Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Southern Vermont Road Trip: Quechee Gorge and Ascutney State Park

Southern Vermont is full of adventure! I took a 5 day road trip throughout the area and experienced some wonderful hikes, historic landmarks and culture in this unique part of the country. This is just what I saw on day one!
Quechee Gorge, Vermont
Just about a year ago I set off on a grand road trip across the country. Driving from California to Maine, I was able to see some 20 National Parks and countless other destinations of natural beauty. Now that I'm in grad school, I don't quite have those opportunities anymore, but the semester ended giving me 5 full days off! Even my work schedule aligned for this near-full week off to go play. I had to go somewhere glorious!

This road trip's destination was Southern Vermont. Last fall, I was able to tour through Vermont's Northeast Kingdom and two summers ago I toured through Central Vermont and Stowe. Southern Vermont is geographically and culturally different from the rest of the state and there were plenty of adventures to be had. My primary reason for traveling is always for the mountains but several other historical and cultural destinations are always mixed in. I find this is the best way to travel; have one or two places to see in a day and leave ample time for quirky side trips.
The Pogue, Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Park, Vermont
Hiking through rural Woodstock, Vermont
I stayed the night in Lebanon, New Hampshire and promptly hit the road the next morning. The first place to see was Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park which happens to be the only National Park in Vermont. Located in Woodstock, this is a small but gorgeous park with 30 miles of hiking trail. Interestingly enough, it was one of the first sustainably managed forests in the United States. 

Woodstock is a classic, rural community in the mountains of Vermont. There were so many parks in the area that I imagine its a very healthy community as well. I decided to hike to the Pogue, a picturesque pond located not too far from the town center. In classic Joe fashion, I also had to hike to the high point of the park which was simply an elevated part of the forest. Nevertheless, the hiking trails and old carriage roads through the park were serene and offered a great break from the hustle of grad school. I wish there were as many trails near me as there are in Woodstock.
Quechee Gorge from the Bridge, Vermont
Its funny how much you can gain by getting directions from tourist maps. I was using the official map of Vermont Tourism and it highlights some pretty amazing sites. Travelers have a tenancy to ignore these maps for fear of falling into a tourist trap. However its been my experience that they highlight some really incredible natural places as well. Case in point was the Quechee Gorge, pictured above. With a 160ft drop from the bridge as well as a hike to the bottom, I'm glad I was paying attention to the map!


From here I headed south into Windsor which is considered the birthplace of Vermont. It was a charming little town located on the Connecticut River. I crossed the covered bridge that connects New Hampshire and Vermont and visited the famous Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site which is the historic residence of a famous American sculptor. Unfortunately the museum was closed at the time but I did wander around the gardens and outdoor statues. The architecture and grounds were so beautiful... I wish I could live here!
Mt Ascutney
Mt Ascutney State Park is right across the river from here and I had to climb it! Its a very prominent monadnock and I believe its the tallest point on the Connecticut River. Surely there would be a great view at the top!


I wasn't disappointed! There's 3 or 4 trails which ascend the mountain and I took the Windsor Trail. Its a steep trail but it wanders by some small brooks and even has a few viewpoints along the way. The top has a fire tower which is publicly accessible with a 360-degree view of the Green Mountains. It was hard to leave such a summit! However... the Harpoon Brewery was not more than 15 minutes from the parking lot and I couldn't miss out on it. I even came when there was a live band!

That was 4 amazing places within about a 50 mile radius. I didn't even feel like I saw everything that was available. Couldn't wait to hit the road the next day! 

Day 2: Historical Mt Stratton and Mt Equinox

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

3 comments:

  1. Hey Joe, love the way you travel! Much like we do. We take an annual Summer Adventure of 6-7 weeks and ironically, are headed toward southern Vermont for a few days. But right now, we are loving the Adirondack's!! New territory for us Tennesseans! Am looking forward to reading all of your earlier posts and traveling along with you!

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    1. Thank you so much! The Adirondacks are certainly on my list of destinations to spend a week or more. Same with Tennessee!

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