Waterfall near Lake Willoughby in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont


Vermont and New Hampshire
August 2007

Last updated August 15, 2007



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Day One | Day Two | Day Three | Day Four | Day Five | Day Six | Day Seven | Day Eight

Norma gets a few weeks off each summer. This gives her time to spend time with her family and travel. This year, she wanted to see Vermont. She gathered information, found some great hikes, and invited me to join her. How could I refuse?

Day One, August 4, 2007

On Friday, August 3, 2007, Norma, her sister, her brother-in-law, and I were out at Wolf Trap watching the National Symphony Orchestra perform Bugs Bunny on Broadway. Hence, we got a late start on Saturday, August 4.

We caught some slow traffic driving up to Vermont. I reckon it was about 10 hours of driving that we split between the two of us. Several toll roads and about 3 refills of gasoline. We had camping and hiking gear but no boats or bicycles. The plan was to rent them so we could travel lighter. Still my car was packed to the gills.

As we drove into northern Vermont, we saw the scenic Lake Champlain, a huge freshwater lake between the United States and Canada.

We arrived at Underhill State Park a few minutes after closing. Fortunately, we called and let them know we were coming so they kept the office open late just for us. Our first taste of New England hospitality.

Day Two, August 5, 2007

The campsite was very small and nice though it lacked showers. The best thing about it was that the trailhead for the day's hike met with the campground.

Norma and I drove to the Underhill Country Store, just a few minutes from the campground. There, we bought breakfast and snacks. The town had a certain New England small town charm to it. The buildings and the people seemed simple and genuine. Traffic was light, the landscape well groomed, and the buildings well maintained.

The day was sunny and dry. Fantastic visibility. Great hiking weather.

On the drive back to the campsite, we saw two moose cross a dirt road and trot into the woods at about 0900. Each was at least as tall as a horse. That was the first time either of us had seen a moose in the wild. Just seeing these creatures was enough to make our day.

At 0940, we started our day hike from the park at about 1850 feet above sea level. We caught Eagle Trail, heading east. The trail was rocky and scenic.

We then headed east on Halfway House Trail up Mount Mansfield. At the intersection with the Canyon North Trail, we stopped for a snack at an overlook. See first photo at left. A little further and we were above the treeline. With the visibility being what it was, it seemed everytime we turned around, we had a scenic view. It reminded me of hiking in Desolation Wilderness in the Sierra Nevada. See second and third photos at left.

At the ridgeline, we turned northward on the Long Trail. See fourth and fifth photos at left. There were several people on the trail, some of which drove up and parked at the Summit Station near the "Nose." But the crowds didn't detract from the views. There was plenty for all.

We took a brief detour on Cliff Trail to explore Cave of the Winds. See sixth photo at left for Norma at the cave entrance. Not sure how far in it went but I stopped once I found technical climbing anchors. See seventh photo at left for be just before the dropoff. After this, the rocks got a little wet too.

Next, we took a section of trail called Subway which took us down and up some ladders for some serious rock scrambling.

We reached our highest elevation for the day at 4250 feet, near the "Chin." See eighth photo at left. Then we headed west on the Sunset Ridge Trail. Much of this trail was a gradual, rocky decline along Sunset Ridge that provided a spectacular view to the west.

Norma and I took another brief detour to check out Cantilever Rock. This rock is about 30 feet long and rests about two stories above the ground. See ninth photo at left for Norma below the rock. A hiker who grew up in the area said that this stone broke off from the main part and swung out. He and his family helped us climb to the rock and crawl out to its middle. I don't think I would have been willing to do this without his help. See tenth photo at left for Norma on the rock.

With our loop complete, we walked back to the car on the Eagle Trail to complete our 7.3 mile hike. Done at about 1600.

I've done quite a bit of hiking and I'd have to say this was the most scenic day hike I've ever done on the east coast. That's saying a lot!

Norma and I checked out of Underhill State Park, watching ever-so-closely for more moose. None were seen despite signs warning drivers to avoid hitting moose. We drove into Burlington and checked in at the North Beach Campground. This would be our base camp for the next few days. We purchased a small bundle of firewood and left it next to our fire ring. The campground was huge and very busy! It had a large beach and showers. Not exactly the place to go to get away from it all but we didn't plan to spend many of our waking hours there.
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Day Three, August 6, 2007

Though last night was clear, the morning brought rain. Not a good day to be outside. Thus, we chose to use this day to do things indoors.

