An inside look at the hiking scene in Southern Vermont
STORY BY BENJAMIN LERNER
“The best thing about hiking is the people that you meet along the way,” muses Matt Derrickson, as he reclines in a wooden chair outside of a packed eatery in downtown Manchester. Several other hikers surround him as he speaks, sharing stories of adventures past as they take inventory of their supplies. “My girlfriend and I started our journey up at the Canadian border at the northern end of the Long Trail,” says Derrickson. “We met some other hikers several dozen miles north of here at the juncture of the Appalachian Trail and the Long Trail near Rutland. They were coming down through Vermont from Maine. We’ve been hiking together for the last few days, and we’ve had a really great time. We’re going to finish our trip down at the Massachusetts border at the southern end of the Long Trail, and they’re going to keep going and follow the Appalachian trail even further down south.”
Derrickson is an accomplished hiker who has been active in the trail hiking scene for years. He has also served as a “Ridge Runner” for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. “I would hike for five days at a time when I was working as a Ridge Runner,” recalls Derrickson. “I would take notes on the number of people I saw camping during that time, whether or not they were picking up their trash, and whether there were any downed trees or other hazards that were present around the trails. I would file weekly reports and send them off to the conservancy, who would catalogue the reports, prioritize the work that needed to be done to maintain the trail, and then delegate the work to various trail crews and volunteer groups in different areas. The Appalachian Trail spans over 2,200 miles and passes through 14 states, and there’s an amazing community of hikers that put in a lot of hard work to keep it beautiful.”
According to Derrickson, Vermont is a wonderful place to hike due to the fact that it has two legendary trails that run through it: the Appalachian Trail and the Long Trail. The Appalachian Trail bisects the state of Vermont and heads eastward towards Maine northeast of Rutland. The Long Trail starts at the bottom end of the state just north of Williamstown, Massachusetts, and ends at the Canadian border. The Long Trail and the Appalachian Trail follow the same path in the southwestern part of the state, which is one of the reasons why Derrickson believes that Southern Vermont is an ideal convergence point for hikers.
Derrickson elaborates: “You’ll come across people who are just starting their journey on the Long Trail heading northward, and you’ll meet others who have been hiking the Appalachian trail since way down in Georgia. You’ll also meet southward-bound travelers who are coming close to finishing up their journeys on the Long Trail, and you’ll find other hikers who are continuing southward on the Appalachian Trail. Everyone is at a different place in their journey, and it’s a lot of fun to hear other people’s stories. No matter where you find yourself in your travels, it’s always good to come back to civilization to recharge your batteries. Over the years, I’ve found the Manchester community to be very welcoming to hikers. There are some great day-hiking spots around here, too. There’s also a great hiking hostel just outside of town called the Green Mountain House. I’ve stayed there several times myself.”
Tucked away on a quiet corner of Richville Road, the Green Mountain House hiking hostel has been welcoming trail hikers making their way through the Green Mountain State since it first opened its doors in 2008. Walking through the house, the stairway walls are decorated with photographs of happy hikers at all stages in their journeys. The den features a comfortable couch where hikers congregate to relax in front of the television. Across the room, there is a board where guests sign their “trail names” in erasable marker. “Many hikers have ‘trail names’ that are either given to them by other hikers or that they come up with themselves,” says owner and founder Jeff Taussig.
The kitchen at the Green Mountain House is spacious and inviting, with beautiful prints of highly-detailed trail maps of legendary hiking trails from all around the country. Outside, a collage of license plates from states that the Appalachian trail runs through stands next to an interwoven mass of old hiking shoes. According to Taussig, the shoes were left there as a symbolic token of gratitude by hikers who have stayed there in the past. “The best thing about running this place is getting to know all of the people who come to stay here,” says Taussig. “It’s also very fulfilling to know that I’m helping them get some much-needed rest before they resume their journey.”
As an avid hiker himself, Taussig goes above and beyond to accommodate the range of unique and specialized needs of visiting hikers who come to the Green Mountain House. “A lot of hikers are on a budget, so they don’t want to spend too much money on a hotel room,” notes Taussig. “When they come in, they’re usually hungry, they’re tired, and they need to wash their clothes. We have an industrial washer and dryer, a fully-functional kitchen for them to cook in, and we also sell ice cream on-site for a low price. The first pint you buy is just a dollar. It’s important to have some calorie-rich foods after a long hike.”
