Best Day Hikes in Vermont

The following day hikes come from AMC’s Best Day Hikes in Vermont. For more information, check out the book.

1. OWL’S HEAD

Owl's Head

Pass through lovely fern meadows on your way to the open granite summit and unique stone octagon shelter of Owl’s Head.

  • Location: Peacham, VT
  • Rating: Easy to Moderate
  • Distance: 3.8 miles round-trip
  • Elevation Gain: 210 feet
  • Estimated Time: 2 hours
  • Features: Fee, Family-friendly, dogs allowed, snow-shoeing
  • Maps: USGS Marshfield; vtstateparks.com/pdfs/groton_trails.pdf

Short Trail Description [for a complete description, see AMC’s Best Day Hikes in Vermont]
Owl’s Head (1,958 feet), a low but prominent and easily accessible peak with long views, is the knobby sentinel of Groton State Forest. A mile-long auto road (open during daylight hours when state parks are operating) ascends to within 0.25 mile of the summit and provides a good alternative for those who can’t walk far. But the beautiful forests and gentle rise of the trail from New Discovery State Park make this one of the most enjoyable hikes in the area, suitable for kids about ages 7 and older.
There are plenty of other recreational opportunities in the area around Owl’s Head as well. The seven state parks (New Discovery, Kettle Pond, Big Deer, Boulder Beach, Stillwater, Ricker Pond, and Seyon Lodge) in Groton State Forest provide abundant swimming, paddling, camping, and picnicking options in addition to many more hiking trails. Bike or ski on the multiuse Montpelier Wells River Rail Trail, which hosts the Cross-Vermont Trail through Groton State Forest. Restaurants and shops are limited along US 2 in Marshfield, 6 miles northwest, and Plainfield, 12 miles west, with more variety in Barre, 22 miles west, or Montpelier, 23 miles west.

2. HAYSTACK MOUNTAIN

Haystack Mountain
This pleasant cruise up a mellow ridge leads to a rocky top with views of nearby Haystack Pond and distant peaks.

  • Location: Wilmington, VT
  • Rating: Moderate
  • Distance: 4.2 miles round-trip
  • Elevation Gain: 1,025 feet
  • Estimated Time: 3 hours
  • Features: Family-friendly, dogs allowed, snow-shoeing
  • Maps: USGS Mount Snow; fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_MEDIA/ stelprdb5315088.pdf

Short Trail Description [for a complete description, see AMC’s Best Day Hikes in Vermont]
Haystack Mountain (3,445 feet) is a recognizable pointed peak on the southern end of a ridge dominated by the ski trails of Mount Snow (3,586 feet) and its own, no-longer-operational alpine ski area. The hike to Haystack’s small rocky summit traverses easy to moderate grades until the slightly steeper final 0.3 mile, making it a good hike for kids about ages 6 and older.

There are also great opportunities for nearby fun. Swim and paddle on Harriman Reservoir, 3.5 miles south. Camp at Woodford State Park, which also has great swimming and paddling on a high-elevation lake 6.4 miles west, or at Molly Stark State Park, 6.1 miles east (see Trip 3). Food and shops are in Wilmington, 3.8 miles southeast.

3. MOUNT MANSFIELD

Mount Mansfield
The exceptional Sunset Ridge hike to Vermont’s highest summit rises above treeline quickly for vistas, and includes a visit to the remarkable Cantilever Rock.

  • Location: Underhill, VT
  • Rating: Strenuous
  • Distance: 6.2 miles round-trip
  • Elevation Gain: 2,543 feet
  • Estimated Time: 4.5 hours
  • Features: Fee, dogs allowed, snow-shoeing
  • Map: USGS Mount Mansfield

Short Trail Description [for a complete description, see AMC’s Best Day Hikes in Vermont]
This strenuous hike up Vermont’s highest peak is well worth the exertion. Mount Mansfield’s easily recognizable summit ridge appears like a profile in repose. From the Forehead (3,940 feet) at the south end, over the craggy Nose (4,060 feet), sprouted with antennae, to its highest point at the Chin (4,393 feet), and down to the Adam’s Apple (4,060 feet) at the north end, the ridge stretches 2.5 miles. The high-elevation ridgeline supports the biggest patch of rare alpine tundra (see page 184) in Vermont, but to the peril of those delicate plants, more than 40,000 visitors explore Mansfield each year.
Sunset Ridge is a favorite of day-hikers for good reasons: It is one of the easier ascents (its “strenuous” rating comes more from overall distance and time than from hiking difficulty), and its relatively quick arrival on open rock means the awe-inspiring views are part of the hike, not just the reward at the summit. While this hike may be too ambitious for kids younger than about 10, the shorter trips to Cantilever Rock or onto the open rock of lower Sunset Ridge are excellent destinations on their own merits.

Search AMC Outdoors and Blogs


Search for:

Jennifer Lamphere Roberts

AMC Outdoors, the magazine of the Appalachian Mountain Club, inspires readers to get outside and get engaged. Learn more.