Here in Montana, when you mention the East to a born-and-bred Montanan, it often conjures images of skyscrapers, bumper-to-bumper traffic, and throngs of people. This isn’t the East I know. My East is filled with spectacular wildlands, places where you can drive for ages on dirt roads, spend a day exploring backwoods waterfalls, and look out over an endless expanse of rolling, snow-covered hills, where there is a beautiful blur between the natural and the cultural, the wilderness and the civilization.
The Catamount Trail, a 300-mile XC ski trail that traverses the length of Vermont, provides an incredible opportunity to experience the East in all its quiet, rugged splendor, and to enjoy the wonders of the Green Mountain National Forest.
In many ways, the trail is a monument to that old Vermonters’ sense of community. It passes by stonewalls and foundations, where one can only imagine the pluck and spirit it took to make a life of it on a rocky hillside, and crosses 165 miles of private land, where farmers have decided to allow skiers to pass for the sake of the greater good.
More than this, the trail is cared for by a dedicated community of volunteers. Its 300 miles is divided into 31 sections, each with a volunteer trail chief who makes sure their 5-15 mile sections are well marked and well maintained. The result is a communal trail that transcends the boundaries of public forest and private property.
The trail, which began as a pie-in-the-sky thesis project in 1984, weaves together a tapestry of public and private lands. While the Long Trail, the oldest “through trail” in the U.S., spans the spine of the state, the Catamount Trail follows the base of the Green Mountains, where it offers a more intimate connection to the landscape’s past and present. The trail weaves together unplowed roads, trails, farm fields, and old wood roads – those wide, hand-dug paths that once connected long-abandoned villages. Sometimes following groomed tracks, sometimes joining a packed snowmobile route, and sometimes ascending through untrodden snow, skiers will encounter an array of conditions throughout their journey, but will surely be treated to an unforgettable experience.
Whether an intermediate or advanced skier, and whether looking for a day trip or a longer getaway, the Catamount Trail is ready to accommodate your needs. If you’re out for the day, stop by a nearby village for hot chocolate and fresh baked cookies. For a longer adventure, spend your nights at one of the many bed and breakfasts along the way, where lodge owners will ferry your suitcase up the road to your next evening’s abode. Hopping from lodge to lodge, you can cover miles and miles each day without being weighed down by an overnight pack. Complete a new section each year, or embark on the 300-mile journey all at once. Any way you slice it, you’re in for some spectacular scenery in Vermont’s Green Mountains.