While the state of Vermont may be more synonymous for Bernie Sanders, Ben and Jerry’s and Phish, I promise there is much more to the Green Mountain State! Stowe is nestled in the heart of the Green Mountains, in Northern Vermont. While known primarily for epic skiing, Stowe has solidified itself as an active town year round and has become a destination for mountain bikers, trail runners, and hikers in recent years. Stowe is a small town; home to about 1,500 year round residents, but that number can grow exponentially on a powder day or during peak foliage season! Even though we are a small town, it only feels like a small town in all the best ways (think Cheers), and there is no shortage of places to eat, trails to run, and things to do.
As for the weather, there’s a common Vermont saying about the weather; “if you don’t like the weather, wait a few minutes, it’ll change.” We get plenty of cold weather and snow here, and winter generally spans any month that contains the letter “r.” Winter running can become a challenge, especially trying to trail run, and investing in micro-spikes or learning how to put screws in your shoes can become a survival technique to winter trail running. I’ve also learned that sometimes the best, and safest, option for running during winter is either the road or the treadmill, neither of which are my favorite, but sometimes it’s just about getting your miles in and keeping the crazy away! Learning to embrace the long winters in Vermont has become key for not only surviving the cold weather, but actually enjoying it.
I grew up as a “flatlander,” living in Ohio for my first twenty-ish years of life, so I did not grow up skiing and embracing winter. I have since developed a love cross-country skiing, and haven’t quite made the leap over to downhill skiing yet, but embracing skiing, and winter, in a mountain town is sort of a prerequisite. I’m certainly not the most graceful person on cross-country skis, but I’m out there, and that feels like a huge accomplishment in itself. Aside from the winters, our weather tends to be on the milder side in terms of temperature. Our summer months are generally warm without getting too hot, although this summer was unseasonably cool and rainy. Fall weather tends to be absolutely spectacular, and is my favorite season to run. Between the amazing colors our trees display to the cooler temps, fall seems like such a special time in Vermont to explore the trails and get in all those trail runs before winter sets in.
The terrain here is hilly, and I generally plan my runs based on how much I feel like climbing on a given day. For a girl who grew up as a “flatlander,” all these rolling hills were pretty intimidating as a new runner. But, I’ve found that running hills and climbing mountains has made me a stronger runner, and I actually look forward to runs that involve a lot of climbing. Plus, if it gets too steep, it’s a good opportunity to work on that power hike!
I feel incredibly lucky to call Stowe home and be able to explore the extensive trail network this town has to offer. Moving to Vermont was certainly a change of pace from growing up in the suburbs of the Midwest, and it has taught me that you can survive, and I would argue thrive, with much less. It has been a wonderful place to raise two kids, surrounded by nature and a community that encourages children to get outside and be active. After nearly a decade in Vermont, my love for this town and this amazing state only get stronger.
Cady Hill Forest: While these trails are typically frequented by mountain bikers, they boast of some great single track for trail runners as well. There’s just enough climbing to keep it interesting, without feeling like your quads are on fire. My typical loop here is between 3-5 miles, although there are plenty of spurs and lollipop loops to add on if you’re feeling adventurous. It’s easy to get a bit lost in here, but there are plenty of trail maps at intersections to prevent you from getting too lost, and luckily these trails are bordered by major roads on all sides, so you’re never too far away from civilization. These trails are conveniently located in downtown Stowe, which makes it ideal for midweek runs, as well as for visitors staying downtown and looking for a trail run within walking distance.
Sterling Forest: A short drive from downtown, these trails offer beautiful views as well as some fun single track. There is plenty of climbing involved, but there is a sweet reward at the top of Peak-A-View trail! My favorite part about this trail network, besides the awesome view from Peak-A-View, is the ability to connect into other trail networks if you’re looking for a longer run. This trail network connects into the Catamount Trail, a 300+ mile long cross-country ski trail, which runs throughout Vermont. The Catamount Trail is groomed during the winter months for cross-country and backcountry skiers, as well as snowshoeing. While primarily a winter trail, there are sections of the Catamount Trail in the Sterling Forest area that are still accessible during summer months. The trails do tend to stay pretty wet year round, so be prepared to get your feet wet! There are multiple different routes to run here, and they are typically around a 5 mile loop, with the option to add in mileage via the Catamount Trail as well as other trails. There is a good mix of single track as well as double track here. There are some pretty cool historical markers which make for a fun history lesson while you’re exploring the trails. And the dirt roads surrounding Sterling Forest make for a nice, hilly, road run with the river winding next to the road.
Cottonbrook: This trail network runs along the Waterbury Reservoir and Little River. This is mostly a double track road, with sections of single track as well. There is a pretty good amount of elevation gain here, about 1,500 feet. This trail connects into the Little River State Park, located in Waterbury, which is the town next to Stowe. There are many historical markers along the trail, which detail the village that was settled during the late 1700’s. The main loop here, Cottonbrook Road, is about 6.5 miles, but there are plenty of trails that allow you to add on additional mileage. I encourage you to take the single track trail, Foster’s Trail, to Ricker Farm for some nice views along the river as well as a steep ascent that will leave you thankful for the reprieve once you reach the top of the climb!
