Take a Hike
The impressive network of trails in New England starts in the hills of Connecticut, gains altitude in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, lines the verdant slopes of Vermont’s Green Mountains, slips through the granite notches of New Hampshire’s Whites, and meanders high above the lakes of Maine. And if you're yearning for a one-day dose of quietude, there’s no better escape than to hit one of these scenic paths.
The impressive network of trails in New England starts in the hills of Connecticut, gains altitude in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, lines the verdant slopes of Vermont’s Green Mountains, slips through the granite notches of New Hampshire’s Whites, and meanders high above the lakes of Maine. Paths are narrow and wide, soft and springy, rock-strewn, leaf-littered, and root-studded. They cross rivers, skirt lakes, find hidden ponds and leave you at waterfalls nestled deep within the forest. If you are yearning for a one-day dose of quietude, there’s no better place to escape the stress of modernity than on one of these scenic trails.
Ten Mile Hill, Kent The hikers who created the Appalachian Trail didn’t just connect Georgia to Maine in a straight line from Point A to Point B. They created a sinuous path through the loveliest mountains and woods on the East Coast. This is especially true in the Litchfield Hills section of Connecticut, where 53 miles of the trail weave through deep forests of maples, oaks and hemlocks in the northwestern corner of the state.
The Ten Mile Hill, a section of the Appalachian Trail, starts near Bulls Bridge Falls. George Washington passed through these same woods once. According to his expense account, on March 3, 1781, the great general might have taken a nasty spill on his horse here. His travel expense report includes the entry, “getting a horse out of Bulls Bridge Falls, $215.00.”
Once you’ve observed the falls, a short connector trail leads you to the Appalachian Trail, where you can begin your trek. The trail rises above the water, before descending to a campsite where the waters of the Housatonic and Ten Mile rivers merge. From here, a series of switchbacks climb steadily to the crest of Ten Mile Hill. Up top, the westward view looks over the Taconic Mountains, the distant Catskills, and the rolling farms in between.
After your hike, take a dip in Lake Waramaug, then spend the night at the Boulders Inn (800-455-1565, www.bouldersinn.com). Located in New Preston, this upscale retreat has 20 guest rooms overlooking the lake.
Gulf Hagas, Katahdin Iron Works The people of Maine often refer to Gulf Hagas as the Grand Canyon of the state. That’s a bit of hometown hyperbole, but it’s still one of Maine’s most spectacular hikes. Hidden in the 100 Mile Wilderness of the Appalachian Trail, a 45-minute drive on dirt roads from Greenville in central Maine, Gulf Hagas is a gorge carved by the pounding waters of the Pleasant River and lumbermen’s dynamite. A series of exquisite waterfalls awaits as the river drops nearly 500 feet in 2.5 miles through the narrow walls of the slate canyon.
Give yourself at least seven hours to enjoy the entire loop. Extended roots, large boulders and sheets of rock make walking slow, and you’ll pause numerous times to take in the views, and swim. Buttermilk Falls is an apt name for the frothy white foam the water becomes as it churns down the rocks. A swimming hole just beyond the falls is a favorite place for hikers to strip down and plunge into the auburn-red waters, colored by iron in the water. Those piercing screams you may hear are just folks getting used to the cool temperature.
On the western shores of Moosehead Lake, 22 miles north of Greenville, is the Birches Resort (800-825-9453, www.birches.com). Guided kayak and mountain-bike tours, as well as a pontoon boat ride to spot moose, are some of the activities available come summer.
Roaring Brook/Stony Ledge Loop, Lanesborough Stony Ledge is a group of rocky cliffs that offer views of Mount Greylock’s summit, the largest peak in the Berkshires, and the V-shaped valley on the slopes of Greylock called The Hopper. From the parking lot on Roaring Brook Road, a 15-minute drive south of Williamstown, follow the path along the west side of the brook. The path crosses the stream three times before the Roaring Brook and Stony Ledge trails split. The trails are about equal in difficulty, although the Roaring Brook trail may be slightly less arduous.
Climbing more than 1,000 feet through a forest of hemlocks, spruces, yellow birches and beeches, the Roaring Brook trail finally reaches Sperry Road. A left on this gravel road west through a campground leads you to Stony Ledge, which is about 2 miles from the campground. From the rocks, you can see the War Memorial atop 3,491-foot Mount Greylock and The Hopper’s velvety carpet of trees.