In addition to providing a hospitable environment for his guests, Taussig also operates a pickup service for hikers who come to stay at the Green Mountain House. “If a hiker who is going to be staying with us calls and tells us that they’re in the center of town, we’ll go and pick them up. We want them to save their energy for the trail, and we’re happy to meet them wherever they are in Manchester.” Taussig adds that hikers who stay at the Green Mountain House often end up stocking up on new gear at The Mountain Goat in Manchester, an outdoor goods store which has faithfully served the hiking community in Manchester for several decades.
Located on Main Street in Downtown Manchester, The Mountain Goat is a charming and well-stocked shop with product offerings that appeal to the sensibilities of both casual hikers and avid outdoor enthusiasts. The atmosphere is open and inviting, and the walls behind the sales counters are decked out with rows of fascinating high-end hiking accessories. Owners Anne and Ron Houser opened The Mountain Goat shortly after moving to Vermont over three decades ago in 1987, and they have built a dedicated following of returning clients thanks to their exemplary customer service and dedication to the local hiking scene.
Anne Houser’s passion for her work is deeply rooted in her personal connection to the Southwestern Vermont hiking community. Houser has hiked almost every part of the Long Trail, and has also played a pivotal role in the process of cementing Manchester as an officially-recognized “Appalachian Trail Community.”
“The Appalachian Trail Conservancy gives special recognition to communities that are supportive and hospitable to hikers who come through the area,” explains Houser. “It feels good to know that the work that we have done here at The Mountain Goat – and out in the local community – has played a crucial part in providing resources and amenities for hikers that come to Manchester.”
Houser adds that in addition to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the Green Mountain Club has also gone above and beyond to build, maintain and clean Vermont’s beloved Long Trail. “The Green Mountain Club is a fantastic organization that maintains the Long Trail throughout the state,” says Houser. “I love to go hiking on Vermont’s trails, so I’m grateful to live in a state with such a dedicated community of volunteers and hiking enthusiasts.”
Anne and Ron Houser’s steadfast commitment to the Southern Vermont hiking community is manifested in The Mountain Goat’s “Favorite Day Hikes and Backcountry Adventures” pamphlets. Providing an insightful look at some of Southern Vermont’s most beloved hiking spots, the informative pamphlets offer concise directions to trailheads, detailed summaries of eight different trails, and several helpful tips for novice hikers. “Vermont has a wide range of trail options for hikers of all different skill sets,” says Houser. “There’s something out there for everyone regardless of their experience level.”
For families looking to enjoy a relaxing and restorative day out in nature, Houser recommends a trip to Merck Forest in Rupert, Haystack Mountain in Pawlet, or Little Rock Pond in Wallingford. “Merck Forest is great for families,” notes Houser. “If you have a couple of kids with you, they might just want to go a quarter of a mile and come back, but you also have the option to keep going for a few miles and see some incredible sights.”
The Mountain Goat’s Manager Aaron Krinsky adds that Baker Peak is a fantastic destination for day-hikers looking for a more challenging hike. “It’s got wonderful open summit views. It’s a nine-mile trip, so I wouldn’t recommend it for a beginner, but the trail doesn’t get too crowded and the scenery is fantastic.” Krinsky has been working as a Manager for The Mountain Goat for two years, and is also a seasoned hiker and active member of the local Appalachian Trail hiking community. Krinsky says that his favorite thing about hiking in Southern Vermont is the vibrant contrast between the seasons. “The seasonal variance in Vermont is phenomenal. Each season offers its own unique beauty. You can come back to the same trails and have a different experience every time.”
According to Krinsky, three of the most important (and often overlooked) aspects of hiking are preparedness, environmental impact awareness, and hiker etiquette. “I think that there is a greater need for education about sustainable practices and environmental impact when it comes to hiking. We want to make sure that we can continue enjoying these places, which requires responsibility and conscious action so that our trails and wild environments can stay healthy.”
Krisnky says that it’s crucial to never leave trash behind on a trail. He says that he usually carries his food waste, such as banana peels, in Ziploc bags that he brings with him on his hikes. In other circumstances, he puts his trash in the water bottle compartment outside of his bag. Krinsky goes on to add that there are public trash cans throughout the town of Manchester, so it’s easy to dispose of waste accrued over the course of any hike. He also urges hikers who take their dogs with them on their excursions to keep them on a leash. “Dogs are wonderful hiking companions, but if they run off, they can disturb other hikers and impact wildlife behavior patterns. It’s always best to keep them close to you where they can be monitored safely in order to ensure that everyone can enjoy their outdoor experience.”
Krinsky is a firm believer in the fact that hiking safety begins with fundamental preparatory measures. “It’s important to bring a first aid kit and a warm outer layer on longer hikes, and it’s good to bring a trail map, as well. You also want to make sure that you have enough food and water for your hike, and that you are prepared to spend the night out in the wilderness in the event of emergency situations. The best foods for hiking are foods that don’t require preparation and are rich in calories. Granola bars and CLIF bars are wonderful, and I love to carry some candy with me, as well, in case I feel my blood sugar getting low.”
