Snowshoeing is recession resistant. Once you have your shoes, the sport is free. There’s no expensive lift tickets, no parking fees, no admission prices. Just head off into the woods. It helps to know where to go. Here’s an insider’s list of places to go snowshoeing in central and northern Vermont:
Causeway, Colchester, Vt.
What it is: The Colchester Causeway is an old railroad bed that juts out into Lake Champlain from Colchester toward South Hero. The railroad has been long abandoned, and the town of Colchester now maintains the Causeway as a recreation trail. Start at Airport Park, snowshoe on an elevated track past some swampy forests, and emerge onto the wide open Causeway.
Why it’s cool: The Causeway offers sweeping, dramatic views of Lake Champlain, the Adirondack Mountains off to the west, the Green Mountains to the east. Wintertime brings dramatic winter clouds overhead, interesting ice patterns on the lake, and maybe some visits with ice fishing enthusiasts. If the lake ice is thick, you can also go off the Causeway and explore the lake, or nearby Law Island, where you can explore some abandoned camps, and the woods on the small island.
Degree of Difficulty: Pretty easy
Drawbacks: Prepare and dress for strong winds sweeping across the lake. Sometimes the wind blows the snow off the Causeway, making for iffy snowshoeing. Also, low elevations in Vermont, like the Causeway, have in recent years been subject to midwinter thaws that erase the snowcover.
After trip treat: Buy a pie at Dick Mazza’s General Store, East Lakeshore Drive, Colchester. They’re the best.
Ethan Allen Homestead/Burlington Intervale, Burlington.
What it is: The trails through Ethan Allen Homestead and the Intervale take you through the floodplain near where the Winooski River empties into Lake Champlain.
Why it’s cool: The well-maintained trails take you through open fields, past marshes, and beneath towering swamp maples. Explore and follow the many animal tracks.
Drawbacks: Low elevation means winter thaws can destroy snow cover.
Degree of Difficulty: Easy. Bring the kids.
On the Web: http://www.ethanallenhomestead.org. The homestead is part of the Winooski Valley Park District network of trails, all of which are open to snowshoers and worth exploring: http://www.wvpd.org.
After trip treat: Hoist one of several excellent beers at the Vermont Pub and Brewery, 144 College St., Burlington. http://www.vermontbrewery.com.
Missisquoi Valley Rail Trail, Franklin County, Vt.
What it is: A recreation trail on a former railroad bed through northwestern Vermont farmland, extending 26.4 miles between St. Albans and Richford, Vt.
Why it’s cool: The trail has beautiful farm scenery with views of the northern Green Mountains. It doubles as a snowmobile trail, so the snow is packed down. You may not even need snowshoes.
Drawbacks: It’s part of the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers trail network, which means snowmobiles frequently zoom by. Watch out. VAST discourages snowshoers and skiers on its trails for safety reasons.
Degree of difficulty: Not bad at all.
After trip treat: Depends on where you hop on the trail. Two good bets: Chow!Bella Restaurant, 24 North Main St., St. Albans or The Belfry Restaurant, Route 242, Montgomery Center.
What it is: A 300-mile cross country ski and snowshoe trail that runs north to south over the length of Vermont. It is said to be North America’s longest backcountry ski trail
Why it’s cool: The trail covers a wide variety of terrain, from steep mountains to easy, flat woods. It connects with inns, cross country touring centers and other attractions. The Catamount Trail Association has a variety of special programs throughout the winter. Snowshoe a small section of the trail, or try doing it end-to-end during the course of the winter.
Drawbacks: Hard to choose which section to try.
Degree of difficulty: Varies widely
On the Web: http://www.catamounttrail.org/
After trip treat: Your options are limitless
Camels Hump, Huntington/Duxbury, Vt.
What it is: Vermont’s only 4,000+ peak that has not been developed into a ski resort.
Why it’s cool: Various trails take you to the summit of the peak. A good trail starts on the Huntington side of the mountain, taking you through a forest of sugar maples, which transitions to beech, birch, fir, and finally near the summit, Arctic tundra. Look for animal tracks on the way up the trail. You’re rewarded with spectacular, panoramic views at the summit.
Degree of difficulty: A real workout.
Drawbacks: Parts of it are steep, and the wind at the summit can be absolutely brutal.
On the Web: http://www.central-vt.com/web/camel
After trip treat: Kitchen Table Bistro, 1840 West Main St., Richmond, Vt. Awesome food, popular place. http://www.thekitchentablebistro.com
Underhill State Park, Underhill State Park
What it is: The west slope of Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s tallest mountain. It has an extensive network of trails.
Why it’s cool: The park is the undeveloped side of Mount Mansfield. The other side is Stowe Mountain Resort. The park has a network of trails, many leading to the mountain’s summit. Part of the thrill is watching people who have hiked up tree ski on the steep, rocky slopes.
Degree of difficulty: Depending on the trail, it can leave you breathless.
Drawbacks: Lots of trails, don’t get lost; Windy, cold at the summit.
On the Web: http://www.vtstateparks.com/htm/underhill.cfm
After trip treat: Snowflake Chocolates. Visit the factory store and replenish yourself with this really excellent chocolate. www.snowflakechocolate.com/
Little River State Park, Waterbury, Vt.
What it is: Mostly forestland surrounding Waterbury Reservoir.
Why it’s cool: Explore old cellar holes, cemeteries, the remains of orchards from a village abandoned to make room for a flood control dam built in the 1930s. Nice forestland, too, and you can also explore the frozen surface of Waterbury Reservoir.
Degree of Difficulty: Pretty much a walk in the park
Drawbacks: Not really huge, but still makes for a good day.
On the Web: http://www.vtstateparks.com/htm/littleriver.cfm
After trip treat: The Alchemist Pub and Brewery, 23 South Main St., Waterbury. A superb seven barrel pub and brewery. Excellent pub food, too. http://www.alchemistbeer.com.
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