Smugglers Notch: A Taste of a Place Uniquely Vermont: By Aaron Jacobs

Ben & Jerry's, Cabot cheese, countless Vermont maple syrup stands and stores….truly, as this selection of tasty attractions attests, this is a state that takes pride in all things uniquely Vermont. But after the numerous factory tours and samples many visitors and tourists may still find themselves hungering for something a little different (and not just because of the tiny portioned samples). Perhaps what you yourself really crave is something that can be experienced by more than just your palette. Luckily a vastly different option awaits that surely will satisfy this craving. Wind up scenic Route 108 between Stowe and Jeffersonville and you will discover a taste something else uniquely Vermont…Smugglers’ Notch State Park.

Carved between Mt. Mansfield to the west and Spruce Peak to the east, this uniquely Vermont landscape serves up hefty portions of scenic views, great hiking, and unlimited adventure that will undoubtedly please an outdoor enthusiast or outdoor enthusiast in-waiting. Although now a destination for such nature lovers, backpackers, and adventure seekers, “the Notch” has had a long, rich history filled with the stories of adventurous and daring visitors of a different sort. As far back as the early 19th century, daring New England and Vermont contraband runners used the cover of the Notch as a passageway through the mountains while they secretly smuggled goods back and forth to Canadian trade markets. Later in the century, fugitive slaves risked their lives journeying through the Notch in search of freedom. Finally, during the last instance of smuggling, less noble motives provoked the smuggling of liquor through the Notch during the Prohibition of the 1920s.

While its days of smuggling may have since passed, the Notch continues to offer all the ingredients for a thrilling visit by offering numerous recreational opportunities for all tastes. The enchanted landscape which features thousand foot cliffs, house sized boulders, and lovely green flora that climbs and clings on the rock walls will continue to inspire adventure and exploration for centuries to come. Much more than another tourist attraction, this breathtaking natural playground could never be done justice by a 30 minute tour. Here nature must be discovered and it’s richness savored. Fortunately, this process of discovery comes in all sorts of flavors at Smugglers’ Notch.

For a leisurely taste of the Notch’s beauty, nothing beats the oldest form of transportation, walking. From Sterling Pond to the historic Long Trail, the Notch offers quite an ample sampling of hiking trails to choose from. A journey up Sterling Pond trail will impress hikers with dense forests of maples and birch, the sound of water trickling down rocks aside the well-marked path, and scenic peeks through the trees towards Cambridge and Jeffersonville. After this moderate-to-difficult trail climbs 900 feet in elevation, hikers are rewarded with a beautiful look over the clear waters of Sterling Pond. And make sure you don’t forget the swimming shorts and fishing poles on sunny days. For hikers looking to enjoy more time on the trail, the Notch offers access to several trails up to the top of Mt. Mansfield. Upon reaching the top of these fairly strenuous hikes, hikers will revel in the accomplishment of summiting Vermont’s highest peak as they savor the panoramic views and mountaintop vistas. From the peak, one can see Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks in the west, Camel’s Hump and the Green Mountains to the south, the White Mountains of New Hampshire way off in the east, and even into Canada to the north.
For those visitors with a bit of an appetite for an adrenaline rush, the Notch’s limitless climbing opportunities will spice up the exploration of this astounding landscape. Boulderers will feast upon the incredible abundance of enormous boulders that provide an unlimited number of projects and problems to refine their climbing technique and build skill. And provided you have the equipment and just enough insanity, climbers can also scale the cliff walls up Mansfield itself or Elephant’s Head across the road.

For those children or youthful spirits who cannot be constrained to the beaten trail, the caves and boulders of the Notch will capture the imagination of visitors of all ages. Just behind the parking area, children will find themselves swallowed by a wondrous landscape of hidden caves to explore, huge boulders to climb over, and narrow crevices to squeeze through. Better than any jungle gym around, this ideal area for exploration will provide the perfect outlet for excess, bundled up energy. And who knows, they might even learn a bit about Vermont history as they discover the very same cave used 200 years ago as a renegade hideout.

With the unlikelihood that all the wonders of the Notch can be discovered in a few hours, Smugglers’ Notch State Park Campground serves as the ideal gateway to this natural delicacy. The campground features both walk-in and drive-in tent or lean-to campsites and showering facilities. Within the campground you will also find several structures originally constructed by the CCC.

With such a diverse selection of activities, any visitor passing through on scenic Route 108 should be sure to stop at this natural playground offering up a taste of the true Vermont. When planning your next visit to the area be sure to consider what memories you will wish to treasure for years to come…the spectacular view that comes with the sense of accomplishment atop Mount Mansfield and the joy of adventuring through caves and house sized boulders, or the momentary satisfaction of a sweet treat.


  1. The history of Smugglers' Notch sounds fascinating. Do you recommend any books or local libraries that may have more information?

  2. Hi there, for more history on Smugglers' Notch, try the book "Mansfield, The Story of Vermont's Loftiest Mountain". The second edition has a special section on the Notch. It is out of print and hard to find, but may be available in some libraries. There is also a "History of Stowe" by W.J. Bigelow.

  3. Also: Stowe Historical Society has done a lot of work lately related to the Notch as part of the Barnes Camp effort I believe. I’d suggest this woman reach out to them and contact Stowe Free Library.


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