How to Hike the Long Trail in Vermont
Avid thru hiker and Curated Hiking and Camping Expert Brett K. details everything you'd need to know to successfully thru hike the Long Trail in Vermont!
Length: 272mi Elevation Gain: 63,500ft High Point: 4,389ft at Vermont's Highest Point, Mt. Mansfield Low Point: 326ft at Winooski River Southern Terminus: Williamstown, MA Northern Terminus: Journey's End Road, North Troy, VT Time to Hike: 2–4 weeks
Established in 1930, the Long Trail (LT) in Vermont is the oldest long-distance hiking trail in the United States. It was the vision of James P. Taylor and later became the inspiration for Benton MacKaye to create the Appalachian Trail (AT).
The LT begins at the border of Massachusetts and Vermont. Following the spine of the Green Mountains all the way to the Canadian border, the trail summits all five of Vermont's 4000ft peaks. This world-class hiking trail is maintained and protected primarily by the Green Mountain Club (GMC)—a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the trail.
What to Expect
The LT is considered by many veteran hikers to be one of—if not the most—physically challenging long-distance hiking trails in the United States. Vermont's wilderness is both beautiful and rugged. Switchbacks are sparse, and you will regularly employ all four limbs to climb up and over these ancient peaks. Persistent rain and mud will turn days into a slog and will test your fortitude of mind.
Fortunately, every hardship on the LT is outweighed by Vermont's mystical beauty. You will spend blissful days meandering through enchanting boreal forests, hardwood groves, and fields of wildflowers, with the sweet fragrance of balsam fir permeating your memories for years to come.
You will make temporary homes in the LT's historic shelters and commune with other like-minded hikers—lifting each other's spirits in order to begin another day with high morale. Town stops and resupply points provide an opportunity to take in the rich culture of the North Country, steeped in resilience and tradition. The Long Trail is a strenuous endeavor, but a prepared individual will come out the other side with a well-earned feeling of tenaciousness and accomplishment.
When to Hike
Spring in Vermont—“mud season”—inspired AT hikers to dub the state "Vermud" for good reason. Snowmelt from the previous winter makes the trail extremely muddy in the spring, resulting in more erosion on the trail and an unpleasant hike. For this reason, the Green Mountain Club recommends that all hikers wait until after Memorial Day to begin their journey. While you will still encounter your fair share of mud on the trail, the later you start, the less there will be.
Mid-June to Early August is the LT's peak season: much of the mud has dried up, there is extra traffic in the form of AT Hikers (the LT coincides with the AT for about 100 miles in the southern half of the state), and night-time temperatures are warm and pleasant. During the summer months, however, black flies and mosquitos are out in full force.
Some hikers opt to wait out the summer months and start in September. The bugs have mostly died off, daytime temperatures are cooler, and New England's famous fall foliage is in full swing. This is also a great time to hike if you want to avoid the crowds and enjoy some solitude. The downside to hiking in the fall is temperatures can drop well below freezing at night, so you must be prepared with more cold-weather gear.
Most hikers choose to begin at the Massachusetts/Vermont border and hike North towards Canada, mainly because the southern 100 miles of the trail are easier, and therefore a good warmup for the northern 170 miles.
- Easier access to the southern terminus
- The first 100 miles or so are the easiest and make for a good warm-up
- Ending in Canada feels more exciting than ending in Massachusetts, as the trail gets more difficult and scenic up north
- More people on the trail equals a more social experience
- Finding your way home from the remote northern terminus requires more planning
- Crowded shelters and campsites from sharing the route with AT hikers in the south and since NOBO is a more common direction
- In fall, the weather can become more problematic with freezing temperatures as you head north
- Transportation from the southern terminus is easy
- Finish the more difficult hiking first
- Less crowding at shelters and town lodging
- Arguably the better direction for a fall start weather-wise
- Transportation to the northern terminus is difficult
- Ending in Massachusetts is generally considered anti-climactic
- You'll need to be in better physical shape to begin with the more-arduous hiking
Some hikers may opt to take on the Trail in smaller sections if they can't commit to it for weeks at a time. The LT has 166 miles of side trails branching off, making it easy to piece together loops for section hiking.
The southern terminus in Williamstown, MA, is significantly easier to arrange transportation to and from. The most common method is to fly into New York and hop on the Peter Pan Bus in Port Authority which takes you through Williamstown. Peter Pan also has service from Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Another option is to fly into Burlington, VT, and take a Greyhound Bus down to Bennington, VT. From there, you have plenty of options for cabs and private shuttle services. Many of the LT trail hostels are willing to drive you to a trailhead for a small fee, or sometimes complimentary for customers. If you don’t want to pay for a shuttle or cab, you could try your luck at hitchhiking. Most Vermonters are friendly and familiar with the trail, so catching a ride as a hiker isn’t too difficult.
Getting to and from the northern terminus is a bit trickier. From the true northern terminus, there is still a 1.3mi hike to get to the closest trailhead at Journey's End Road—which happens to be in the middle of nowhere.
If you have the option, the best thing to do is to have a friend or family member drive to the trailhead. Otherwise, you'll have to hire a cab or private shuttle to meet you at the trailhead and take you 90 minutes to the closest airport in Burlington.
If you're hiking NOBO, be sure to make these arrangements ahead of time because cell reception at the northern terminus is pretty nonexistent.
Water sources are abundant on the Long Trail and you shouldn't ever have much trouble filling up your containers as long as you have a good filter. In fact, sometimes the trail itself will become a creek.