Norma and I explored the town of Burlington. We went to Outdoor Gear Exchange where Norma bought a new Gregory backpack. I bought a salt shaker. Not quite as exciting as a new backpack. It rained pretty hard but it stopped by mid-afternoon.

After some more shopping, we went to the Shelburne Museum to get a taste of historic New England. We were most impressed by the round (cylindrical) barn. This Passumpsic round barn, built in 1901, was round because it held a silo in the middle and was made to house dairy cows in the outer circle. Very clever. It was 80 feet in diameter and 67 feet from lightning rod to basement.

We also got to take a look at the covered bridge built in 1845 (see first photo at left), Ticonderoga steamboat dating from 1906 (see second photo at left with me dwarfed in the lower right corner), and Shaker Shed (from 1840). The shed housed a plethora of old tools used by the Shakers in the 1800s (see third photo at left).

Later that day, we drove through the town of Middlebury and checked out Middlebury Falls (see fourth photo at left) and the Marble Works Memorial Bridge (see fifth photo at left). Power was drawn from the falls to power the mill and factories in the town starting in 1774.

We drove through several quaint, small towns. Each seemed to have an old fashioned church near the center.

Our next stop was to walk the one mile Robert Frost Trail (see sixth photo at left). Signs along the trail quoted famous poems by Frost. Norma really liked The Road Not Taken.

Near dusk, Norma and I stopped at Green Mountain National Forest to view the 35 foot Texas Falls (see seventh photo at left).

Back at the campsite, I found myself being a favorite cuisine for the mosquitos. While the area near our tent might get an occassional breeze to drive them away, they found a safe haven in the bathhouse. Norma, on the other hand, was not on the mosquito menu. I'm not sure how it happened but I ended up getting 9 bites in a small 2.5 inch section of my left foot. Not a good thing for hiking.
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Day Four, August 7, 2007

There was a kayak rental place on Lake Champlain at the campsite called Umiak but we found the lake a little boring for exploring. Hence, we rented Walden Scout recreational kayaks from the lesser known and more hidden Auer Family Boathouse (Charlie's) at 3181 North Avenue in Burlington, phone: 802-862-9840. Charlie and his sister, Christine, were gracious hosts and knowledgeable about the area.

Norma and I launched from the boathouse, just south of where the Winooski River drains into the lake. From there, we paddled up the river. We saw a yellow sea plane take off on the lake. Then we passed under the Burlington Bike Path trail bridge. The Winooski winded back and forth a good ways. The shore was green with trees and grasses. Some of the grasses were unusual in that they grew hard spikey seed pods. See first photo at left.

We passed Delta Park and Derway Island. Then we found a small tributary that led to the Macrae Farm Park. Here we stopped for lunch and a little exploring on foot. This park was a haven for monarch butterflies and their caterpillars. See second and third photos at left.

The tributary was home to numerous bull frogs and painted turtles. I don't think I've ever seen so many in such a small area. See fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh photos at left. The big frogs were not the least bit camera shy. See Norma paddling past a turtle in the eighth photo at left. We also saw a garter snake swimming in the water then go ashore.

The area was also blessed with several pretty flowers. Check out the sweet scented lily and burdock in the ninth and tenth photos at left, respectively.

Continuing onward, we passed the Ethan Allen Homestead though we never actually saw it from the river.

The river was scenic and clean though at times it was a little too wide and uniform to hold our interest. Except for the tributary, we saw little in terms of wildlife. We turned around near a farm at the power lines.

On the way back, we stopped at Delta Park for a nature call. A little later, we explored a very small tributary and found the sea plane after it returned from its trip (see eleventh photo at left). Again, more turtles.

Near the end, I was just in front of Norma as we paddled on the north side along some tall grasses. About 6 feet away from me, a ratty looking muskrat and I stared eye to eye. I stopped paddling and just drifted by, making sure to make as little movement and noise as possible. I then signaled to Norma that there was an animal just ahead of her. Unfortunately, by the time she got to my location, the muskrat was gone. That was the closest I've been to a muskrat on the land.