Krinsky also carries a “Life Straw” with him on longer hikes, which he describes as a reusable straw with a filter that removes bacteria from natural water sources, such as lakes, rivers and creeks. “In order to use the Life Straw, you first fill a pouch or cup with the naturally-occurring water, then stick the straw in it and drink like you’re drinking from a soda glass,” says Krinsky. “It’s a wonderful tool that has saved me on several occasions, and we sell them here at The Mountain Goat.”
The Mountain Goat also offers a wide range of hiking backpacks that are ideally-suited for different situations. Krinsky says that when it comes to hiking backpacks, there are two-different primary categories: “day packs” and “backpacking packs.” The packs are categorized by size and volume, and they are measured in volumetric liters.
“For a day pack, you’re looking at anything under thirty liters, down into the 20-liter and 11-liter range,” notes Krinsky. “Most people stick to less than 20 liters for day trips. We sell the Osprey Talon 11-liter day pack here at The Mountain Goat, which is a very popular and versatile bag. It’s not too big, but it’s large enough to accommodate an extra layer, a first aid kit, some snacks, and all of the essentials you need for your hike. These backpacks are built to last, and they’re made out of quality materials. I’ve had the same backpack now for twelve years. If you’re getting into the overnight pack range, you’re obviously going to need a bigger bag. That’s when we get into the range of backpacks that are 30 liters and above.”
Krinsky urges hikers who are making the transition from short day trips to overnight adventures to take time out of their schedule to consider what they will need for their journeys. “When someone is looking at a pack, the first thing I do is ask them how long they’re going to be out on their trip for. I’ve learned from personal experience that you can easily pack too much. It all comes down to learning from experience what works best for you, but there are a number of helpful online tutorial videos (on platforms such as YouTube) from experienced hikers that explain how to pack properly in vivid detail. I would encourage people to watch those videos, and to also talk to other hikers who have been on similar trips about what has worked for them in the past.”
Across the southern end of the state, Sam’s Outdoor Outfitters in Brattleboro has carved out a time-tested niche for themselves as an established outdoor goods store. Over the years, they have expanded their business to include two additional stores in Keene, New Hampshire, and Hadley, Massachusetts. Founded in 1932, their Brattleboro location is large and roomy, with friendly sales associates scattered throughout who are eager to share insights about their broad array of specialty goods. Manager Alex O’Malley has been working at Sam’s for several years, and takes pride in providing attentive service to his customers. O’Malley says that over recent years, several new trends have emerged in the hiking goods industry, such as the increase in hammock use by overnight hikers. “We’ve recently seen an uptick in hammock sales here. They’re certainly becoming more prevalent. They’re made out of incredibly strong synthetic material, and they’re ideal for the warmer months for people who want to experience the full effect of spending a night out in the elements. For those who want to spend the night inside of a portable shelter, we carry some wonderful tents from MSR, and we also sell some great North Face and Marmot sleeping bags here. I personally prefer sleeping bags that use synthetic-type material, because down sleeping bags can bunch up, and synthetic sleeping bags tend to remain more even. When it’s a cold night out on the trail after a long day’s hike, you’re going to want a sleeping bag that you can depend on.”
Sam’s Shoe Department Manager, Diamond Gilbert, oversees a well-stocked shoe shop that features a wide assortment of exceptional footwear products. For hikers who are just starting out, Gilbert recommends the Merrell Moab 2. “It’s ready to go – right out of the box, and it’s very versatile. You can use it both as a hiking and an everyday walking shoe.” For a more lightweight option, Gilbert recommends the Salomon Outline. “They’re very light and flexible, and you can hike in them with some speed without getting weighed down. I would also recommend the Salomon X Ultra. They’re also light and flexible, but their footbed has a different shape that accommodates a wider forefoot.”