Pack as light as possible. The relentless ups and downs of the LT are hard on your joints, and a heavy pack will only make that worse. Trekking poles help relieve the stress from knee-pounding descents as well. When packing, just remember this catchy phrase, “Welcome to the Long Trail, where down is up and up is up!”
You are going to get wet on the Long Trail. There’s just no fighting it. Multiple days of rain are a common occurrence in Vermont and sometimes there is no way around hiking right through a stream or giant puddle. A decent raincoat is a must, and you might consider rain pants and mitts as well. Pack quick-drying hiking clothes and multiple layers to adjust to changing temperatures.
There's also no way around wet feet on the LT, and when—not if—they get wet, it's best to have footwear that won't retain water and will dry quickly. Leave your waterproof hiking boots at home and consider some lightweight trail runners or hiking shoes instead.
For further advice on backpacking gear, feel free to reach out to me or one of our other Camping & Hiking Experts on Curated.
Luckily, the Long Trail is extremely well marked with white blazes (painted markings on trees). You won’t get lost often, but a GPS or trail guide is a good idea to have for added peace of mind and information on town stops. The three best guides for the LT are:
- The End to Ender's Guide
- The GMC Long Trail Guide
- Far Out App's Long Trail Guide
Camping, Shelters, and Hostels
There are over 70 GMC-established backcountry camping areas along the trail, which include tent sites, three-walled lean-tos, and fully enclosed cabins. All are conveniently located near natural water sources and have a composting or moldering privy nearby.
The shelters are situated about 5-10 miles apart, so it's conceivable that one could hike the entire trail without a tent, but it's not recommended. The shelters are first come first served and can fill up quickly during peak season, so carrying a shelter of your own such as a tent is still necessary.
The Long Trail has a wonderful community surrounding it that loves to help hikers. In many of the towns adjacent to the trail, you'll find hiker hostels offering lodging, laundry, and other hiker-specific services for a very reasonable fee. Here's a list of just a few of the best hostels and lodging along the LT (from south to north)...
- Catamount Motel (Bennington)
- Green Mountain House (Manchester Center)
- Inn at the Long Trail (Rutland)
- Yellow Deli (Rutland)
- The New Homestead B&B (Rochester)
- Brandon Inn (Brandon)
- The Gathering Inn (Hancock)
- Chipman Inn B&B (Ripton)
- The Old Hotel (Lincoln)
- Crystal Palace B&B (Bristol)
- Hyde Away Inn (Waitsfield)
- Old Stagecoach Inn (Waterbury)
- Inn at Bolton Valley (Bolton Valley)
- Stowe Mountain Lodge (Stowe)
- Smugglers Notch Inn and Tavern (Smugglers Notch)
- Sunset Motor Inn (Morrisville)
- Phineas Swann B&B (Montgomery Center)
- Journey's Salon and Guest House B&B (North Troy)
Bears are clever animals; they’ve been known to frequent campsites where they can get an easy meal. If a bear becomes acclimated to humans, it can become aggressive and may have to be put down or the shelter will be forced to close.
There are three acceptable ways to store your food on the Long Trail:
- Carry a bear canister. These are bulky and heavy, but the easiest and most fool-proof way of keeping your food safe.
- Use an Ursack—a kevlar sack that you tie to the trunk of a tree. It’s much lighter than a bear canister, but make sure you tie it securely!
- The last and most common method of securing your food is to do a bear hang. This is an approved method of hanging your food bag in a tree, at least 12 feet off the ground and 6 feet from the trunk of the tree. I recommend using the bear hang method in combination with LokSaks or Smelly Proof bags.
Towns are abundant along the trail, and you shouldn't have to carry more than three to five days' worth of food before getting the opportunity to resupply. It becomes a little more difficult as you travel further north, but for the most part, finding food is a piece of cake.
Getting to and from town is usually no problem either. Vermont locals are very friendly and eager to help out hikers, so in most cases, you'll be able to catch a ride from a day hiker at a trailhead or stick your thumb in the wind and catch a hitch. There are plenty of services that offer shuttles from the trailhead as well.
Occasionally, you'll need to resupply camping gear (such as stove fuel) as well. There are numerous outfitters near the trail that have your back:
- Nature's Closet and Gear Den (Williamstown)
- Mountain Goat Outfitter (Manchester Center)
- Base Camp Outfitters (Killington)
- Mountain Travelers (Rutland)
- Clearwater Sports (Waitsfield)
- Umiak Outdoor Outfitters (Stowe)
- Johnson Farm & Garden Hardware & Rental (Johnson)
The Appalachian Trail and the Long Trail are commonly referred to as "the green tunnel," but that's a slightly deceiving term. You'll encounter plenty of bluffs and spur trails to sprawling vistas, as well as alpine zones on the higher peaks like Camel's Hump, Mt. Mansfield, Jay Peak, and Mount Abraham.
A feature unique to the North Country is the high-elevation boreal forests. Enjoy a magical forest rich with red spruce and balsam fir, blanketed with lush green moss and ferns.
Wildlife is abundant on the trail as well. Keep an eye out for deer, fox, grouse, moose, and black bear. Consider yourself lucky if you are fortunate enough to spot either of the latter!
I hope this guide inspires you to get out on the Long Trail. If you enjoyed reading this article, check out my guide to hiking the Colorado Trail as well! If you’ve got a serious itch for backpacking, feel free to reach out to a Camping & Hiking Expert here on Curated. I would be so stoked to help you get geared up for your Long Trail hike or any other backpacking trip!