Finally completed in 1930, the Long Trail remains the oldest long distance hiking trail in the United States. While many visit Vermont or made a side trip off the connected Appalachian Trail to hike sections of the historic Long Trail, thru-hikers will need a little more time and supplies than your typical day hiker to make the entire 272-mile trek that spans the full length of the state. Considered more rugged and challenging than the Appalachian Trail itself, hiking the Long Trail can be a revelation.
How to Hike the Long Trail
Ask any seasoned thru-hiker and they will tell you that preparation for a long hike is key. Even if you are just doing a section of the lengthy Long Trail, it is best to know what you are getting into. Preparing to hike the Long Trail is the same as preparing to take any thru-hike, however there are some finer details that hikers need to know, including:
- How to Get There – This one is easy, the trail begins at the Vermont-Massachusetts border as an offshoot of the Appalachian Trail.
- How Long Does it Take to Hike? – Most hikers take an average of 19 days to complete the entire trail.
- Hiking Season – There is no perfect hiking season because Vermont’s weather can be so finicky. June through October is recommended, but it is likely to be wet throughout and cold anywhere past early September.
- Blazes – The Long Trail is blazed white like the Appalachian Trail (though the split at the beginning is well marked). The trail itself is generally easy to find with the exception of at the peaks of mountains that are used as ski areas in the winter.
- Water Availability – If you have a purifier, don’t worry about carrying water. Not only is it probably going to be raining, but you pass a number of streams and ponds on your trek. However, there is a large population of beaver in Vermont, so purification is always a must.
- Food Resupply – This is the most challenging part of the Long Trail. You need to either plan to walk or grab a ride back to towns along the trail in order to resupply on food.
- Trail Conditions – The trail typically teeters between rocky and muddy. Plan for rain and keep in mind that there are shelters throughout the Long Trail. The shelters are dry and often way less crowded than those you would find on the Appalachian Trail, so a tent may be extra weight you don’t need.
Long Trail Highlights
If you are thru-hiking the Long Trail, then there will be too many highlights to mention. Needless to say, you will see a lot on your 272-mile trip. You may find yourself tiredly hiking down a mountain on a hot and humid day, only to pause in order to take a refreshing dip in one of the many ponds along the trail. Most end up stopping at the popular swimming hole of Stratton Pond that is also home to a number of salamanders that share the water with you.
Another day you may find yourself reaching the top of a mountain and curiously climbing above the treetops via a fire tower like the one on top of Glastonbury Mountain or Stratton Mountain just to get some of the most unforgettable panoramic views.
Almost always you will find you won’t get off Whiteface Mountain without a tale about its rapidly changing and often inclement weather that probably made you fear for your life a little bit. However, these are just the major highlights of the trail. The true joy of the Long Trail is about the little things. You climb over so many mountains, you won’t be able to keep all the names straight, but it is the sights you see that you won’t soon forget.
You won’t forget getting up just as the sky starts to lighten and watching the sun rise over the trail, you won’t forget the miserable days spent hiking in eight straight hours of rain until you end up at a blissfully dry shelter. You won’t forget how terrible the halfway exhaustion is or how exhilarating your second wind was. The good and the bad are all part of what make the Long Trail so amazing.
Of course, the experience isn’t just limited to the trail. When you find that you need to stock up on food or sleep in an actual bed just once, the towns you end up in are just as much of the Long Trail experience. You really get a feel of why so many people like Vermont, but that is something you should expect when hiking a trail that crosses the entire state. If the Long Trail didn’t give you the complete Vermont experience, it wouldn’t be much of a landmark.