Around Vermont, new trails are begging for your knobby tires’ attention.
A soft loamy trail that rips down a ski mountain under a canopy of pines. A technical stretch carved through granite and hardwood roots. Wide open pastures with blazingly fast doubletrack. Berms, drops, ladder bridges and table tops. Mountain bikers dream of riding trails like these. For those of us lucky enough to call Vermont our home, a second home, weekend getaway or family retreat, this is our backyard.
It may be one of the smallest states in the Union, but Vermont deserves its reputation as the premier mountain bike destination in the northeast. From Kingdom Trails’ 100-mile network that traverses high, open fields and snakes through forests near Burke Mountain, to the downhill courses Mount Snow has been developing for over 20 years, no Eastern state can lay claim to as much terrain or as much variety as Vermont.
And recently, much of that terrain has been growing.
“It’s an exciting time for the sport here,” says Tom Stuessy, president of the Vermont Mountain Bike Association. Over the past several years, VMBA has worked with chapters around the state to grow the trail network. In 2015, statewide membership grew by over 1,000, nine new chapters came online and volunteers logged some 20,000 hours to develop over 25 miles of new trails.
“This year, more than ever, we’re seeing VMBA chapters collaborating to expand and connect their networks,” says Stuessy. This summer, 18 of VMBA’s 26 chapters will be developing new trails on private land. “They’re doing so in ways that stay true to the sport’s roots but can also build a gateway to mountain biking for those fortunate enough to visit Vermont,” says Stuessy.
With the addition of 2,000 new acres to Camel’s Hump State Park this spring, the dream of connecting trails around Waterbury, Stowe and the Mad River Valley is tantalizingly close to a reality.
It may not be long before there will be a virtual corridor of single- and doubletrack runs between the ski towns that dot Route 100. It may be possible, soon, to ride from Stowe to Sugarbush to Killington and perhaps even down to Mount Snow without riding pavement.
Already, plans are in the works to connect the Green Mountain Trails in Pittsfield with new trails around the town of Killington. Killington Resort recently announced its intent to become the “Mountain Bike Capital of the East,” and added nine more miles of downhill trails last summer.
If you really want to push your pedals and test skills (or just watch some of the best riders in the East), check out the Eastern Cup Series or Root 66 Race Series, which are making stops at Mount Snow, Killington, Sugarbush and Burke. The Eastern States Cup is a downhill and enduro race series with prize purses. If gravity-fed racing isn’t your thing, Root 66 is a cross-country race series with stops at the Catamount Outdoor Family Center in Williston and the Coyote Hill Camp in Bradford.
You don’t need an event or an excuse to get out there. Stop by your local bike shop or check out vmba.org to find a group ride. And follow or guide to the best trail networks in the state, from north to south.
1. Kingdom Trails
Mountain bikers from all over the country now make pilgrimages to ride the expansive 100-mile network that is Kingdom Trails in East Burke. It’s easy to see why: local favorites like Heaven’s Bench flow through open fields with stunning views of Willoughby Gap, while the black diamond classic Sidewinder has slingshot turns and stomach-turning drops. Swing by Kingdom Trails’ Darling Hill headquarters for a day pass ($15) and while you’re in the area, check out the 19 lift-accessed downhill trails at Burke Mountain Resort, built in cooperation with Kingdom Trails.
More info: kingdomtrails.com. Must ride: Sidewinder, Kitchel, Troll Stroll, Burn’em Down, Knight Slayer. Après-bike: Burritos from the Vermont Food Truck Company at Mike’s Tiki Hut. Local shops: East Burke Sports (East Burke), Village Sports (Lyndonville).
One of the early leaders in Vermont’s growing mountain bike movement, the Stowe Mountain Bike Club maintains a stellar network of 31 miles of fun, flowy trails at Adams Camp (near Stowe Mountain Resort’s Nordic trails), Cady Hill (in the center of town) and Sterling Forest (on the Morrisville border). You can connect all of these without hitting much pavement and then, for even more mileage, buy a $10 day pass and head out on nearly 20 miles (and growing) of trails at the Trapp Family Lodge. Trapp’s also has a fleet of more than 50 rental bikes and this spring TopNotch Resort has added trails that connect to the entire network.
