For our second week on our working remote road trip, we headed across Lake Champlain into Vermont where we spent our next weekend with Jared and his new puppy Domino.
Our hiking target was to head up Mount Mansfield via the Laura Cowles and Sunset Ridge Trails. This was the second time we visited the highest point in Vermont having done so in the summer time several years ago in 2013, to give you some indication of our opinion of the hike.
Unlike our first visit however, the highlight of the hike this time around was how we got there and not so much the end or summit.
This is part 4 of 5 of our trip out to New York and Vermont. In this part, we cover our hike in Vermont up Mt. Mansfield. You can find the rest of the series as they are posted in the index below.
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|1 working remote & travel logistics|
|2 trip report New York – Cat Mountain|
|3 trip report New York – Hurricane Mountain|
|4 trip report New York – Owls Head Mountain|
|5 trip report Vermont – Mount Mansfield|
|5.1 hike information|
|6 trip report Vermont – Colchester Causeway|
|7 trip budget|
- Mount Mansfield via Laura Cowles Train & Sunset Ridge Trail
- distance: 5.13 miles
- elevation change: 2,536 ft
- time: 4:07 hours (3:21 moving)
- location: Underhill State Park, near Burlington, Vermont, USA (google map directions)
The highest point of Mt. Mansfield is The Chin at 4395 ft. There are several ways to reach the top of Mt. Mansfield and can be combined for different loops (Underhill State Park). We combined the technical Laura Cowles trail and descended the Sunset Ridge Trail from the west side of the mountain.
From the west, you can hike the entire ridge from The Forehead to the Chin by going taking the CCC Road before gaining the ridge via the Maple Ridge Trail and then continuing on the Long Ridge across Mount Mansfield before descending the Sunset Ridge Trail (alltrails). Halfway House (alltrails) and Frost Trail/Butler Lodge Trail (alltrails) are two other ways other than the Laura Cowles Trail you can take to access the Mt. Mansfield Ridge.
From the east, most trails start from the Stowe Mountain Resort (resort map via Stowe; hiking guide via Go Stowe) including the USD$30 Gondala that takes you up most of the way and possibly the reason for the crowds that can be found on the peak (alltrails). For the completionist, the loop consisting of Hell Brook Trail and Hasselton Trail will include the Mt. Mansfield ridge (alltrails), or just from The Nose to Adams Apple (alltrails), includes a section along VT108. The other trail from the east are the Long Trail (alltrails). OSM shows a “switchback” trail, but I would not recommend it as it is not on any trail guides.
There is a fee of USD$4 per person to access the hike via Underhill State Park (VT state parks).
For the Stowe Gondala, the price is USD$30 per adult.
Across Mt. Mansfield State Forest, there are four different state parks with different regulations regarding front country camping. (VT Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation). From where we started in Underhill State park, there are reservation campsites near the parking area (VT State Parks).
If you are looking to backpack, see the primitive camping regulations listed by the VT Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, specifically the limited areas for Mt. Mansfield.
A video of our hike will premier at a later date on our Youtube page and updated here. Subscribe and turn on notifications to see the video when it drops.
We didn’t arrive at the trailhead particularly early just before 10am, which meant the parking lot was packed already and we were directed to park along the road leading up to the main parking area.
The payment building was at the beginning of the main parking area and they do accept credit cards. The cost was USD$4 per person.
The first third of a mile was on the Eagles Cut Trail as it is a more direct trail than the CCC Road on the initial uphill with a 14.7% grade. At the end of the short cut trail, we joined the CCC Road for another third of a mile with a milder 9.3% grade.
The yellow canopy over the fire road was peaking and absolutely created the prefects all setting, which was added on with the sound of the rushing stream in the gauley below the CCC road. During this section, there is a junction to the right for the upper campgrounds here in Underhill State Park.
At our next junction, we would leave the CCC for the Sunset Ridge Trail since we planned on taking the Laura Cowles Trail up. For the other options to gain Mt. Mansfield Ridge, continue further along the CCC Road.
We would stay on the Sunset Ridge Trail for only a few steps crossing a few streams
before turning right onto the Laura Cowles Trail. This was the beginning of the loop section of our lollipop and more aggressive uphill.