Back at the trail bridge, we saw some boys jumping off the bridge. One even climbed to the highest part of the bridge and jumped off. Christine assured us the water was deep and that kids have been doing this for years. Still, neither Norma or I had any desire to match their feat.

By the mid-afternoon, we kayaked about 14 miles...quite an accomplishment considering the boats we were paddling.

That night we enjoyed a well deserved big dinner then dessert at the world famous Ben and Jerry's ice cream shop. It was obvious the natives were quite proud of their local franchise turned ginormous.

We also saw a one man band. The fellow sang, played guitar, a pan pipe, the harmonica, cymbals, and bass drum. Very impressive...both in terms of musical talent and engineering.

Back at the campsite, I noticed our firewood was taken. I'm guessing the thiefs burned the evidence.
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Day Five, August 8, 2007

The forecast called for a chance of rain. I figured if it rained, it wouldn't be much and if it didn't, then it would be humid and overcast. We had the latter.

At about 0945, Norma and I went to Local Motion and rented bicycles. The bikes we got were pretty nice...certainly better than mine. They were 21 speed hybrids with wide, comfortable seats and handlebars set high to prevent the uncomfortable (but streamlined) bent over profile. They weren't fast but they were more enjoyable to ride than my 1991 mountain bike.

Setting out from the store, we headed north on the Island Line, a rail trail built in 1900 by the Rutland Railroad. We started at mile 2. The mileage got higher as we ventured further north. Most of the trail followed the shoreline along Lake Champlain.

We passed through some well maintained neighborhoods that reminded me of Ellicott City, Maryland.

Near mile 9.5, we passed Colchester Point and Mills Point, thus beginning our ride on an over 3 mile long man-made causeway used to connect the town of Colchester with South Hero. See first photo at left. This structure was created by rocks, many having as much volume as a car. They appeared to have been cut by drilling several holes through them in a line, with each spaced about 8 inches apart. I'm guessing explosives were then put in the holes.

At mile 12.5, the causeway ended. See second photo at left. A gap about a stone's throw distance permitted boats to pass but not bicycles. No, that's not a small island, it is the other side of the causeway. On weekends, a ferry shuttles bicyclists and pedestrians across. We ate some snacks, contemplated the work involved to create such a structure, then headed back.

Near mile 8.25 on the Island Line trail, we caught the Cycle the City route. This 10-mile self-guided historic tour leads bicyclists through Colchester and Burlington. Though the roads are marked with "Cycle the City" signs, things got a bit confusing near the Ethan Allen Homestead.

Near Prospect Street, we encountered a hill that kicked our collective asses...or at least it would have had we tried to ride up it. But instead, we decided to walk up it.

Our time with the bicycles was running out so we cut our adventure a little short by cutting across College Street back to Local Motion instead of finishing the Cycle the City tour. We were done with about 27 miles of biking at roughly 1445.

We rehydrated then took a quick nap on a bench. Just enough to recharge my batteries.

A little later, we headed east towards our next campground. Along the way, we stopped for a bite to eat at the New England Culinary Institute where we ate a light meal prepared by future fine chefs.

That evening, we checked into White Caps Campground in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom. I think this was my favorite campground. It had a shower, a view of the lake, a friendly and knowledgeable host, and most importantly, a loveable dog. Some say the bigger the animal the more there is to love. If that is true, then this camp dog, Max (a mastiff), is certainly one to receive affection.
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Day Six, August 9, 2007

Norma and I discussed the plan of the day. We could rent boats at the campground and paddle at Lake Willoughby or we could hike. While the glacier-formed 312-foot deep lake was certainly beautiful, I was more inclined to appreciate its beauty from above. Hence, we set out to climb a couple of the nearby mountains in Willoughby State Forest.

Our first climb was Mount Pisgah. The trailhead to the South Trail was a very short distance south of the campground. We commenced at 0915 at an elevation of 1340 feet above sea level. The day was sunny and not too hazy. Good day for photography.

As Norma and I climbed higher, we caught some great views of the campground down below (see first photo at left) along with the lake (see second photo at left). Next, we stopped at a scenic overlook called Pulpit Rock (see third photo at left). Then we ventured slightly beyond the 2751 foot summit to catch another fine view, this time of the northwestern side of the lake (see fourth and fifth photos at left).

We finished our 4.25 mile, 1411 foot climb just after 1300.

