This article was written by Starr Morvay and previously appeared in the Summer 2017 Long Trail News.
For most Long Trail end-to-enders, side trails are ways to get on and off the trail, and reference points for locating yourself on the map. That was certainly true for my husband Daniel and me as we hiked north on the Long Trail. Then we made a discovery that changed our perspective.
It began as we hiked down Journey’s End Trail after completing our end-to-end hike in September 2014. The joy we felt faded with the light, and when we reached the road, we realized our journey was over.
Or was it? Back home as I browsed the Green Mountain Club website I found the Long Trail side-to-side program. This was the challenge we were looking for! Our journey wasn’t over after all, and we eagerly set out to hike every side trail.
As end-to-enders we can testify that hiking side trails is as much of an adventure as hiking the Long Trail, and has several advantages. You’ll better understand how the Long Trail relates to the landscape. You’ll drive through small towns and up dirt roads to places you probably haven’t been before. You’ll see features you won’t see on the Long Trail, like the abandoned rail bed of the Lye Brook Railroad, the huge sawdust pile near the former village of Griffith, or the remaining wing of the B-24J Liberator that crashed into Camel’s Hump in 1944.
And, you are likely to enjoy more solitude and wildlife sightings. It’s true that some side trails are popular, but you’ll have most of them to yourself, so be on the lookout for startled grouse. The caretaker at Little Rock Pond Shelter was relieved to learn we weren’t planning to spend the night because the shelter was full. We had spent the day hiking the Green Mountain Trail, and we hadn’t met anyone all day. What a contrast!
But if you like the comradery of the trail, you won’t miss out. We enjoyed dropping in on the Long Trail and chatting with hikers at different stages of their journeys. I will always remember talking with an Appalachian Trail hiker at William B. Douglas Shelter because when I offered him some fruit snacks, he thanked me and took the whole bag.
There’s more than one way to hike the side trails, but we did learn things that might help you enjoy it. Start with the list of side trails provided on the GMC website. Then sit down with the GMC’s Long Trail Guide, the Long Trail Map, and a good road map to work out the logistics. Many side trails can be combined with another side trail, a section of the Long Trail, or both to make loops or lollipop hikes. Several side trails require out-and-back hikes, and a few of them are close enough that you can hike two in one day. Other side trails work well by spotting cars (two cars parked at different trailheads) for point-to-point hikes.
In the end, plan your hikes for your preferences and goals, but do your research carefully and know how to reach the trailheads as a few are a challenge to find. Use your GPS, but don’t rely on it entirely. Ours told us to take a farmer’s road more than once.
Daniel and I completed all eighty-four side trails in November 2015, after hiking almost as many miles as we had on our thru-hike. Now when hike on the Long Trail and pass a side trail sign, we look at each other and say, “Hey, remember when…?” It’s like greeting an old friend.
So what’s next? Well, we’ve started over. We hope to meet some of you as you explore the blue-blazed trails too!