If you’ve been around the New England hiking community long enough, you’ve probably heard some version of this phrase: “There aren’t loop hikes in Vermont.” This statement may be hyperbolic, but there is some truth in it: trails that form loops, of either the day-hiking or multi-day variety, are hard to come by along the spine of the Green Mountains. The north-south orientation of the Long Trail, the east-west orientation of the A.T. in Vermont and the spur-like nature of side trails often require some amount of road walking to make a full loop back to one’s car.
Over the last 10+ years, the GMC and its partners have been working to relocate the Long Trail in Smugglers’ Notch to more closely coincide with its original route past the historic Barnes Camp structure (now the volunteer-staffed Barnes Camp Visitor Center). In a traditional trail relocation, all traces of the previous path are brushed in and obscured to discourage and ultimately eliminate their use so that the old tread can return to a natural state. However, in the Smugglers’ Notch relocation a unique opportunity presented itself: if part of the old treadway was left in place, it would connect two arms of the “new” Long Trail to create a 1.5-mile triangular loop. Thus, the “Barnes Camp Loop” was born.
While not officially named on maps or signage yet, the “Barnes Camp Loop” has become an instant favorite since the relocation was completed earlier this spring. This loop features a brand-new accessible boardwalk, excellent views of wetlands and cliffs, a short stream crossing, and a steep climb and descent, all packed into a very attainable distance that can be enjoyed in a short time. It can be accessed from either the Barnes Camp Visitor Center or the Smugglers’ Notch Picnic Area.
I prefer to enjoy this loop in a clockwise fashion. After parking in Stowe Resort (the new hiker parking, across the street from Barnes Camp), the hiker will carefully cross Highway 108 and enter the new accessible boardwalk at the end of the short-term parking area. After a few hundred feet of up-close wetland views and perhaps a visit from the resident beaver, the path leads off the boardwalk onto brand-new single-track trail. Soon, the white-blazed Long Trail south will split off to the left, but the loop hiker will continue forward on new, blue-blazed trail. A junction appears shortly for the Smugglers’ Notch Picnic Area, but the loop hiker will stay right and descend to the Little River’s West Branch. After fording this stream (or rock-hopping during low-water), the hiker will climb steeply, 400 feet in a quarter mile, to another junction with the Long Trail. Taking a right again, the hiker descends gradually and pleasantly back to Barnes Camp, completing the loop.
The “Barnes Camp Loop” is an excellent choice for hikers looking for a short afternoon jaunt or a low-elevation alternative to the higher summits in poor weather. It provides a taste of what Smugglers’ Notch has to offer without requiring as much time or effort as hiking Mt. Mansfield, the Sterling Pond Trail, or other nearby longer outings. And you don’t have to drop a car, hitch a ride, or hike back the same way you came. Here’s to Vermont’s favorite new loop!
How did all of the components of this loop come to be?
The accessible boardwalk opened in October 2017, built by Timber & Stone and funded by an initial $800,000 secured by then-Congressman Bernie Sanders, as well as funding from VT Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, Spruce Peak Resort Association, Lamoille County Planning Commission, Lamoille Economic Development Corporation, and Green Mountain Club. It is 600′ long with a 5’ wide walkway so that two wheelchair users can pass each other. There are raised outer curbs for safety and multiple interpretive panels along the way describing the area’s environment.
The mile-long Long Trail relocation opened in May 2018 after the trail was built by volunteers from GMC’s Montpelier Section & Burlington Section. Those two GMC sections also maintain the Long Trail on either side of Smugglers’ Notch.
Barnes Camp Visitor Center is staffed by GMC volunteers on summer weekends from mid-May through mid-October. The partners helping to run Barnes Camp include Green Mountain Club, Stowe Mountain Resort, VT Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, and Lamoille County Planning Commission. Stop in for hiking information from our friendly volunteers, or to purchase a map!