Just outside Williamstown, the Guest House at Field Farm (413-458-3135, www.guesthouseatfieldfarm.org) is a unique Bauhaus-inspired property that sits on more than 300 acres of land. The Massachusetts conservation group, the Trustees of Reservations, owns the inn. Campers should try to snag one of the 34 sites at the Sperry Road Campground (877-422-6762) on the Mount Greylock State Reservation.
Mount Monadnock, Jaffrey Center For many New England children, the first mountain climb is up that broad-shouldered peak Henry David Thoreau called a “sublime mass,” Mount Monadnock. Just over the border of Massachusetts in southern New Hampshire, Monadnock is less than two hours from Boston. Its accessibility has made it the second-most-popular mountain ascent in the world, averaging about 120,000 climbers a year.
If you brave the White Dot trail, one of the steepest ascents to the peak, you’ll be rewarded with incredible vistas in a very short time. Above tree line, the forest recedes to form open ledges covered with low-lying shrubs like mountain blueberry bushes. This gives you ample opportunity to rest and peer down at the Currier & Ives setting below—a blanket of treetops, small towns with their requisite white steeples, a smattering of lakes and ponds, and farms that fan out to anonymous ridges.
Soon you’ll reach the 3,165-foot summit, where Thoreau watched in dismay as his fellow mid-19th-century trampers inscribed their names in rock: you can still see many clearly marked like “T. S. Spaulding, 1853.”
Spend the night at the Inn at Jaffrey Center (877-510-7019, www.theinnatjaffreycenter.com), where the century-old porch is the perfect place to rest those weary legs.
Napatree Point, Watch Hill With its highest point a mere 812 feet, Rhode Island is not known for rugged hiking. It does, however, have some great beach strolls. Napatree Point juts out from the community of Watch Hill on a wild strip of coastline, offering views of Connecticut and Fishers Island, New York.
Take off your shoes and listen to the waves as you saunter along the water on this crescent-shaped beach all the way to the point. The spit of land curves back toward Rhode Island, similar to Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod. Sailboats cruise in the Long Island Sound, ospreys and their young fly above the shores. As you reach the point, the last square foot of terra firma, the winds begin to howl, the surf seems a little bit more ominous, and large battered rocks replace the sand.
On the walk back, view the Victorian houses that cling to the bluffs of Watch Hill. The Watch Hill Inn (800-356-9314, www.watchhillinn.com), located on a main street overlooking Little Narragansett Bay, is a peaceful place to watch the sunset.
Mount Mansfield, Stowe It’s a strenuous climb to summit Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak, but it’s certainly no formidable challenge like mighty Katahdin in Maine or Mount Washington, New England’s highest. The route is a steady ascent that rewards you with views of Lake Champlain in its entirety; Burlington, a 45-minute drive to the east; and the highest peak in New York, Mount Marcy.
There are many ways up Mansfield. Families should opt for the Long Trail, south from Rte. 108. A little steeper are the Laura Cowles and Sunset Ridge trails from the backside at Underhill State Park, a 45-minute ride from Stowe. Feeling lazy? Drive the toll road or hop in a gondola, which leaves you near the Long Trail a short distance—but still a challenging hike—from the summit.
If you really want to test your mettle, go on the Hell Brook trail. It’s a favorite of locals, as evidenced by the number of Vermonters listed in the logbook at the trailhead. The unrelenting path starts from Rte. 108 at about 1,900 feet, and a little more than a mile later, you’ve hit the 4,000-foot mark. About 2 hours into the climb, at the 1.3-mile mark, you’ll reach the so-called Adam’s Apple of the mountain. (Mansfield also has a Forehead, Nose and Chin, and for some reason the Chin, at 4,393 feet, is the highest point. Must be one of those Yankee chins.)
Stowe’s Trapp Family Lodge (800-826-7000, www.trappfamily.com), owned by the family that inspired The Sound of Music, is perched atop a mountain with panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. If you still have the leg power, the 2,700-acre grounds feature splendid walks through dense woods, like the 6-mile round-trip stroll to Slayton Pasture Cabin. You may find yourself singing “The hills are alive…”