For the first 0.6 miles, the trail was still a trail gaining elevation at an average of 24.6% grade and following a cascading stream.
The our real work began as the trail gained 1065 ft in 0.44 miles with an average of 45.8% grade. For the most part, the steep uphill involved stepping up boulders while using the trees for support. There are a few spots that involved some scrambling.
At times, it felt like we were hiking up the creek.
As we neared the top, the trees turn to shrubs and we had an open view of the hills below.
The exposure actually made the scramble more precarious but it was only a short distance until we junctioned
with the Sunset Ridge Trail once again.
However, we would not head down the Sunset Ridge Trail yet. Instead we continued ahead a few step ahead to the junction with the Long Trail.
To head for the summit of Mt. Mansfield or The Chin, we took a right on the Long Trail. The Profanity Trail or the bad weather bypass goes down the other side of the mountain, however we didn’t see the sign here like we did on our first visit.
Once we were on the Long Trail, the heavy traffic picked up, including the many signs asking hikers to stay on the trail.
The signs are understandable as there were plenty of standing water to avoid and boulders to skirt around. Looking southbound on the Long Trail, we could also see the Gondala that brought majority of the hikers here.
The final few steps to the summit flattens out. On our previous visit in 2013, there was practically no one here in comparison.
It was easy to find your own outcrop to hang out on.
It wasn’t the case this time around as it was almost standing room only up here. So we didn’t stick around for long since it was still in the middle of the pandemic, pre-vaccine, and everyone was very cognizant of social distancing. We stopped for a snack, took a few pictures, and was on our way.
The view the summit here is a 360 degree view. Looking west, the day was hazy enough that we couldn’t see out to Lake Champlain,
typically visible from here.
The view to the east was down toward Stowe, the ski resort.
The antennas might be higher now, but not much else has changed.
As we left the summit, I thought the best view here was to the south along the ridge of Mt. Mansfield. The hazy created a nice layering effect of the mountains in the distance.
As we headed down, we returned to the junction between the Laura Cowles Trail and the Sunset Ridge Trail. After the junction, the Sunset Ridge Trail first goes through a section of brush for 0.2 miles.
Then began the 1.2 mile downhill at -24.6% grade on the open Sunset Ridge.
Looking back, we could see the summit and The Chin directly above us.
The hike down the ridge provides for many photo opportunities. The light through the clouds and haze was especially good for us as we descended.
As we reached the brushline, the trail narrows and possible traffic jams could form so please pay attention to your surroundings. Give way to those behind you and be patient if you are behind someone slower.
For the next quarter mile the trail descends at an easier -13.5% slope including some steps as we enter the forest again to complete the loop portion of our lollipop.
The last mile of the hike, we retraced our steps on the CCC road and Eagle Cut Trail.
After our hike we headed out for dinner at Our House Bistro (tripadvisor), the perfect comfort and hearty food after a hike.
Lastly, while we didn’t visit the cannery this time around and I don’t know what their brewery looks like today, I would highly recommend finding some Heady-Topper by Alchemist Brewing. It is among the best IPAs I’ve had (Beer Advocate).
The rating below are based on an unevenly distributed scale of 1-5. For full description of the ratings and the categories, see the explanation here.
views/experience: 3. While I enjoyed the summit with the 360 degree views on our previous visit in 2013, it was probably my least favorite this time around. The main reason is due to the increase in popularity of hiking and the crowds at the summit. So unlike other hikes, what made our hike was the fun scrambling up the Laura Cowles trail and the view out west toward Lake Champlain on the aptly named sunset ridge trail. The former encompasses the boulders so common in the trails of the the northeast and the latter was on large granite slabs that made for a picturesque descent.
difficulty: 3. While not a long hike, plenty of endurance is needed for the quick elevation gain. Meanwhile you will most likely deal with whipping winds on the bad summit or the exposed descent on the Sunset Ridge Trail. If it raining, perhaps look to do this hike another day or you might be sharing the Profanity Trail.
technical: 3. The trail is well signed but there were some scrambling spots on the Laura Cowles trail. Even though not all of the Laura Cowles trail was scrambling, the hike involved hands aplenty to brace on the trees as you ascended.
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