Guest Blog: Exploring Mount Ascutney State Park
By 2016 guest blogger Tara Schatz
Gorgeous mountain vistas, an array of unique hiking trails, and a beautiful family-friendly campground, Mt. Ascutney State Park is a playground for nature lovers, history buffs, and outdoor adventurers. It’s close proximity to Wilgus State Park on the Connecticut River means you you can hike to spectacular vistas in the morning and paddle the meandering river in the afternoon. What more could you ask for?
Built between 1935 and 1938, Mt. Ascutney State Park was one of the very first state parks established in the Vermont. The mountain’s first hiking trail was created way before that — in 1825. It was the very first organized mountain hiking trail in Vermont, and some accounts suggest it was the first in the country. Today, hikers can scale the mountain from one of four trailheads, or they can explore a series of summit trails after driving up the 3.7-mile toll road (free for campers and other park visitors).
Mt. Ascutney is unique as far as Vermont mountains go. It’s a monadnock — an isolated mountain of erosion-resistant rock, in this case, granite. It’s a conspicuous mountain, towering 3,144 feet above the Connecticut River Valley below, but it’s not part of the Green Mountains. Geologically, it has more in common with the Whites of New Hampshire, but geographically, it stands alone.
I’ve explored lots of Vermont State Parks, but I’d never been to Mt. Ascutney before until this summer. I hate to pick favorites, but this mountain has totally stolen my heart, and I’m already planning a camping trip for the fall. Here’s some of our favorite things about Mt. Ascutney State Park.
Highlights of Mt. Ascutney State Park
There are four trails heading up to the summit of Mt. Ascutney, and everyone I talked to had a different opinion as to which one was their favorite. I can’t call myself an expert, because we didn’t have time to explore them all, but here are our favorite highlights.
Futures Trail and Bare Rock Vista - At 4.6 miles, the Futures Trail is the longest trek up to the summit and the only trail the begins in the campground. This was a plus for us, so we decided to give it a go. Like many mountain hikes, this trail is characterized by moderately strenuous switchbacks through mostly hardwood forests, switching to evergreens as you gain elevation. If you’re looking for a shorter hike, perhaps to watch the sunrise, the Futures Trail will take you to Bare Rock Vista after a mile. The views here are incredible, and there are lots of great spots for a picnic.
Summit Trails - After driving up the toll road to the parking lot near the summit, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the eastern mountains. Take any of the boulder-encrusted trails that meander around the summit and you’ll find yourself in a dark, enchanting forest that smells like Christmas because of the abundance of spruce and fir trees. Every trail leads to more incredible views, and as you hike, a thousand birds will serenade you with their sweet songs.
The Observation Tower - For a 360° view of the Green Mountains and the White Mountains of New Hampshire, climb the 24.5-foot high observation tower. Interpretive signs name the distant peaks in all directions, and it’s a pretty good spot for a selfie.
The Hang Gliders - Mt. Ascutney is one of the top hang gliding destinations in New England, with a launch on the west and south peaks. I imagine it’s pretty thrilling to ride the thermals, but for me, it was enough to watch the hang gliders soaring across the clear blue sky. We didn’t get to witness a launch while we were there, but we’ve heard that it’s a pretty common occurrence on just about every nice day.
Tips for Visiting Mt. Ascutney State Park and the Surrounding Area
- Get your game on. There’s a lovely rec field just below White Birch, Cherry, and Cedar lean-tos. For some reason it’s not on the map, but it’s a fantastic place for a game of frisbee or football, and the stargazing is pretty amazing from here.
- Porcupines are plentiful! We saw two porcupines on our recent visit. They’re cute, but can be a real danger to to dogs who don’t know better. Keep your dogs on a leash at all times.
- Did someone say swimming? While there’s no place to swim on the mountain, you’ll find a pretty magical swimming hole just a short drive from Mt. Ascutney State Park. Twenty-Foot Hole in Reading is the perfect place to cool off after a long hike.
- You can paddle too! Wilgus State Park, just 4 miles from Mt. Ascutney State Park, is perched on the slow-moving Connecticut River. Rent a canoe or kayak to explore the shores of Vermont and New Hampshire.
Vermont’s only monadnock, Mt. Ascutney is a wild and enchanting mountain. Whether you visit for the day or spend the weekend with your family, you’re sure to fall in love with Mt. Ascutney State Park.