A Thru-Hiker’s Guide to the Long Trail

Vermont’s Long Trail is the oldest long distance hiking trail in the United States. Completed in 1930, it winds its way through the rugged Green mountains from the MA – VT state line to the border with Canada. I hiked the entire Long Trail in the fall of 2002, and revisited the southernmost 104 miles during my Appalachian Trail hike of 2012. All logistical information has been updated as of May, 2017.

The beginning of fall foliage season | The Long Trail, 2002.

Distance :   273 miles (439 km)

Avg. Time :  20 – 22 days

High Point:  4,393 ft (1,339 m) – Mount Mansfield

Low Point:  326 ft (99.4 m) – Jonesville

Start / Finish :

  • Williamstown, MA.
  • Canadian Border (5.25 miles from the town of North Troy).

The Long Trail Overview Map (image from Longtrailvermont.com)

Getting There & Away:

  • No public transport options to the northern terminus. You’ll need to hitch or organise a private shuttle. See Longtrailvermont.com for a list of options.

Southern Terminus of The Long Trail (2012).

Season :

  • Mid-June to mid-October.
  • Unless you’ve got a thing for knee high mud and black flies, in most years you won’t want to be starting the LT before the second week of June.
  • If you can swing it with the dates, I recommend hiking from mid-September to early October. Not too many people, no bugs and the chance to catch some incredible autumnal colours.

Autumn in Vermont (photo from wikimedia).

Maps & Information :

  • The Green Mountain Club is the driving force behind the Long Trail. It built the trail back in the early 1900’s and has worked to protect and maintain it ever since. The three information sources immediately below are all published by the Green Mountain Club and can be purchased through their online store.
  • Vermont’s Long Trail Map (5th Edition). This excellent map includes mileage points, elevation profiles, shelter locations and side trails. As a bonus it’s waterproof. All you really need once you hit the trail.
  • The Long Trail Guide – Now in its 28th incarnation, the LT Guide contains maps, trekking notes, resupply and water information, shelter locations and distances.

The Inn at Long Trail – Situated at the 104 mile mark (Northbound), this iconic establishment offers accommodation, meals and a great pub.

  • So which one/s should I buy?  Personally speaking, I’d pick up both the map and the LT Guide Book, which is useful for planning purposes. On trail I’d only carry the former, which contains all the essential information required. I wouldn’t worry about the End to Ender’s Guide.
  • Guthook’s Long Trail App: I haven’t personally used Guthook’s hiking apps, but in recent years they have become quite popular in the U.S. long distance hiking community. According to the spiel on the Google Play store: “(Guthooks LT app) maps and lists more than 500 important hiker waypoints along the LT such as water sources, shelters, tenting sites, road crossings, resupply locations, and many others.” 
  • Postholer.com: Long Trail maps and data book available for free download. You need to register with Postholer in order to access (it’s free as well). I haven’t personally used or seen either one, but they seem to have received positive online reviews.
  • Online information:  The Green Mountain Club’s website should be your first stop for up-to-date information on the LT. An excellent planning source for all things regarding the trail (i.e. maps, logistics, gear, expenses, side trips, etc.) is Longtrailvermont.com, run by serial thru hikers Brian “Beardoh” Ristola and Alison “Sweet Pea” Ristola.

Sunset on The Long Trail (photo courtesy of longtrailvermont.com)

  • Trail Journals: A collection of hiker journals from the Long Trail, as well as other major US long distance trails (a few international ones as well).
  • Water: H20 is in abundance throughout the hike. It is recommended that all water be treated.

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  • Resupply: You shouldn’t have to carry more than four or five days food at a time. Mail drops are possible, but not really necessary due to the existence of well stocked grocery stores in regularly spaced towns along the way. If you’d like to mail yourself packages, see the above mentioned guidebooks or Longtrailvermont.com for postal details.

Southbound Resupply Map (photo from Longtrailvermont.com)

  • Hitching to and from trailheads into resupply towns is common. The Long Trail is well known in Vermont, and locals are generally more than happy to give you a ride whenever possible.

Route / Conditions :

  • Signage: The trail is very well marked with white blazes from start to finish. Side trails are marked with blue blazes.
  • Terrain: Although navigationally simple, the Long Trail is far from an easy walk. The path is often rocky, rooty and muddy (i.e. The LT’s “Big Three”). Although the altitudes reached are not as high as in the western States, there is nonetheless a great deal of ascent and descent involved. Good test for the old knees.

