Via the Long Trail South from VT 108 4.6 miles round trip
Mt. Mansfield is the highest mountain in Vermont, topping out at 4,393 feet above sea level. Located in the towns of Stowe and Underhill its summits when viewed from the east have the appearance of (an elongated) human profile. The sub-peaks of Mansfield are known for such features and named the forehead (3,940), nose (4,062), chin (4,393), and the Adam’s apple (4,060). Mansfield is a large mountain and has many hiking trails, an auto road to the nose summit and a summit station for weather observation and television and satellite antennas. Part of the eastern portion of the mountain is used by Stowe’s Ski Resort and has been heavily developed for winter skiing. The mountain hosts the largest alpine zone in the state of Vermont with smaller sections located to the south on Camel’s Hump and Abraham. The Long Trail runs the length of the summit and is the longest exposed alpine zone in the state. There are approximately 200 acres of Arctic tundra on the summit. Mansfield receives over 40,000 visitors each year so be respectful of the delicate ecosystem and stay on the trails, especially above timberline.
There are various trails to hike to the summit from the west in Underhill State Park including the very popular sunset ridge trail. These trails are longer but less strenuous than approaching from the east. There is also a network of trails from Smuggler’s Notch area and from VT 108 where the Long Trail continues north. We chose to ascend Mansfield from the Long Trail South. This is a relatively short 2.3 miles but it is quite steep and rough with 2,700 feet in elevation gain from the base.
Vermont’s route 108 is a scenic byway that climbs into and through Smuggler’s Notch a high mountain pass that is open seasonally. It is closed each year from mid October through mid May. There is a gate across the road just after Stowe’s Skiing Resort and an area for parking. If you visit during the months when the road is open there is a parking area about a quarter mile up on the left as well as a few spots right by the trailhead. We visited in late November so the road was closed. It creates a unique recreational activity. When we visited there were lots of people out walking and running the notch road. Without cars as a threat people let their dogs off leash and enjoyed the road.
The Long Trail crosses VT 108 about a quarter mile or so from where it is gated, and is well signed. It climbs steadily up first following the road, before swinging to the right and ascending some stairs. The first mile of the trail is not too difficult, the footing is good but it is steep. Trail maintenance has done a very good job with aiding hikers with lots of stepping-stones, and stairs of wood and stone. There are several stream crossings but none were difficult and most has a nice clear way across. From the trailhead to the Taft Lodge (a shelter for overnight hikers) (1.7 miles) the trail is steep but enjoyable. We had no major obstacles for the dogs or us. Once we began to ascend the summit from the Taft Lodge the trail becomes much more ledgy and challenging. The final .3 miles is exposed and in some parts a scramble. There is one chimney that you have to climb up about 10 feet that posed a challenge for our large dog; we had to haul him up and down it (see picture above). Our smaller dog expertly handled it without assistance. The final push to the summit is exposed and in some areas a fall could be disastrous. The trail is clearly marked with white blazes and if you take care to follow it the ascent is definitely doable for people in good physical condition.
The summit of the Chin is marked with a USGS geologic survey marker, stand on it and be the highest person in Vermont. From the summit the views are expansive in all directions, to the west you can view Lake Champlain and on clear days into the Adirondacks. To the east the White Mountains of New Hampshire are visible. Camel’s Hump another of Vermont’s 4,000 footers is clearly distinguished by it’s distinctive summit shape. Don’t be surprised to see other people on the summit, especially during peak season. The Chin can be hiked to from the auto road terminus at the Nose with a gain of only 600 feet, a very easy approach for a high mountain.
Once we finished our summit time, we descended the same way we climbed up. There were a few places where we had to assist the dog in getting down a few steep pitches. There were three of these on the way down and all in the .6 miles from the summit to the Taft Lodge. Once we got past the lodge the going down was easy. It took us a little over 2 hours to climb to the summit and less than 1.5 hours to descend. I think book time for this hike is around 4 hours.
There are alternatives for hiking Mt. Mansfield and loops that you can construct with the many trails if you want a longer hiking experience. It is a unique and dynamic mountain that should be enjoyed and respected.