Hiking the Long Trail 101

by Christopher Pyatak

Built between 1910 and 1930, Vermont's Long Trail this year enters its second century of offering unparalled access to the peace, wonder, and pristine natural beauty of Vermont’s forests, mountains, lakes, and streams.  Whether you’re planning a short day hike to a vista nestled between rolling valleys, or hiking the whole thing in one fell swoop, hiking the LT is an experience that is as peaceful or as challenging as you choose.

Stretching more than 272 miles and dotted with almost 70 shelters and tent sites, the Long Trail meanders from the Vermont-Massachusetts border in the south, to the Canadian border in the north. Vermonters are fond of acknowledging that the Long Trail was the inspiration for the Appalachian Trail, the nation's longest marked footpath that touches fourteen states, from Georgia to Maine.

The difficulty of the Long Trail varies from long, relatively dry, meandering footpaths with minimal vertical variation, to more challenging sections including steep ascents and descents, rocky, and muddy terrain.  But make no mistake: whether you have never hiked a mile in your life or are an experienced mountaineer, hikers of every experience level will find rewards.

On the weekend of the summer solstice my friends and I hiked the southernmost section, or “division,” of the Long Trail (North Adams, Massachusetts to Vermont Rte. 9), about19 miles.  Although it was a hot weekend with temperatures over 90 degrees, we stayed cool on the trail under the shade of the gorgeous emerald canopy.

After nearly 14 miles, sore but invigorated by how much ground we covered, we rejoiced in the beauty and tranquility of the landscape. Rehydrated Indian food never tasted so good! 

The following morning, after a good night’s sleep, we accomplished the final 4.3 miles at a leisurely pace.  I couldn’t have imagined a better way to ring in the summer.  By the time we finished Division 1, I was hooked, and made it a personal goal to hike the length of the Long Trail, division by division, no matter how long it took.

My next weekend hike was on the autumnal equinox, where we took on Division 3 (Stratton Mountain to near Bromley Mountain), a total of 17.5 miles, again spread out over a weekend.  Although the hike started with a nonstop 3.8 mile ascent, overall the hike was far less strenuous than Division 1. 

After a climb to the Fire Tower atop Stratton Mountain to enjoy the orange and yellow sea of foliage punctuated by the shimmering lakes and deep green coniferous peaks of the surrounding mountains, we set off for the William B. Douglas Shelter, our goal for the day. The long, flat, meandering trail was perfect for contemplating the events of the past summer. My mind wandered, finding peace.

Hiking the Long Trail is a wonderful way for hikers of all experience levels to experience the natural beauty of Vermont.  Happy Birthday, Long Trail.  Bring on the next 100 years!

Tips from a Long Trail Hiker

  • Hydration is essential to any safe and enjoyable hike, regardless of the temperature! Pack enough water and food, but keep it as light as possible.
  • Plan a hike that is appropriate for you and those with you. Pack and wear proper attire, including a comfortable, supportive pair of hiking boots.
  • Be aware of the weather forecast and remember that temperatures can fluctuate dramatically with elevation and time of day.
    Keep in mind that shelters can fill up, so if you plan on staying overnight, bring a tent.
  • Consult or bring a map or resource guide such as those published by the Green Mountain Club (www.greenmountainclub.org).
  • Ask questions: folks at a local outdoor outfitter shop, or people you meet along the trail are good resources.

Christopher Pyatak lives in southern Vermont and enjoys hiking, fishing, and music.