For hikers staying closer to Stratton, Equipe Sport offers a wide range of high-quality hiking gear and apparel. Their stores in Rawsonville, Stratton Village, and Dover are staffed by knowledgeable workers, who are happy to share helpful tips with hikers of all skill levels. Matthew Henshaw works as the store manager at the Stratton Village location, and he is also an active member of the local Vermont hiking community. According to Matthew, apparel can have a significant impact on your hiking experience. “Here at Equipe Sport, our inventory features top-of-the-line merino wool socks, shirts, outerwear and legwear,” says Henshaw. “Sometimes people don’t give wool clothing a chance, because it makes them think of their grandmother’s sweaters, but Merino wool is an ultra-light wool that is incredibly breathable. It’s made with wool from special sheep who have been humanely bred to have hairs that are flat like human hair, which creates a wonderfully soft fiber. The fiber naturally wicks away moisture, and also has powerful antimicrobial properties, which is very important on longer hikes.” Henshaw adds that in addition to Smartwool socks, their inventory also boasts comfortable and breathable shirts and longjohns from Mons Royale and Smartwool, which are both warm and lightweight. “The Mons Royale apparel pieces that we sell here will keep you nice and warm on a cool, Fall day. They’re available in thread counts that range from ultra-light to 250. As the thread count gets higher, the weight of the garment increases, and it traps more heat.”
For hikers interested in exploring Southern Vermont’s trails in the colder and snowier months, Henshaw recommends Yaktrax, which are metal casings that are placed around the feet of hiking boots to improve traction in icy conditions. “The Yaktrax are incredibly easy to put on your feet,” notes Henshaw. “They are attached to elastic bands, which you loop around the heel and toe of the boot. They come in several different versions, but I personally recommend the ‘diamond-style’ grips. They hold to the ground very nicely, even in troublesome conditions.”
One of Henshaw’s favorite outerwear items at Equipe Sport is their Patagonia “Houdini” windbreaker. The aptly named, lightweight, synthetic garment perfectly packs away into its own pocket and zips up for easy storage, making it perfect for hikers who are looking to reduce the weight that they are carrying on long trips. “It holds up very well in the rain, as well,” says Henshaw. “I would definitely recommend it as a good windbreaker to take on hikes during the Fall months.”
Henshaw’s favorite places to hike around Southern Vermont include the Mount Equinox Trail in Manchester and the trails on Stratton Mountain. Henshaw’s co-worker Bill Hadley cautions that although the Mount Equinox Trail provides memorable views, it is not well-suited for beginners. “It’s a really beautiful place to explore, but it has a brutal vertical ascent. It’s 2,600 feet straight up with no breaks. It’s like walking on a stair-climber machine for several hours back-to-back. You definitely want to hone your skills as a hiker before you head out there for a day trip.”
Henshaw says that one of the most fun things about hiking in Vermont is that many hikers leave “trail magic” bundles behind for other hikers to discover. “Walking down a trail in Vermont, sometimes you will see bags or packages situated in strategic places or hanging off of the lowest branches of trees. They can be anything from candy and snacks to first aid kits. It makes me happy every time I come across one.” Henshaw adds that although it’s always nice to leave trail magic packages for other hikers, it’s important to use natural or sustainable packaging when doing so, and it’s also important to make sure to take all of your trash with you before leaving the trail. “I like to think trail magic serves as a perfect metaphor for how compassionate and friendly the hiking community truly is,” says Henshaw. “It really shows how much hikers look out for each other. Those little things can truly brighten someone’s day after a long day of intense trail hiking, and that spirit of community is certainly alive and well in the hiking scene up here in Vermont.”
For some hikers, a trip to Vermont can be a life changing experience. Two local hikers, Marc and Lauren Ropplo (also known by their respective trail names of “Daze” and “Eleven”) first fell in love with Vermont hiking in 2017 during a “thru-hike” of the Appalachian Trail. After spending some time in the Green Mountain State, they became so enchanted by its beauty that they decided to make it their permanent home. “We came through Vermont and began hiking along the southern half of the Long Trail during late summer,” says Marc Ropplo. “The forest was so lush and green, there was plenty of refreshing water, and multiple fire towers along the trail offered great views. These days, when we get out and hike local trails here in Southern Vermont, revisiting any of those spots is incredibly special. We love meeting and connecting with other hikers who are currently ‘thru-hiking’ the Appalachian Trail or the Long Trail. It brings back memories of the trip that first brought us here, and we’re grateful to be living in such a beautiful place.”
Favorite Day Hikes
Content Provided by The Mountain Goat
Antone Mountain Merck Forest
Merck Forest & Farmland Center in Rupert is a non-profit environmental foundation. Admission is free. Donations are accepted! The extensive trail system is open for hiking, snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing.
From the nature center and kiosk at the front gate there are several hiking options (maps available). Mount Antone is the tallest on the property at 2600 ft. and has a great viewpoint looking out towards the Adirondacks. The rustic farmstead at the base specializes in heritage breeds of horses, cows, pigs and sheep – and is worth a look. The trails on the preserve are predominantly old roads, so the going is hilly, but not too rugged. The hike to Mt. Antone is 2.5 miles each way following Old Town Road from the farm, to Antone Road on the right at the top of the hill. Follow the same trails back or choose another route back to the farm. A great family hike.
