Fall is the best time to hike in Vermont. The bright foliage and cooler weather make it an ideal time to climb the Green Mountains and enjoy incredible views from the summit.
But what if you have young kids in tow or want an alternative to hiking Vermont’s tallest peaks? Mount Mansfield, Camels Hump, Mount Abraham, and Killington — which all stand at more than 4,000 feet — are wonderful, popular hikes. Still, it’s nice to find shorter, easier trails that reward you with scenic views and a sense of accomplishment.
Here are 5 easy Vermont hikes to enjoy this fall:
Sunset Ledge near Lincoln Gap
I returned to the Sunset Ledge trail recently after reading about it in the Appalachian Mountain Club’s new Outdoors with Kids: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont guide. The 2.2-mile, round-trip trail can be accessed from the top of Lincoln Gap Road by heading south on the Long Trail.
After an initial steep pitch, most of the hike is relatively flat. About halfway up, you’ll enjoy views to the east of the Mad River Valley before coming to the wide-open Sunset Ledge, which offers gorgeous views of the Lake Champlain Valley and Adirondacks.
Obviously, it’s a nice spot to catch the sunset, too. Just be sure to wear headlamps on the hike back.
Getting there: From Route 100 in Warren, take Lincoln Gap Road west for 4.1 miles to the main parking area at the top of Lincoln Gap.
Equinox Pond in Manchester
Located near the base of Mount Equinox in Manchester, Equinox Pond and the surrounding land are part of the Equinox Preservation Trust, which was established in 1996 and includes more than 914 acres of protected land.
Beyond the pond, 11 miles of trails that mostly follow old logging roads are open for hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and mountain biking. (See related post: So Much to Love at Equinox Pond.)
Pond Loop is an easy, three-quarter mile walk through the woods around the pond’s perimeter. Along the trail hikers will find red and sugar maples, paper birch, striped maples, and hornbeams. For something a little more challenging, but still relatively easy, try Robin’s Lookout. The half-mile hike leads to an overlook with views to the east of Equinox Pond, Hildene, the Battenkill Valley and the Green Mountains.
Getting there: Parking for Equinox Pond is available in a designated lot off West Union Street in Manchester Village, just south of Burr and Burton Academy.
Mount Philo in Charlotte
Mount Philo is located at Mount Philo State Park, the oldest state park in Vermont. With an elevation of just 968 feet, Mount Philo is tiny compared to other Vermont mountains. But what makes it so special are the extensive views of Lake Champlain, the Champlain Valley and the Adirondacks.
The 2.4-mile, round trip hike is great for families (The Appalachian Mountain Club Outdoors with Kids guide recommends Mount Philo as well). The trail climbs steadily to House Rock, a large boulder that is hollowed out underneath. Many large trees make this section of the route a great spot for playing hide-and-seek while you hike. Once you get to the top, you’ll find a grassy lawn with Adirondack chairs and places to picnic.
Getting there: From the junction of Route 7 and Ferry Road in Charlotte, go south on Route 7 for three miles to State Park Road, which ends at the parking area and ranger booth at the entrance to Mount Philo State Park.
Merck Forest & Farmland Center in Rupert
Merck Forest & Farmland Center in Rupert includes more than 3,000 acres of forestland along with a certified-organic sugaring operation and a 62-acre farm. Located off Route 315 in southwestern Vermont, Merck Forest was set aside in the 1950s as a foundation by George Merck of the Merck Drug Company. The non-profit organization’s mission is to teach and demonstrate the benefits of innovative and sustainable management of forest and farmland.
Maintained through donations, Merck Forest is open year-round and offers hiking, camping, swimming, picnic areas, educational programs, summer camps for kids, and more. Since this is a working farm, you’ll also see sheep, chickens and horses. (See related post: Merck Forest and Farmland Center.)
Merck Forest offers many trails for hiking, including the one-mile Silviculture Trail, an easy, interpretive trail designed to educate visitors about sustainable forestry practices. The Discovery Trail is also an easy hike, which passes through some young forest, then through wildlife habitat cuts, an orchard, ending alongside Merck Forest’s horse pasture and sugar house.
Getting there: From Route 30, take Route 315 and follow signs to Merck Forest in Rupert. Parking is available at the Visitor Center.
Devils Hill in Peacham
Devils Hill is a 2-mile, round trip hike in Groton State Forest that is perfect for hikers of all ages. The easy climb brings you to open ledges with beautiful views of Peacham Bog.
With more than 25,600 acres, Groton State Forest is the second largest contiguous landholding by the state of Vermont. Popular trails in the Groton State Forest System include the Devils Hill hike to Peacham Bog and two trails to the summit of Owls Head Mountain.
Groton State Forest has an interesting history. The area was intensively logged in the late 1800s with the opening of the Montpelier and Wells Railroad that ran through the forest, according to the Vermont Explorer’s Guide.
The logging ended in the 1920s when most of the timber had been cut, and subsequent fires altered the landscape from evergreens to mostly maple and birch.
These days, the forest is home to an extensive year-round trail system in northeastern Vermont, with trails for beginner, novice and experienced hikers to enjoy.
Getting there: To Devils Hill, take Route 302 to Minard Hill Road in Groton Village. Head north on Minard Hill Road, which turns into Peacham Road. After 7.7 miles, turn left on Maple Tree Lane/Town Road 5. Turn left at Green Bay Loop Road, and continue for just over a mile and turn right on Devils Hill Road.
Disclosure: The Appalachian Mountain Club sent me a complimentary of copy of the Outdoors with Kids: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont guide.