Posted by: davepidgeon | August 10, 2009

Expect crowds, mud and history at Stratton

A look at Stratton Pond and Mount Equinox from the summit of Stratton Mountain

A look at Stratton Pond and Mount Equinox from the summit of Stratton Mountain

This was a Tuesday. And already I began to count in my head how many thru-hikers and other backpackers would be spending the night at the Long Trail/Appalachian Trail shelters along Stratton Pond in southern Vermont. The number? No less than two dozen.

On a Tuesday night in August. Not Friday or Saturday nights. Middle-of-the-work-week Tuesday.

“Can you imagine how crowded a weekend there would be?” I asked Alison as we hiked downhill off Stratton Mountain, thinking about how jammed the tent sites and lean-tos would be that night.

Should you find yourself in southern Vermont and want to stretch your legs, give a Stratton Mountain hike consideration. And if you are a lifelong hiker, why not journey to the mountain’s 3,936-foot summit since the 360 degree view from the historic firetower was the inspiration source of the Long and Appalachian trails? Consider your hike a tribute to James P. Taylor, who in 1909 during a visit to Stratton concocted an idea to link Vermont’s scenic peaks with a “long trail,” and years later while looking at the same inspirational view Benton MacKaye thought: “Why stop in Vermont” and the Appalachian Trail was born.

The historic firetower at the summit of Stratton Mountain

The historic firetower at the summit of Stratton Mountain

There are other pros – white birch groves that seem to reflect their own light during a summer morning; the historic firetower, a steel structure built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps that’s on the National Register of Historic Places; wild blueberries growing abundantly along the trail; lots and lots of options for day hikes and overnight backpacks of varying lengths, from 7 miles to 12 miles.

But this area is a virtual human highway during the summer. Thru-hikers are hurrying along during August while dayhikers are on their heels; many of the views noted in old hiking guides have become overgrown and either partially or fully blocked; a lot of people enjoy hiking here, even on week days; did I mention the crowds?

The LT/AT trailhead can be found along the Arlington-West Wardsboro Road (sometimes called the Kelley Strand Road), which is mostly a gravel drive into the Green Mountain National Forest. The trailhead is about 8 miles west of West Wardsboro. A sizable parking area as well as signs mark the spot. You can’t miss it.

Start northbound through a boggy area with puncheons or just good, old fashion mud slog. The first mile and a half is over a slight incline, and since Vermont soaked up twice its normal amount of rain during July, the trail was full of black mud. After you pass a forest road at 1.3 miles, the trail then begins its moderately strenuous assault up the southwest flank of Stratton Mountain. You’ll climb a total of 1,910 feet from your car to the summit, but doing this over 3.4 miles mitigates the steepness somewhat. Look for those gorgeous birch trees as well as maples and oaks, and keep your eyes peeled for rust-colored eastern newts and broad-chested ruffed grouse. Also, with as much rain as the area has received, at least half a dozen streams cross the trail, so water is abundant.

The rocky trail as it nears the summit passes out of a hardwood forest and into woods that only grow at higher-elevations, trees like fragrant spruce and balsam fir.

The viewless summit is at 3.4 miles from your car, and the only way to see anything of the surrounding countryside other than the Green Mountain Club cabin is to climb to the fly-infested house atop the firetower. I mean it, those flies were dive bombing our heads the moment we popped in there. Actually, if you decide to stop halfway up on the stairs, you’ll have the same spectacular views as you would at the top, just with fewer flies and a nice breeze to keep you cool. Take it all in. This is what inspired Taylor and MacKaye. Look up into the sky and give ’em a wink, as if to say: “I understand what you were thinking.”

Standing on the Stratton Mountain firetower.

Standing on the Stratton Mountain firetower.

Enjoy the company of the ranger-naturalist, who stays full-time at the cabin near the firetower and is supported by the Green Mountain Club, Appalachian Trail Conference and Green Mountain National Forest. He or she has a lot to tell the inquirer.

Here is where you have many choices. You can either head right back down the mountain for a 6.8-mile out-and-back hike, which is what my wife, Alison, and I did. Or you can continue northbound on the LT/AT for 1.6 miles to Forest Road 341, turn right and return to the LT/AT after 2.5 miles. By turning right onto the LT/AT back to your car, that makes for a 9-mile loop. Or go onto Stratton Pond for either a two-day, 11-mile backpack or long day hike. At Stratton Pond, you take the Stratton Pond Trail for 1.6 miles back to the Arlington-West Wardsboro Road and turn left for 1.1 miles to return to your car.



  1. Hey, I skied at a Stratton Mountain when I lived up that way. Is it the same one?

  2. Same one. The ski lift takes you to a point about half a mile from the summit.

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