More info: Stowemountainbike.com Must-ride: Zog’s, Snake, Pipeline. Après-bike: Local brews and Pizza Margherita at Piecasso, pork tacos at Doc Ponds, a brew at von Trapp Brewing. Local shops: IRide, Mansfield Cycles.
Down the road from the Ben & Jerry’s headquarters in Waterbury is something just as sweet; nine miles of singletrack at Waterbury’s Perry Hill area. After a day riding the rocky switchbacks of Burning Spear and the loamy pine forests of Camp Fire, mountain bikers will soon be able to whip turns on a new pump track scheduled for completion this summer—or retire to Prohibition Pig, Cork or The Reservoir for the après ride scene, all within pedaling distance. The Waterbury Area Trails Alliance (WATA) has also finished the first phase of a plan to bring more mountain biking to neighboring Little River State Park, the first step toward connecting Waterbury with the Stowe Mountain Bike Club’s Cottonbrook trails to the north.
More info: Waterburytrail.com Must-ride: Burning Spear, Joe’s, Rastaman. Après-bike: Local brews and pork cracklin’s at Prohibition Pig. Local shop: Waterbury Sports.
4. Millstone Trails
The Millstone Trail Network weaves through the historic marble and granite quarries of Barre and Websterville. You’ll ride past toppled derricks and stacks of cut granite and along deep, dark pools of water (the site of many summer swim parties). Just off I-89 in north central Vermont, the trails are located in three areas: the Barre Town Forest, Gnome Man’s Land and Canyonlands. At 400 acres, the Barre Town Forest is the largest and includes multiple loops with appealing trails for novice mountain bikers. Gnome Man’s Land has more advanced terrain, with trails like Harrington Heights, Harrington Ridge and Vortex that feature bridgework, narrow ridges, exposed granite and enough slippery roots to keep you focused. If you still have energy to burn, play a round on the Millstone Disc Golf course. While in the area, you can also check out Montpelier’s trails—North Branch Park in Montpelier and the East Montpelier trails—and Irish Hill in Berlin.
More info: millstonetrails.org Must-ride: The Angry Gnome, TNT, Harrington Heights, and Fellowship Ring. Après-bike: The Quarry Grill and Tavern, Ladder 1 Grill. Local shop: Onion River Sports in Montpelier.
5. Chittenden County/FOTW Trails
In the towns surrounding Burlington, Hinesburg and Winooski, the Fellowship Of The Wheel (FOW) maintains seven pods of trails each with their own unique style and difficulty. Novices head to the 20 miles of the Catamount Outdoor Family Center (a day pass costs $8) for both rolling pasture and woodland terrain, or to the Richmond River Trail along the banks of the Winooski River. For the advanced, there is Essex’s Saxon Hill with its smooth and flowy singletrack and jump trails. The 30 miles of trails at Huntington’s Sleepy Hollow climb to views of the Green Mountains before descending to Hinesburg Town Forest. Or, take a spin on the Carse Hills trails with freeride elements including rock faces, jumps and wooden features. Options abound and it’s all good.
More info: FOTWheel.org. Must-ride: Henry’s Highlands, Preacher. Après-bike: Skinny Pancake (Burlington), Hinesburg Publick House. Local shops: Earl’s Cyclery, Outdoor Gear Exchange, Ski Rack.
6. Mad River Valley
Over the past four years, riders in the Mad River Valley have been building out what might be the near-perfect beginner and intermediate trails
around Blueberry Lake. Trails like Tootsie Roll, Suki’s Alley, Lenord’s and Flying Squirrel follow gentle doubletrack near and around the pristine lake (also a good spot for a paddle or a swim). More advanced riders can start from American Flatbread and challenge themselves on local favorites such as Revolution, GS and Cyclone.
New this summer, a 1.4-mile connector trail called Evolution will continue across from the classic Revolution trail for a flowy, intermediate ride on banked turns.
This spring, the state of Vermont and the Trust For Public Land announced the addition of some 2,000 acres to the Camel’s Hump State Forest. The area, known as the Dowsville Headwaters, lies on the northeast shoulder of Camel’s Hump. This addition was welcome news for mountain bikers: you can now access seven miles of dirt roads and singletrack trails in the easement. The area also creates the opportunity to link trails in the Mad River Valley and Waterbury.