Miles Roundtrip: 5
Elevation Gain: 600 ft.
Time: 3 hours Roundtrip
At 3,825 feet, this is the highest peak in the Taconic range. This fairly strenuous hike includes some excellent vantage points. From Rt. 7A, turn on Seminary Ave. After 0.3 miles, turn right onto West Union Street, where you’ll find the parking area at the dead-end. Start off on the Red Gate Trail and continue onto the Blue Summit Trail. At the junction near the top of the mountain, follow signs to Lookout Rock or to the summit (Saint Bruno Viewing Center).
Miles Roundtrip: 5.2
Elevation Gain: 2,870 ft.
Time: 4-5 hours Roundtrip
Lye Brook Falls
A shorter hike to one of the highest waterfalls in Vermont. From Rt. 11/30, turn onto Richville Road, turn left on East Manchester Road at the Post Office, go under the overpass, turn right onto Glen Road, go over the small bridge (excellent swimming hole here), go straight after the bridge onto Lye Brook Falls access road, and follow to the end to find the parking area. Follow the trail up next to Lye Brook, turn right onto the spur trail to falls. The main trail continues to Bourn Pond.
Miles Roundtrip: 5.4
Elevation Gain: 1,000 ft.
Time: 2.5 hours Roundtrip
3,936 ft. peak. Reach the summit via the ski trails on the front side or the more remote hike from the town of Stratton. Drive west on Stratton Arlington Road to the AT/LT parking area. Follow the trail for 3.5 miles to the fire tower atop Stratton. On the way out, loop past Stratton Pond and hike back on the Stratton Pond Trail. Hike one mile east on Kelly Stand Road to return to the AT/LT lot.
Miles Roundtrip: 11.0
Elevation Gain: 1,900 ft.
Time: 9 hours Roundtrip
Little Rock Pond
An easy Long Trail hike to a small pond with a trail around the shoreline. Access the trail on Forest Rd. 10 at the AT/LT parking lot. Hike north 2 miles to Little Rock Pond. Hike back the same route, or for a more strenuous hike with some great views, loop back on the Green Mountain Trail to finish on Forest Rd. 10 just west of the parking lot. A great family hike.
Miles Roundtrip: 3.6
Elevation Gain: 350 ft.
Time: 2 hours Roundtrip (Green Mountain Loop 7.5 miles Roundtrip)
3,260 ft. with a 360° view from the summit. On the AT/LT. Park at the AT/LT parking lot on Rt. 11/30, 5 miles east of Manchester. Follow the trail to the summit. A less traveled approach from the north is accessed by continuing to Peru on Rt. 11. Turn left into Peru, left across from the J.J. Hapgood Store, left on North Road, then left again on Mad Tom Notch Road. Follow this dirt road up to the parking area on the left. Head south on AT/LT.
Miles Roundtrip: 5.2
Elevation Gain: 1,460 ft.
Time: 3-4 Hours Roundtrip
A quick hike to a rock outcropping with a great view of Manchester and Mount Equinox. From Rt. 11/30 east, turn right onto East Manchester Rd. then take an immediate left onto Rootville Rd. and follow it to the little parking area next to the water tower. Follow the open Jeep trail up to the AT/LT crossing at 1.5 miles. Prospect Rock lookout is 40 yards off to the right just past this intersection. A great family hike.
Miles Roundtrip: 3.6
Elevation Gain: 1,000 ft.
Time: 2 hours Roundtrip
At 2,850 ft., this loop hike offers great views from the open summit. Drive north on Rt. 7 and turn right on South End Road, four miles past East Dorset. There will be a parking area on the left after 0.5 miles. Hike up the Lake Trail and turn onto the Baker Peak Trail after 2 miles. At the LT crossing, turn left (north) to the summit. Walk the LT south to Griffith Lake, if desired, then back on the LT to return via the Lake Trail.
Miles Roundtrip: 9.0
Elevation Gain: 2,350 ft.
Time: 5-6 hours Roundtrip
A short hike to a beautiful 360° view of the Taconic Range. From Rt. 30 in Pawlet, drive 1.8 miles north and take a right on Waite Road. Drive about one mile, then look for Tunket Road on the left. Park on Waite Road. Hike 0.5 miles up Tunket Road to the Nature Conservancy trailhead on the left. This moderate hike rolls gently up through the forest to a steeper section just before the summit at 1.5 miles. A great family hike.
Miles Roundtrip: 3.0
Elevation Gain: 1,183 ft.
Time: 2 hours Roundtrip