Trapp Family Lodge: This place is famous in its own right, as home to the von Trapps (yes, those ones!), but I promise you the trails here do not disappoint! One of my favorite places to run, Trapp’s boasts everything from technical single track to mellow double track, with plenty of climbing to keep you working. My favorite run goes up to the Cabin via Owl’s Howl trail, down Haul Road, and over to Adam’s Camp trails. If you’re looking for a fun race to run, I would strongly suggest either Catamount Ultra or Trapp Mountain Marathon. Both races take place at Trapp Family Lodge’s trail network and are sure to challenge you. Plus, the courses are awesome and there’s always some great swag and beer after the race!
Stowe Pinnacle: If you’re looking for a challenging trail run, this trail has it. While the Pinnacle is certainly not the highest peak in Stowe, it is challenging. There are two options here, you can either park at the main trailhead on Upper Hollow Road or you can access the trail from Pinnacle Meadows, located on Upper Pinnacle Road. The trail from Pinnacle Meadows is shorter (~0.65 miles) and is more of a gradual incline until the trails join, while the main trail is about a mile and has a steep incline and more technical terrain. The views from the top are worth it, as you are treated to panoramic views of Mount Mansfield, Camels Hump, the Waterbury Reservoir and the ski trails at Sugarbush. There is an option to take the Skyline Trail to connect into other peaks as well, and those trails are also somewhat technical and challenging, but very fun!
Where to Eat, Drink, and Stock up on Gear:
If you’re looking for local craft brews, this town’s got ‘em, as well as some great food to pair with those beers! This town has no shortage of incredible places to eat, and it’s hard to pick a favorite, but here are my typical go-to spots in Stowe.
Doc Ponds: Hands down my favorite place to eat in town, this restaurant serves up great food as well as some delicious local craft brews to wash them down. Also, they make a mean milkshake (with an option to add in some booze) for a delicious post-run treat!
Cork: If you’re looking for good wine, look no further. This wine bar and restaurant boasts some of the best wine around, with an emphasis on sustainable and natural wines. They also serve up some delicious food as well! The perfect way to unwind after a day on the trails.
PK Coffee: A great place to fuel up with a latte and a breakfast burrito pre- or post-run. My favorite is the Turmeric Latte with a shot of espresso with a Not Your Mother’s Grilled Cheese as a quick post-run snack. You’re bound to find other trail runners and mountain bikers hanging out here on any given weekend.
Butler’s Pantry: The perfect breakfast or brunch spot to refuel after that trail run. The eggs benedict here are absolutely amazing, plus they make their biscuits and sausage from scratch! All of the food is delicious, and the service is great. This place does tend to get pretty busy during the weekends, and I’ve found going on the earlier side or waiting until around noon tend to be less busy times if you’re looking to get a seat right away.
Tres Amigos: A great spot if you’re looking for a Vermont twist on Mexican food. The margaritas and cocktails are delicious, and I haven’t found an item on the menu that I didn’t like yet! This restaurant also doubles as a concert venue, called the Rusty Nail, and showcases local acts as well as some more widely known bands.
The Alchemist: I feel like a mention of Stowe and local craft brews would be remiss if I didn’t mention our infamous brewery in town. The Alchemist recently built a new brewery and retail shop in Stowe, but they have been churning out some of the most popular beers for a long time. Their claim to fame is the Heady Topper, although they make many delicious options. The parking lot is frequently full, and often times you can see a line wrapping around the building on a Saturday morning. People drive from all over the East Coast to get their hands on a few four-packs of this stuff, since it is only distributed within about a 30 mile radius of the brewery.
Since Stowe is more widely known as a ski town, we don’t have a store that is dedicated solely to running gear. The best option in town is AJ’s Ski and Sports, which does have a pretty decent selection of running shoes and clothing. They also have a good selection of fuel, such as Clif, GU, and Vermont’s very own Untapped maple products. If you’re looking for more of a specialized running store, traveling to Burlington is probably your best option. I typically buy my running shoes and other gear from Skirack, and their staff is very knowledgeable about trail and road running. They also have a wide variety of both trail and road shoes to choose from. They also tend to sponsor many local trail races and typically have a shoe demo tent, which is another good opportunity to try out some different types of trail shoes. Although I would probably throw in the disclaimer that you may not want to try running a trail race in shoes you’ve never worn before.
If you’re looking to do some shopping that isn’t running related, Stowe has a great selection of unique shops within walking distance of downtown sure to fit just about any interest.
Stowe is an amazing town with plenty of adventures for any type of outdoor enthusiast. While I’m particularly partial to trail running, I think our town offers something for everyone. If you’re traveling to Stowe for an adventure of your own, and are looking for a local guide for your trail adventures, feel free to reach out! You can find me on Instagram: @anewwhitney or through email at [email protected].
Feature Photo: Andrew Drummond