many cafés, bagel shops, pizza places, and delis.



PHOTO GALLERY




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