Exploring Fields and Forests in Central Vermont

By Evan Johnson

The hikes that I enjoy the most are always the ones that involve the least amount of planning. It’s an inverse relationship theory that I’ve been testing lately. It’s these shorter excursions that make for good training and practice for the bigger, more remote missions. It’s the short hikes that can have a surprising payoff.

This past fall, my partner and I moved an hour north, out of the valley floor we’d been living in for three years to the rolling hills and valleys of central Vermont. We love so much about our new home, and now that the snow has started to recede, we’ve begun to explore our new neighborhood and oh boy have we found some goodies.

I’ll start with two obvious ones. Two of the state’s most diverse and stunning state parks are within easy striking distance. Camel’s Hump State Park, with its unmistakable peak by the same name is just over the ridge due west. Little River State Park is over the hill to the north and across the river and its artifacts from an older Vermont are all there for the exploring. Cellar holes, rusted farming equipment, small family cemeteries, are all just off the hiking and mountain biking trails. But could there be anything closer?

The reconnoiter began on our dirt road that bends away and back to the state highway in a giant horseshoe shape. On walks with the dog, I would peer down logging roads and across pastures, wondering what there was to be found. I trawled the Vermont Parcel Viewer and open-source mapping websites like Caltopo. I applied all layers and filters, really pulled out all the stops to get the idea.

But there’s only so much you can do on a computer before you need to get out there. I was out for one of my first trail runs of the season and itching for some new, less muddy terrain when I turned on a whim up a long driveway. My intention had been a simple out and back, but when I reached to top with lead-heavy legs and lungs that felt like paper bags, I found myself staring down a logging road, dipping away from the driveway and in the direction of the town forest. Could a loop be made? Whose land was this and would they chase me off? Call the sheriff?

I decided to go for it, and ran a good two miles through pine and maple forests on an evenly graded double track recently made by a four wheeler. When I emerged from the woods, I found myself in my neighbor’s high pasture. It was getting on toward sunset and the weather was deteriorating, so I cut through the field and knocked on the door. The property owner greeted me with a smile and assured me it was fine to explore the trails on her farm, but warned that her two beagles might come tearing after me. I said that wouldn’t be a problem and offered to bring over a loaf of bread, which sealed the deal.

Aside from my regular trail runs, these have become my new favorite places for relaxed afternoon or morning hikes with friends. I pack my usual hiking rucksack with the usual essentials like a good Eagle Scout and throw in some other goodies as well, including bagels and cream cheese, a jar of pickles, apples, hummus, carrots, chocolate. A variety six pack of cider and beer somehow found its way in there as well. We wandered the trails and logging roads, admiring the long views to Mount Hunger and the Worcester Range afforded by the lack of leaves, the scatter of glacial erratics left by retreating glaciers, and the small stands of pristine white birch.

My local scouting continues apace. I’m harboring fantasies of setting off on my ski touring equipment next winter for some low-angle turns through the trees, and crossing the Winooski River into downtown Waterbury for a pint and a burger at Prohibition Pig. But for now, the spring continues and thoughts of advancing summer, with all of its delights, are already calling.