Mythbusters Edition: Are Vermont State Parks Closed in the Winter?
By guest blogger Robin Zabiegalski
You can read more from Robin at her personal website, amiafeministtoo.wordpress.com
The first snows have fallen and it seems like fall is fading fast. Though the official operating season has ended for Vermont State Parks that does not mean that they are “closed for the season”. Many people believe that Vermont State Parks are closed, or inaccessible during the winter. In fact, I believed that until just a bit ago! I knew that even if the gates were closed, visitors could park and walk in to the park to hike or camp, but I assumed that only applied to the times right before the parks opened or right after they closed. The truth is that Vermont State Parks are accessible all year round for a multitude of activities! I’m here to give you all the details about how to enjoy Vermont State Parks this off season!
Accessing the Parks in the Off-Season:
Many parks leave their gates open, with plowed parking available. Check out this guide to which parks leave their gates open and where to park during the off season. When parking outside the gates, please make sure to park in a way that allows as many other cars as possible to park without blocking each other in. Also, please make sure to use established roadways and park in designated areas to preserve the ecology of the State Parks.
During the off season the Vermont State Parks are not staffed and the facilities are closed. The guide above also outlines which parks have port-a-lets for public use. Because the parks are not staffed, this means there are no day use or camping fees! You can enjoy Vermont State Parks for free after they close and before they open each season. During the off season all parks follow a pack in carry out policy, which means if you brought it in to the park with you, plan to bring it back out. This applies to all trash since the facilities are closed and trash cans are not being emptied during the off season. Please leave the parks in better condition than you found them!
The parks provide a multitude of activities during the off season. If you plan to camp, please submit an off season camping permit request through our website. Off season camping is permitted from November 1st – April 15th.
Activities in Vermont State Parks during the Off-Season
Vermont State Parks offer a multitude of activities to enjoy year round, but winter activities in the park are extra magical. Seeing the ground covered in sparkling snow and the trees encased in glittering ice gives you a whole new perspective on Vermont! Here are some activities you can enjoy in the parks in the winter.
The established trails that exist in the Vermont State Parks are still accessible during the winter months! A sense of adventure paired with the right gear can make hiking these trails in the winter just as fun as hiking them any other time of year. Make sure to wear proper footwear to avoid slipping. It’s a good idea to bring some microspikes like YakTrax for extra traction in case the trails are icy. Also be sure to dress appropriately: layers are key! The ability to add and remove layers as you hike makes all the difference during the winter. Know the signs of hypothermia and turn back immediately if you notice any of these symptoms.
Be prepared for drastically different conditions at higher elevations, especially in the late fall. It could be 50 degrees at the bottom of your hike and 30-40 degrees at the top of your hike. Winter sports enthusiasts are aware that there’s already snow in the mountains! Pack additional layers to put on at higher elevations.
The fragile ecosystems in the parks are more susceptible to erosion during the time when the first snows are falling and when the snows begin to melt. During these times (usually late fall and early spring), avoid muddy trails and try to keep hiking to lower elevations. Once the snow is thick on the ground, higher elevation hikes can be enjoyed again.
Snowshoeing is a great way to get out and explore the trails and see the scenery in the winter. One advantage to snowshoeing is you can explore areas that have deeper snowdrifts because the snowshoes allow you to stay on the upper layers of the snowfall. Some of Vermont State Parks have trails specifically for snowshoeing, but snowshoeing can be done on all Vermont State Parks trails. Snowshoes can also be a great way to explore the mountains during the winter since the spikes on the bottom provide additional traction for climbing.
Some favorite parks for Snowshoeing include: Mt. Ascutney, Gifford Woods, Branbury, Niquette Bay, Underhill, Woodford, Little River, Seyon Lodge, Elmore.
Cross Country Skiing:
If you’d rather be on a pair of skis than snowshoes, Vermont State Parks have some wonderful cross country ski trails as well! Little River, Seyon Lodge and Woodford StatePark have networks of trails. Here are some favorite parks for you and your skis: Smugglers' Notch, Little River, Seyon Lodge, Woodford, Jamaica, Thetford Hill.
Ice Skating & Ice Fishing:
Many of Vermont State Parks have beautiful lakes, which offer unique opportunities for ice skating and ice fishing. Strap on your skates and check out these parks for great ice skating: Knight Point, Lake St. Catherine, Silver Lake. Or grab your pole and tackle box and head to these parks for some incredible ice fishing: Sand Bar, Lake Carmi, Crystal Lake, Knight Point, Bomoseen, Lake St. Catherine.
For those who like their winter activities motor powered, snowmobiling in the parks can provide hours of entertainment. Please follow these guidelines from the Vermont State Parks website: “Snowmobiles must be registered and display a valid TMA (Trail Maintenance Assessment) decal to operate on the VAST (Vermont Association of Snow Travelers) trails network, unless operated solely on frozen bodies of public water. Snowmobile operators must carry liability insurance. Off-VAST snowmobile operation in state parks is permitted only on non-plowed roadways and on frozen bodies of public water. See http://vtvast.org/ for more info.”
Check out these parks that are snowmobile friendly: Coolidge, Little River, Woodford, Elmore, Green River Reservoir, Ricker Pond, New Discovery.
So, get out there and enjoy the parks!
Even in the “off season” Vermont State Parks provide endless entertainment and adventure for Vermont residents and visitors. As long as you respect the parks and come prepared, the parks can be just as enjoyable in the late fall, winter, and early spring as during the regular season. So, grab your skis, snowshoes, tackle, or skates and a warm coat and get out there to enjoy Vermont State Parks!
Robin Zabiegalski is a freelance writer whose work had been featured on xoJane and The Tempest. She has lived in Vermont for nine years. When she's not writing she works for Smugglers Notch and Green Mountain Club where she has ample opportunity to enjoy the Vermont outdoors. She loves snowboarding, snowshoeing, hiking, and climbing.