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Monday, June 21, 2021

Sterling Pond - Smugglers' Notch, Vermont

Short, Steep, Scenic - (and a swim?) it's the trifecta of a weekend hike when you want to get in a workout, enjoy a new view, and make it back home to do something else with the day. If you've read the blog, you know I love a long day hike that challenges my stamina and my mental grit but sometimes I need something short and easy. These days, hiking typically involves carrying a baby up the mountain with us, so short and easy-ish is a necessity while we adjust to life as parents and a different kind of weight on our packs. 

It was the middle of June when we headed to Stowe for a few days to celebrate Father's Day and show Adam some of my favorite spots in Northern Vermont. Up until now, he had never been further north than the southern ski resorts in winter, so I was excited to show him some beautiful spots like Stowe, Smuggler's Notch, Burlington, Lake Champlain, and the Northeast Kingdom. Of course, we didn't get to everything, it would take a month to show him it all, but we did find some time for some family-friendly favorites. We only really had the time (and energy, let's be honest) for one hike on the smaller side and after spending some time on AllTrails trying to find something that fit the bill, I was so glad this was the one we picked. 

This hike quickly climbed to the top of my favorites list in the area. It started out beneath the trees after a drive down the scenic Mountain Road through Smuggler's Notch. Ou hike took us up a rocky trail that was more staircase than trail for the first part. We continued to follow the trail up and up which seems to follow an old streambed, chatting about life as parents and checking in with each other, Adam carrying the baby while I managed the dogs. We eventually turned the corner onto the Long Trail, traversing America's first long distance hiking trail before turning again to the lake. When we saw the lake, I felt like I was transported back west, standing by one of Utah's remote high alpine lakes in the Uinta range. 

It feels like the mountain west and you have to remind yourself this is a piece of Vermont. You can swim, have a picnic, or just take in the views on the lake. A family was up there splashing in the sand and taking their blow-up paddleboard for a ride. A very interested individual was posing on the rocks in a full mermaid tail. We threw sticks for the dogs and enjoyed the view and the sun on our faces after hiking through the trees. 

Before you get excited and pack your day bag for a hike, there are a few things you should know about getting here. This hike is located north of Stowe Mountain Resort and south of Smugglers' Notch Resort. To get to the trailhead, you have to drive through Route 108, also known as Mountain Road which winds through Smugglers' Notch. This very scenic but very steep and narrow winding mountain road is only open during the summer months. Signs warn tractor-trailers to turn around as they cannot make it around the narrow road with hairpin turns which allow one car at a time in spots. Motorcoaches, motorhomes, and commercial vehicles are never allowed through the notch so if you are traveling in one, this hike is not in the cards for you. 

Smugglers' Notch

Why is Smugglers' Notch named so? In the early 1800s, the U.S. Congress placed an embargo on the imports of all English goods. The British had to get creative and instead, they shipped their food, clothing and medical supplies to Canada and smuggled the materials down the Long Trail and through what is now called Smugglers' Notch Pass.

Trail Stats 

Elevation: 1,000 feet gained (3,000' at the lake)

Distance: 3-miles round trip (from the upper parking area) 

Skill: Moderate - the trail is only approx. 1.3 to 1.5 miles one way, however, you do gain about 1,000 feet in that time making it a short but steep hike.**The trail follows what appears to be an old creekbed which is usually wet making it very slick. We were a bit nervous hiking while wearing the baby and took our time going up and down. It is a popular trail so be ready to share the trail as you make your way to the top and back down. 

Trailhead/Trail: Sterling Pond Trailhead, east side of Route 108 (2.3 miles/5 minute drive north of Stowe Ski Resort). The trail is located on the east side of the road across from the bathrooms/information area. Follow the well-developed and easy-to-follow trail approximately 1.3 miles up until you hit the crossing of the Long Trail (the country's first thru-hike running 272 miles north to south across Vermont). Turn left onto Long Trail north for the last 1/10 of a mile to the lake (signage is very clear). 

** we didn't (and I wish I did) but you can continue bearing left around the pond for vistas over the Smuggs ski area

Swim/Fish: Pack a suit - you and your dog are allowed to swim in the lake. We saw a family out on their blowup paddleboard. The pond is also open for trout fishing (permit required).

Parking: Small paved lot by the bathrooms and additional small parking areas along the road - fills up fast.

Facilities: Very nice restrooms (composting toilets) 

Dogs: Dog-friendly off-leash/voice control (sign notes except for crowded areas, kids, summits, etc) 

Kids: Experienced younger kids or older kids - short distance but rocky and slippery.

Red Tape - Route 108: The trailhead is located off of Route 108 which is the road between Stowe and Smugglers' Notch - it is steep, very narrow, winding, and only allows one car at a time in certain spots. This road is only accessible during the summer months and is closed from mid-October through mid-May (this is why the trek to Smugglers' Notch is an extra hour in the winter). Motorcoaches, motorhomes and commercial vehicles are never allowed on Route 108 due to the narrow road and hairpin turns. 

This hike was the perfect addition to our weekend in Northern Vermont. I loved this hike, these views, and this corner of New England. Next time I am back in Stowe in the summer, I am packing a picnic and a raft and spending the day parked on this lake with my dogs and my son in tow. 

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