Ascending Mount Mansfield – Highest point on the Long Trail (photo from wikimedia).

  • Go Light: Due to the nature of the tread, it behooves the hiker to pack as lightly as possible for the Long Trail (see Going Light in the drop down menu at the top of the page). The burden of a heavy pack is felt far more when traversing steep and undulating terrain than it is on the flats.
  • Section Hikes: For those that don’t have the time and/or inclination to complete a thru hike of the LT, Longtrailvermont.com has a useful list of section hike suggestions.
  • Appalachian Trail: The southernmost 104 miles of the Long Trail coincide with the Appalachian Trail. This is the easiest section. From the Maine Junction north, the final 170 miles of the trail is more rugged, remote and generally slower going (Note: I thru hiked the entire Long Trail in 2002, and revisited the AT section in the fall of 2012).

A chilly November day on The Long Trail in 2012.

Sleeping :

  • There are some 70 overnight sites along the trail; a combination of lean-tos (i.e. three-sided shelters), huts and tent sites.
  • Shelters are usually situated eight to ten miles apart. Check out Downthetrail.com’s Long Trail Shelters page for a cool compilation of lean-to and hut photos.
  • Despite the abundant “indoor” options available, you should definitely bring along your own shelter. This particularly holds true during the summer months, when lean-tos and huts can often be crowded.

Long Trail Shelter – Space is often at a premium during the summer months (photo courtesy of Longtrailvermont.com).

Notes & Musings :

  • Memories: When I look back on my Long Trail hike in the fall of 2002, the first things that come to mind are picturesque ponds, meandering streams, autumnal colours and the occasional alpine zone; which I always seemed to hit during the height of a storm 😕 .
  • Prime Time: I also remember the solitude. It surprised me that there weren’t that many people hiking the trail, as it seemed like a no-brainer that the ideal time to go for a long walk in New England was during the fall. Yes, the weather is a bit colder and rainier, but to my way of thinking if you have the gear and the right attitude, the potential positives far outweigh any perceived negatives.

Fall foliage in Vermont.

  • A Grandma called Moses: In 2002 I took a great little side trip down to Bennington (Note: Hitch west on VT-9) to visit Robert Frost’s burial place and the Grandma Moses museum. In regards to the former, I’d been a long time admirer of his poetry. As for the latter, it was more Grandma herself rather than her paintings that drew me in. How can you not help but love the story of an unknown farmer’s wife and grandmother, achieving worldwide fame as a folk painter whilst in her 80’s!
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Grandma Moses

  • Long Trail Ale: Any long distance pathway that has a beer named after it (and a pretty good one at that) is alright in my book.
  • Restaurants & Pilgrims: For no particular reason other than the t-shirt I’m wearing as I type, I think I’ll end this write-up on a culinary note. My favourite places to eat on the Long Trail were as follows: Inn at the Long Trail, Yellow Deli and Qu’s Whistle Stop Restaurant (Note: 6/9/17 – Just received news that Qu’s has been closed since 2016. According to Mrs.Gorp from Wallingford, VT, “the next best option to Vt 103 is 0.5 Mille west at Loretta’s Good Food deli“). It’s also worth noting that Vermont is the home of Ben & Jerry’s. For a life-long ice cream devotee, this gave the Long Trail a “pilgrimage” type feel. Sort of like the foodie equivalent of a Buddhist or Hindu making the trek around Tibet’s Mount KailashIf you would like to visit the Ben & Jerry’s Factory during your hike, hitch east on I-89 (between Camel’s Hump and Mt.Mansfield), then take a left on Waterbury-Stowe Road.

Photo on 19-06-2016 at 11.15 am #2


Comments

A Thru-Hiker’s Guide to the Long Trail — 5 Comments

  1. Great write up mate. I’ll need to add it to the list. I really enjoy your emails and info….Thanks heaps.

  2. Nice writeup. I was thinking of the Cohos Trail since the Long Trail is so popular. But with the new virus from ticks and not wanting to contract Lyme disesae, will stay out West in the Rockies. I did get the vaccine for Rocky Mtn. Spotted fever in the early 1970s. It is no longer available.

  3. Please add an addendum to Q’s Whistlestop. It has been closed for almost one year. Next best option to Vt 103 is 0.5 Mille west at Loretta’s Good Food deli
    MrsGorp
    Wallingford Vt

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