Climbing Mount Mansfield is definitely one of the better hikes we’ve done in Vermont so far. Mount Mansfield is located in Smuggler’s Notch State Park near the town of Stowe, famous for its winter sports facilities. Rising up to 4,393 feet (1,339 meters), it is the tallest mountain in Vermont.
According to Wikipedia, Mount Mansfield is one of only three places in the state where alpine tundra from the Ice Ages still survives. It is both an extremely fragile place and the most-visited mountain in Vermont, which is all the more reason to stay on the designated trails when hiking.
When you look at the mountain from the east, it kind of looks like the profile of a man’s face. Several prominent points on the mountain are named after facial features; the Adam’s Apple, Chin, Nose and Forehead are a few examples.
There are several trails to the summit, the most popular of which is the Long Trail North. The Long Trail is the oldest long-distance hiking trail in the USA and runs from southern Vermont to the Canadian border, along the ridges of the Green Mountains.
We went down along the Long Trail, but up via the shortest and steepest possible way. (After hiking the Precipice Trail in Maine, we now like a challenge!)
Hell Brook Trail – Long Trail Loop
The Hell Brook Trail runs straight up the mountain. Literally, there is no shorter way to get from Mount Mansfield’s base to its summit. It runs steeply up the east face towards the Chin, where it joins the Adam’s Apple Trail and, shortly after, the Long Trail in Eagle Pass. The Hell Brook Trail essentially follows the Hell Brook and climbs steadily for 1.8 miles (2.9 kilometers) to the Chin. From there it is another 0.3 mile (0.5 kilometer) to the summit. The trail is rocky – you have to use your hands to climb up rocks – and mostly wet – sometimes you actually walk in the Hell Brook.
Because it is so wet and slippery, the recommended direction to hike this trail is up. If you want to go back down the same way, it is suggested to use walking poles. It is a scenic trail, too, occasionally offering excellent views.
But because it is also quite challenging, the trail is a lot quieter than the popular Long Trail. This makes it a wonderfully rewarding route to Mount Mansfield’s summit.
Before joining the Long Trail, the trail flattens out for a short while before ascending steeply again towards the summit, the highest point in Vermont.
After spending about an hour and a half in solitude ascending the Hell Brook Trail, you will most likely be surprised by the amount of people at the summit. When we got there, there were dozens of people sitting around. The crowd didn’t really bother us though.
The views were spectacular, as you may expect from a mountain this size. It was windy and chilly at the summit and I had forgotten to bring a sweatshirt – an embarrassing rookie mistake. We quickly ate our sandwiches and headed back down; this time along the Long Trail South. This steady 2.3-mile (3.7-kilometer) descent took us another hour and a half minutes to complete.
Hiking Mount Mansfield
A short walk along the road brought us back to our car that was parked at the large Long Trail South parking lot. This Hell Brook Trail-Long Trail loop includes about 1.25 miles of walking on the road; the total distance is a little more than 5.6 miles (9 kilometers) and it takes roughly three hours and twenty minutes to complete the full loop.