Towards the end of the hike, we passed over some calm wetlands via a boardwalk and saw an interesting looking seed from a jack-in-the-pulpit plant. See sixth and seventh photos at left, respectively.

Back at the campsite, we ate a hot lunch and said goodbye to Max.

Now we were set up to climb Wheeler Mountain on the west side of the lake. We drove north on the east side of the lake. A dark creature that looked like a large ferret ran on the road. It looked very confused. We would have preferred to see another moose but seeing this strange animal kept me looking for more.

Some small falls just north of the Willoughby Lake Wishing Well caught our interest and we stopped to take photos. See photo at the top left corner of the page. We described the mammal we saw to some bicyclists but they didn't seem very confident as to its identity.

On the west side of the lake, we caught a great view of the steep cliffs carved out by the glacier. See eighth photo at left.

Our maps were just fair and they didn't show many of the dirt roads or describe the conditions of the roads. We stopped to ask for directions and were warned that the road was rough. After our July 28-30, 2007 trip from Paw Paw to Pearre, I wasn't too concerned about some not-so-well maintained roads. We drove on a dirt road that seemed just fine. Then it split. We went left and were confronted a little later with a three way split. It didn't look like any of them were the right ones so we went back and took the road we missed. This clearly led uphill and was rough. As we went further, it got even rougher. There were times when rocks scraped the bottom of my car. If we faced another car heading downhill as we drove uphill, things would get tricky. Not certain if we were on the right road or how far it went, I decided to turn back.

Norma and I drove back around the lake, looking for more ferret-like creatures. Nada. On the southwest side of the lake, we drove up a well maintained Civilian Conservation Corps road then caught a trail that led to Mount Hor. The Herbert Hawkes Trail met the road at 1946 feet above sea level. We began walking at 1525.

Soon we heard then spotted a woodpecker. Not an easy character to photograph. See ninth photo at left.

Our short 3.4 mile hike took us to two fine overlooks. One gave us a view to the west where we saw several small lakes. The other took us to a spot where we got a great view of Mount Pisgah and the southern part of the lake. See tenth and eleventh photos at left. Pisgah's steep, rocky slopes must be a rock climbers' dream...yet we saw no climbers. At the second overlook, we spotted a toad. See twelfth photo at left.

We finished this walk at 1750 with Mount Hor taking us to an elevation of 2648 feet.

The total for the day's hikes was 7.65 miles with 2113 feet of climbing. This was just a warm-up for what was to come.

We drove to New Hampshire and our final campground. As we crossed the border, the whole feel of the state changed. The weather and terrain were similar but the towns were different. Whereas Vermont seemed quaint and genuine (see thirteenth photo at left), New Hampshire seemed more luxurious and modern. In New Hampshire, we found magnificent ski lodges, five star hotels, and manicured golf courses. Though I'm sure some would love it, Norma and I preferred the simplicity of Vermont. While we have no doubt that New Hampshire brings in more money from tourists, we also believe that Vermont stays closer to its New England heritage and way of life. Others told us the same.

Regardless of the man-made features, the landscape of New Hampshire was gorgeous. Rugged mountains, green valleys, and waterfalls. We stopped along the way to view the Silver Cascade Falls (see fourteenth photo at left).

The whole time, we looked for moose. Not a sausage.

Just before dark, we checked in at the Crawford Notch Campground in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. In the main building, we saw a taxidermy of the ferret-looking animal we saw earlier. It was a mink!

By now, we were setting up the tent like a well trained Nascar pit crew changing tires. This campsite had a very nice store and good showers but the bathhouse was way out yonder from our campsite. Fortunately, there was a porta-john nearby.

We caught a hearty meal at Fabyan's Station Restaurant and Lounge, making sure to stock up on calories for tomorrow's adventure. The place looked like a railroad station but after seeing a modern covered bridge on a golf course a little earlier in the day, I began to wonder about the authenticity of the building.

Our tent was next to the road so instead of the gentle sound of crickets, we got a little roadside noise. But as active as we had been over the last few days, we didn't have any problem getting to sleep.
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Day Seven, August 10, 2007

Our last full day in New England was also our most physically challenging. Norma and I have done quite a bit of hiking together but today would be our greatest climb.

At 1005, we began at the Appalachian Mountain Club Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, elevation 2022.

