Hiking and Exploring in The Upper Valley of Vermont and New Hampshire
Straddling the scenic Connecticut River between Vermont and New Hampshire, the Upper Valley is home to the core towns of Norwich, Hanover, and Woodstock, and a constellation of lively, smaller towns that combine to make the area a desirable place to live and explore. Featuring everything from scenic landscapes, charming villages, a vibrant arts and culture scene and an Ivy League college town, the Upper Valley has something for everyone. Outdoor life is a particularly valued part of living in the region. With hundreds of possible hikes and lookout spots to choose from, we picked out the top five locations to take in the picturesque landscape of the Upper Valley.
The Gile Mountain peak boasts some of the most impressive bird’s-eye views in the Upper Valley. On a clear day, visitors can enjoy the stunning landscape of the surrounding mountains. To the south, the ski trails of Killington, Ellen, and Abraham mountains can be enjoyed. To the north, one can take in the dramatic vistas of the Moosilauke ridge and the upper knob of Camel’s Hump just above South Strafford. The 1.4 mile-long hike to the peak and back can easily be completed in under an hour, so Gile Mountain is accessible to hikers of all ages and skill levels.
Gile Mountain also features important examples of local history. In the 19th century, when the world ran on steam power, over 80% of the area’s forest was cleared to use as fuel. As the energy infrastructure eventually transitioned to coal and later gas power, much of the Upper Valley’s forest began to grow back; however, this made the area vulnerable to devastating forest fires. To combat the disasters, numerous fire towers were erected on mountain peaks in the region, including Giles Mountain’s summit. This since-abandoned fire-fighting tool still stands and can be climbed to better enjoy views of the area.
Access to the trail is available from the site’s parking lot, and there is no entry fee.
Another easy hike in the region that features sweeping views of the east can be found through Holt’s Ledge. Holt’s “Ledge” refers to the dramatic cliff at the top of the hike, which allows for unobstructed views of the rocky summits of Ragged Mountain, Kearsarge, Ascutney, and more.
This cliff is also home to one of Upper Valley’s most essential and effective conservation efforts. As the poisonous effects of DDT (one of the first modern, synthetic pesticides) drove out the beautiful Peregrine Falcon, the birds were subsequently placed on the Endangered Species Act. The cliff at Holt’s Ledge was one of the first sites to successfully reintroduce the birds back into the region, and many still live there today.
The trail also features a three-sided log shelter near the top of the chairlift. This rustic structure is a perfect place to camp, and many hiking enthusiasts spend the night here to enjoy the dramatic sunrises over a cup of fresh coffee.
Holt’s Ledge is located thirteen miles from Hanover, and its 2.2 mile-long hike lasts approximately two hours. Parking is available in Dartmouth Skiway’s lot, and there is no fee for entry.
Cardigan Mountain State Park
The summit of Cardigan Mountain is another site boasting spectacular 360-degree views. This trail’s bare peak was cleared by a forest fire in 1855, which allowed for unobstructed sight-seeing and a place for local wildlife to thrive. On the way to the peak, hikers can spot salamanders darting around, as well as wild blueberries, mushrooms, and lichen moss.
There are multiple trails to reach the summit, all varying in length and intensity. The most direct route is the 1.5 mile-long West Ridge trail, whereas more adventurous hikers may opt for the steeper and more challenging Holt trail. Cardigan Mountain also features a metal observation tower, where hikers can enjoy the impressive views of Upper Valley.
As this summit is a regional favorite, many hikers opt to stay overnight to thoroughly enjoy the experience. The nearby Appalachian Mountain Club’s Cardigan Lodge hosts a base camp for overnight camping, providing a spacious deck and fireplace to relax after an exhilarating hike.
Access can be found by the mountain’s parking area, which is complete with picnic tables and restrooms. There is no fee for entry, but there is a donation box.
With its impressive flank framing Bradford from the north, Wrights Mountain played a significant role in the town’s culture, community, and history over the centuries. With a peak height of 1,822 feet, the summit offers spectacular views of the rolling hills of Waits River Valley and the magnificent mountain ranges to the west.
Over 3.5 miles of trails straddle the mountain and offer a variety of hiking experiences. The Chase Hollow Trail is a particularly dramatic option, as hikers follow the winding path through a ravine of shallow caves and impressive boulders, including the locally revered Devil’s Den.
Bradford has long enjoyed the hiking, camping, and picnicking adventures on Wright Mountain, and the site remains an integral part of the nearby school’s photography and ecological classes. With its excellent hiking opportunities and influence on local communities, Wright Mountain is the whole package and a must-see when exploring the Upper Valley region.
The moderate to challenging trails of Wright Mountain can be accessed by a parking lot off Wrights Mountain Road. There is no fee to enter.
Quechee State Park boasts one of the most impressive examples of a natural feature unique to the Northeast. Formed by colossal glaciers thousands of years ago, the Quechee Gorge is the deepest and arguably most beautiful gorge in Vermont. The rushing river winds its way through the forest, and it is best viewed from the Quechee Gorge Bridge, built in 1911 and soaring 163 feet in the air. Visitors commonly perch on a boulder near the gorge to enjoy the sights, sounds, and refreshing environment of this natural waterway.
This park originated as a successful mill-powered wool factory in the 19th century. The company pumped out high-quality products for much of the next century, including uniforms for New York Yankees and blankets for the United States Army and Navy. After its closure in the 1950s, the facilities were demolished, and the property was eventually turned over to the Department of Forest, Parks, and Recreation. A few fireplace foundations, broken clay pigeons, and more remains of the mill can still be found in the park.
History aside, the park also offers a variety of other outdoor activities for the whole family with campgrounds, baseball diamonds, and picnic areas. Vermont’s Quechee Gorge is one of the more spectacular and invigorating outdoor experiences in the Upper Valley, and its beauty should not be missed.
Parking is available at the Quechee Gorge Visitor’s Center and the park is open from 10 am to sunset, depending on the season.
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