By Kasandra Fleury
There is a hidden gem tucked away in Central Vermont. Driving to the trailhead you feel like you are going to be right in a busy suburb. But as soon as you step away from your car, the magic of the woods surrounds you, transporting you to a different place. The Millstone Trails are a network of recreational trails that are maintained by volunteers for hiking, mountain biking, trail running, snowshoeing, skiing and even horseback riding (judging from the prized manure piles that my puppy happily discovered). There is also a disc golf course located in the forest. We always see something new when we are there and I still find it hard to believe that I just discovered this place last year. My dog training students had told me about these trails but I had my tunnel vision for the White Mountains. When Radar, my puppy, entered my life though, it was time to explore some easier and lower elevation trails. I am so glad we began adventuring here.
One of the coolest things about this trail system is the abandoned granite quarries. Scattered throughout the Barre Town Forest, these quarries give you a glimpse into the history of what life was like back when granite workers harvested large stones from them. A few of the paths actually have signs with interesting facts about the particular quarry you are standing at. It never ceases to amaze me how at one point this area was a bustle with activity. The Rock of Ages Corporation still operates granite quarries in the area and has a visitor center a short distance from where I usually park for the Millstone Trails.
Whenever the pups and I begin a hike at Millstone, we generally don’t have a set route in mind. I actually really like being able to just wander and snake my way through the forest. We have gotten twisted around a couple times but we always find our way back. The VAST snowmobile trail runs through the forest so I tend to use that as my home base. If I can find my way to the VAST trail, I’m good. We have discovered a few favorites during our wandering. The Heifer Pasture Trail has offered quite a few wildlife encounters with deer and porcupines (luckily they were up a tree so the dogs didn’t have a chance to say hello). The TNT Trail winds its way through the woods and over some cool narrow bridges created for the mountain biking community. Then there is the Ruins Trail. I love the Ruins Trail. It takes you by the remains of old rigging and a view into a very deep granite quarry. The dogs found a little side trail recently and it led out to a very peaceful sitting spot in an area I never would have thought was accessible. The Holy Ghost Trail might be my new favorite. It tends to be cooler year round so we will be sure to hang out there during the summer months. And the Lovers Lookout that is accessible from the Holy Ghost Trail offers one of the most gorgeous views from high atop a giant mountain of refuse granite blocks. Looking from our perch, we can take in the views of Camels Hump and Mount Mansfield. And Radar loves to watch the turkey vultures riding the air currents. I keep telling myself I need to toss a journal and a pen into my pack so I can just sit there and write. It’s a quieter area in the forest too, so we usually do not run into other hikers.
One of the most popular trails in the Millstone Trails network would have to be the Grand Lookout Trail. This trail is fairly easy and offers one amazing view from the lookout. I have seen all the way to the Canadian Border of Vermont on a clear day. Again, it is so amazing that I can be so close to downtown and still feel like I am miles away. The best thing along the Grand Lookout Trail are the incredible carvings that artists have carved directly into the granite. A monster face. A weasel. Owls and a dinosaur. It’s like a scavenger hunt as you look for the next carving. So much talent.
Once we have adventured and explored, and once the dogs have wallowed in enough mud pits to smell like a swamp thing, it is time to return to the car. We usually spend at least two hours here and have connected trails to create six mile loops. I just love being able to wander and see something new around each turn. I do have some ideas of which trails I want to check out next time but I think I will just see where our AKUs take us.