Tuckerman Ravine Trail took us west in the 725,000 acre White Mountain National Forest. Our first stop was an extremely beautiful waterfall called Crystal Cascade. See first photo at left.

Our rocky trail ran parallel to the Cutler River. It led us to Hermit Lake Shelters where we stopped for a snack.

We spotted a garter snake slithering through the rocks. See second photo at left.

Venturing onward, we scrambled up the steep Tuckerman Ravine (see third photo at left) along a waterfall. Folks coming down were moving slowly due to some of the wet rocks and steep drop-offs.

The view was spectacular as we climbed above the tree line. In my opinion, the only more scenic hike I'd done on the east coast was the Long Trail which we did on Sunday. However, if the visibility was as good as Sunday, I might think differently. See fourth, fifth, and sixth photos at left. Today, things started out sunny but then turned overcast. Near the peak, we were walking in the clouds.

At Tuckerman Junction, we headed north to our destination, Mount Washington, elevation 6288. Along the way, we ran into several people and a few dogs. We made it to the top just before 1400, having hiked only 4.38 miles. See seventh photo at left. Near the peak was a restaurant and a train. See eighth photo at left. People could drive to the top, take a shuttle, or even a train. Very New Hampshire-ish.

We ate Meals Ready-to-Eat (military rations) because they are just so darn full of energy.

We took the first part of the rocky descent slowly. Another hiker told us that when he first climbed the mountain, he got hurt after the first 15 minutes of descent and had to complete the rest of the hike in pain. Better to be safe...at least at the beginning.

Instead of taking the same route back, we headed east along the Lion Head Trail. This prevented us from having to make the steeper descent on the wet rocks near the falls. Along this path, cairns marked the trail instead of painted markers. See ninth photo at left. The huge cairns gave the trail a mysterious look that reminded me of the builders of ancient civilizations. While the cairns aren't ancient, the Appalachian Mountains, which contain Mount Washington, are most certainly ancient, dating back over 500 million years!

Some parts of the trail were home to a multitude of small pine trees that gave the place a Christmas tree farm gone-out-of-control look. See tenth photo at left.

Many of the rocks were shiny. Not sure why. See eleventh photo at left. At the lower elevations, the rocks contained an assortment of other materials. While I didn't see any that clearly contained fossils, I'm guessing many of them must have once contained some sort of prehistoric life. See twelfth photo at left.

A noisy squirrel (most likely a red squirrel) chatted up a ruckus as we passed by. He didn't seem to happy about us being there. See thirteenth photo at left.

As we got closer to the end, we sped up quite a bit though the trail was still very rocky. We took one final look at the gorgeous Crystal Cascade.

Our final adventure for the week ended at 1845. We hiked 8.62 miles and climbed 4266 feet! As the volunteer at the visitor center pointed out, these trails weren't smooth switchbacks. They were rocky, steep trails that sometimes required scrambling.

Norma and I ate at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center and enjoyed a conversation with Jim, a fellow from Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Labs who knows someone with whom I once worked.

In the visitor center store, we did a good deal of shopping. What was nice is that I bought a New England sea kayaking book while Norma bought a New England hiking book. We're already looking forward to our next trip.
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Day Eight, August 11, 2007

After a good night's sleep, we were on the road, heading for home. The weather was great. Almost a shame to be stuck in a car. We were hoping to catch one last glimse of a moose but saw none. A local said they are rarely seen and that we were lucky to see any on our trip.

We passed Dinosaur State Park in Connecticut. I'm sure we'll return and make time for that.

We drove through New York City and managed to get through without any difficulty. The city skyline and the Empire State Building had their own special beauty quite unlike the Long Trail or Mount Washington.

The New Jersey Turnpike took us through the state quickly on well maintained roads.

Ironically, the worst traffic was here in Maryland when we waited to pass through the Fort McHenry Tunnel. Then the worst paved road was on highway 295 just south of Baltimore. We were already missing New England.

I've been on trips where I pass through an area so quickly, it seems the only purpose of going there was so I could say I've been there. But with this adventure, Norma and I spent a good deal of time in a very small part of the country. We feel we had a chance to experience life in the area, meet some people, and most importantly, see the beauty nature has to offer. With so much of the United States left to explore, I don't think we'll ever have an excuse to say we were bored on our vacation.