More info: Madriverriders.com Must-ride: Revolution, Cyclone, Chain Gang. Après-bike: American Flatbread at Lareau Farm. Local shop: Stark Mountain Bike Works in Waitsfield. Don’t miss: VMBA Fest at Sugarbush’s Mount Ellen, July 21-23.
When they’re not building and maintaining a stash of backcountry skiing glades in the forests around Rochester and Braintree, the men and women of the Rochester Area Sports Trail Alliance are out on their bikes. This summer, RASTA will be working on the Wellness Trails, a network of three loops totaling approximately three miles behind the Rochester Ranger Station on Route 100 near the village. The Wellness Trails will comprise a fun, flowy beginner/intermediate trail network that climbs and loops up to a ridge overlooking the White River valley. Over the Greens to the east, RASTA is contributing funds and volunteer hours to help build a pump track near the new playground in Randolph village this summer. And to the west (a 30-minute drive), 14-mile Chandler Ridge trail in the Moosalamoo area provides views to the Adirondacks, Lake Dunmore and Silver Lake. RASTA has also been working on new singletrack trails to be located close to the Randolph town center as well as adjacent private landowner parcels.
More info: Rastavt.org. Must-ride: Come back and ride the Wellness trails when they’re finished later this summer. Après-bike: Fresh-made breads and soups at Sandy’s Books & Bakery (until 3 p.m.). Local shop: Green Mountain Bikes in Rochester.
8. Pittsfield /Killington
For the past few years, trail networks have been growing in the Pittsfield/Stockbridge area like mushrooms, thanks in large part to the folks behind Green Mountain Trails. On Thursday nights, group rides leave from behind the white barn at Riverside Farm and explore what has become a well-maintained network of 25 miles of trails. There are more than 100 bermed switchbacks, gentle climbs and some high-speed downhills. For an incredible view, stop at Shrek’s Cabin—an old stone cabin at the top with 100-mile views out over the mountains. And if you are lucky, the pizza oven at trailmaster Matt Baatz’s Muddy Hut (a rustic trailside campground he’s carefully built in the forest), will be firing after the Thursday ride. Just 8 miles down the road, the town of Killington received a $50,000 grant to start work on a planned 15-mile network of trails around Kent’s Pond. And there’s a long-term goal to connect the town trails, the resort and Pittsfield’s network.
More info: gmtrails.org Must-ride: Warman, Fuster’s Trail, Summit Loop. Après-bike: House-smoked meats and BBQ Pittsfield General Store; Jax, Moguls and Lookout Tavern in Killington. Local shops: Alpine Bike Works, The Basin, both in Killington.
9. Pine Hill, Rutland
Located within pedaling distance of downtown Rutland, Pine Hill Park has something for riders of all abilities with 16 miles of winding, forested trails spread over 325 acres. For a mellow and historic ride, follow the Carriage Trail, a former road that connected Rutland and Proctor in the 18th and 19th centuries. It’s 5.1 miles long and has views of ponds, beaver dams and forests. This is a terrific area and one of the first developed bike parks in the state.
More info: pinehillpark.org Must ride: Voldemort, Sisyphus, Birches. Après-bike: Buffalo chicken sandwich and local brews at Hop’n Moose Brewery in Rutland. Local shop: Green Mountain Cyclery
Last year, thanks to the work of the Trust for Public Land, the town of West Windsor succeeded in adding the 469-acre former Ascutney Ski Area to the town forest. A new organization, Mount Ascutney Outdoors, is now tasked with maintaining recreation options in the area including 30 miles of trails on the former resort property and a ski rope tow it opened this past winter. This year, Sport Trails of the Ascutney Basin will start work on a connector trail to the nearby Mount Ascutney State Park, which means you can camp at the park and then ride over to the trails on the mountain and the neighboring STAB network.
More info: stabvt.org Must ride: Boulder Dash, Cloud Nine, The Grassy Knoll. Après-bike: Flatbreads at the Riverbend Taps, Beer Garden at the Harpoon Brewery in nearby Windsor. Local shop: Paradise Sports in Windsor.
Featured photo by Ryan Thibault