Know Your State Parks: Branbury
When I visited Branbury State Park on a warm day this spring, I got a small unexpected treat. I was the first person to walk across the freshly raked sand on the beach by Lake Dunmore. This is a small pleasure, for sure. But after a long winter, walking across a beach is a distillation of the essence of approaching summer. That’s a good feeling, right? I was tempted to skip, or maybe twirl in circles. The other park visitors were stretched out on their beach towels like pale starfish and soaking up warmth. This is a very local talent. After wading, I was reminded why the others were enjoying the lake from further away. In May, lakes in Vermont are still darn cold. Or, if you prefer, “bracing”.
One of the many fine things about Banbury State Park is that it doesn’t oversell itself. It doesn’t have to. The park is clean and spacious, with plenty of room to walk, swim, play volleyball, grill, or just relax in a gorgeous setting by the Green Mountains. After I was done on the beach, I walked around the grounds under many white and pink blooming apple trees. Bees kept me company by the trees. Apple blossoms have a lovely delicate scent. The bees, while an essential part of the ecosystem, do not.
No matter which direction you come from, the ride to Branbury provides nice scenery for your eyeballs. If you are coming south from Burlington or north from Rutland and Manchester, Route 7 runs past miles of fertile farmland between the Green Mountains and Lake Champlain. Route 7 travels the length of western side of Vermont, straight down through the Berkshires of Massachusetts, and into Connecticut. It eventually ends up in the Long Island Sound. However, I came from the east, and over Brandon Gap in the Green Mountains. From the top of the gap you can see miles of hills- as well as glimpses of Lake Champlain, and the Adirondacks of New York in the distance. Gaps like Brandon Gap and Middlebury Gap have been used as a natural east-west throughway for years- first by the Abanaki people travelling through the area, and later on by European settlers.
Lake Dunmore is a naturally formed glacial lake, long and thin- one mile across in some areas, and three miles long. It is vaguely fjord-like in aesthetics and spirit, though without the sea, whales, or Norwegian cruise lines. Most of the shoreline is privately owned. Route 53 neatly bisects Branbury in half in space, landscape and geography. One half is dominated by Lake Dunmore; the other side is a wooded forest.
This proximity to the forest is Branbury’s other popular draw. The park is adjacent to the Green Mountain National Forest, and so provides access to a network of miles of hiking trails (including the Long Trail), biking, wildlife viewing, picnicking, and the Moosalamoo National Recreational Area. The Moosalamoo area in particular offers a network of walking or hiking trails, and mountain biking opportunities (on specially marked trails only) and forest roads. There are several trailheads directly to the south and the to the north of the park, including to the Falls of Lana, a popular waterfall. You can also hike to the top of Mount Moosalamoo, a moderate to difficult 4- 5-hour hike.
Branbury also has a cottage that can be booked for a week in the summer, or for 3 nights earlier or later in the season. The name, appropriately enough, is the Moosalamoo Cottage. Are you wondering at this point what “Moosalamoo” means? I was curious too. There is actually a sign at the park that explains it. According to modern Abenaki translations, it probably means something like “he trails the moose” or “the moose departs”. Now you know!
There are 17 tent sites at Branbury close to the beach, on the edge of an open field. The other camping area is across the road in the wooded area. When I walked through this camping loop, spring rain had created a small waterfall off the rocks by one site. There are two trails that begin right at the campground- the lower cliff and upper cliff trails. These trails lead up the side of a hill and give views of the Lake Dunmore and beyond from above. I walked up the lower cliff trail, and observed some colonies of wildflowers, and a mysterious red flower I had never seen before (EDIT: I believe this flower is wild columbine, I will try to confirm this). You will also pass by some impressive boulders and rock formations. The area has an interesting geological history and quartzite, sandstone, limestone and marble are found here. Some of these larger rocks are just the perfect size for making a person feel small.
Branbury is 40 minutes from Burlington, 20 from the town of Middlebury, and 45 minutes from the Lake Champlain Bridge crossing from New York State.