The highest peak in Vermont, Mount Mansfield is a popular destination for hiking, especially with the amenities of Stowe Mountain Resort at its base. Pair that with the restaurants and activities in the town of Stowe and it makes for a top-notch destination for families year-round.
Living in Burlington, we hike at Stowe regularly, but nothing draws us there more than fall foliage. Driving through the famous Smugglers’ Notch (only open in warmer months), taking the gondola to the peak, or just taking a short hike from the base area – there are so many ways to enjoy this area outside of winter.
Choosing Your Stowe Hiking Route
There is a plethora of hiking options at Stowe Mountain and in the surrounding area. You can choose from an easy stroll around the base area to black diamond-rated trails from the peak. Take the challenge to hike bottom to top to the highest peak in Vermont, or take the gondola to explore the ridgeline without as much uphill strain. You can even explore the many trails around Stowe along Vermont’s Long Trail which runs along the Green Mountains from Massachusetts to Quebec.
Stowe’s hiking map is a great place to start. Take a look at the trail options, their ratings (green circle to black diamond, like the ski trails), and length, and match one to your family’s adventure levels and stamina.
As a family with a six- and three-year-old in tow, we opt for short and easy these days. Just like skiing, we’re focused more on getting outside and keeping it fun at these ages, not conquering peaks. Our goal is to not have to carry the 3-year-old. Enough said.
Barnes Camp Loop
As someone who has explored many of Mount Mansfield’s hiking trails pre-kids, this trail was brand new to me. But it was an easy choice as I looked at the hiking map and considered the age of my kids. Barnes Camp itself is a historic structure that once ran along the Long Trail. The Barnes Camp Loop, which was just established in 2018 was formed as the Green Mountain Club re-established parts of the Long Trail to run closer to the historic building, now visitor’s center. It’s a great length at just 1.6 miles long.
Parking at Stowe Mountain Resort, we started the Loop at the Barnes Camp Visitor Center and followed the new 600” of accessible boardwalk that offered amazing views of Smugglers’ Notch, a beaver pond and surrounding wetlands, and the beginnings of fall foliage in the mountains. Informational signs educated us about the history and environment. The trails continued following blue blazes off the boardwalk and through the woods. Note, there is a short stream crossing on this trail that could require waterproof footwear on wet or cooler days. We enjoyed dipping our toes into the cool water and trying to balance on rocks to cross.
The trail then ascends a relatively steep pitch, which got our heart rates pumping. At the top the blazes turned white as we rejoined the Long Trail heading south, back to Barnes Camp. The entire hike, with some stops and a slower pace, took us a little over an hour to complete. Both kids and parents had a blast.
Gondola Accessed Hiking
Another great family option at Stowe Mountain Resort is taking a scenic Gondola SkyRide and choosing an adventure from the top. The gondola ride costs $37 for an adult, $27 for kids at 5-12, but it’s free for kids 4 and under.
Views from the top of the gondola are beautiful enough, but you can also make your way back down the gondola service for a nice intermediate hike for younger kids. Also accessible from the gondola are more difficult trails accessing the top of the mountain, where families can hike from “nose” to “chin” along Mansfield’s iconic ridgeline.
My 3-year-old and I took the opportunity to ride the gondola in August when we were in town for a birthday party. On a rainy day, we still enjoyed the ride to the top of the mountain, where we splashed in puddles and danced in the rain. The rain cut our adventures a little short, but we look forward to returning next summer and exploring more.
Other Hikes in the Stowe Area
Spruce Peak Village – An easy stroll, it’s worth exploring the Spruce Peak Community pathways and exploring the Village at Spruce Peak which features the Stowe Adventure Center, fun family-friendly shops, and the Enchanted Forest Playground.
Hike Up Mount Mansfield – Looking for something more adventurous? Choose from one of the many intermediate and difficult trails that follow terrain up Mount Mansfield. Earn your views and challenge the whole family to a day of mountain conquering.
The Notch – Don’t miss the opportunity to explore the Notch itself. The road between Stowe and Smuggler’s Notch is only open when the snow isn’t flying. The twisty, narrow road is a beautiful drive with stops along the way for more hiking and exploring boulders. Watch as avid climbers practice bouldering on rocks along the road. And don’t miss one of my favorite hikes to Sterling Pond via the Long Trail. Straight up the walls of the Notch, this is a steep climb, but short and direct. I look forward to challenging the kids with it next summer.
Sarah Wojcik is the founder of All Mountains Mamas. Becoming a mother in 2017, she grasped the opportunity to share her passion of skiing and snowboarding with families across North America. Formerly the Director or Marketing and Communications for Ski Vermont, she writes with great knowledge of the ski industry in Vermont and beyond, and from the point of view of a mother working to get back out on the slopes with a pre-schooler and baby in tow. She currently works for Ski Area Management magazine as an Associate Editor and wearer of many hats.