New England Travel: Stowe – Stowe Pinnacle – Smugglers Notch State Park, VT
Snow! Yesterday’s rain made a Ben & Jerry’s Factory Tour very appealing. Overnight, temps dropped and rain turned to snow. This morning, we changed our hiking plans to take advantage of the first snow of the season. Hiking a 4000 footer was out of the question because of high winds and heavy snowfall, but a lower summit like Stowe Pinnacle was definitely achievable. Also in the Stowe area, we planned a zipline canopy tour in the afternoon, hoping that the weather would clear up.
Stowe Pinnacle Trail
Family-friendly and easy were adjectives that came back frequently in trip reports about Stowe Pinnacle. Since our arrival in New England, I’d been dying to climb a summit to enjoy fall foliage from up top. As it happened, fall foliage had been replaced by an early winter storm but I was still hopeful for views.
We pulled into the tiny parking lot for Stowe Pinnacle, the only car at 10am. All of us wore rain or snow trousers, as well as woollen hats and gloves. It was quite cold, freezing in fact, with the air temperature around 0C/33F. Moving fast to warm up, we started on the trail up the mountain.
A series of boards made slippery by fresh snow dotted the first 1/4 mile of the hike, indicating the trail until we got used to blue markers on trees. The bottom of the hike had a fresh cover of slushy snow that was promising for higher elevations.
As you can see, I was loving it. My teenage daughter took this picture and right after that, couldn’t resist touching some snow to feel it.
“It’s so soft,” she said, and it was. It was soft and dry, refusing to stick together. At this elevation, the forest was a mixture of trees without leaves (birches, I think), conifers and a few beeches whose gorgeous yellow leaves were dusted in white. The resulting landscape was so beautiful. We kept going up the trail without realizing it, mesmerized by the winter wonderland surrounding us.
Closer to the top, we entered a black and white world. No more deciduous trees. Only spruce and firs at this elevation, all now heavily covered in fresh snow. We were reading carefully at the point as the trail was made of big boulders, some of them quite slippery with the snow. Slowly, we stepped away from snowy puddles. Some of them looked deep enough to immerse a full foot and I had no desire to find out. Finally, the treeline cleared up and we reached the summit. Were we ready for this?
“No views but lots of trees,” had said the only hiker we met on the trail, on her way back from the summit. This pretty much summed up the situation but even without views, we had enjoyed every mile of this hike in Stowe. Granted, we were lucky to have the trail all to ourselves after a fresh snowfall and that was pretty special. However, it was just really a pleasant hike. We went down faster than we had anticipated, even with the slippery bits involved. By the time we reached the bottom, most of the morning snow had already melted.
Details: This is a 3.7 mile out and back hike on the same trail, with 1,625 feet elevation gain at a steady pace. No difficulty apart from boulders at the end.
Smugglers Notch Zip Line
My girls love anything zipline or tree climbing and close to Stowe, I had found this great zip line canopy tour by ArborTrek Canopy Adventures that lasted 2.5 to 3 hours in Smugglers Notch State Park. Well, it was close until snow cut off a route and we had to take a detour to find them but that was alright.
As I had filled all waivers online, we didn’t need to fill any paperwork and our guides, Jordan and Jason, quickly came to join us. We were the only ones on this tour and both guides were extremely nice and attentive. In 15 minutes, we were kitted out with helmets, insulated gloves, harnesses and carabiners.
On the ground, we practiced our safety moves, getting on and off the zip line, doing self rescue and getting off the platform. Then we were off in the van and walked to our first zip line. It started at a sugar maple tree and connected to another sugar maple tree. I remember because Jason, keen forager and survivalist, peppered our zip line adventures of cool tips on the local flora and fauna.
Now, imagine someone clipping you to this cable and asking you sit down, let go and relax. Would you? I’ll be fair, I didn’t relax on the two first zip lines. I was too fixated on looking for Jordan on the next platform and awaiting her “slow down” signs. Well at least, we could see the next platform on this one.
On the third platform, the cable literally disappeared into the snowed-in canopy. Help? It was a test of faith to jump off the platform and trust that the cable and equipment were going to carry me all the way to the other side. After two zip lines, I started paying attention to the landscapes and it was exhilarating. This zip line was 1,000 feet long which meant we each spent 25 to 30 seconds zipping down above and between trees at 25 mph. Boom!
My girls, absolutely relaxed, were having a ball and goofing up as soon as they could. When Jordan asked us to lean over the platform to test our rappelling skills, my girls obliged and did it again and again because it was fun. I, of course, was slightly less relaxed about the whole “letting go” situation but never felt afraid. Jordan and Jason had us securely clipped to all the safety cables you could imagine.
Look ma, one hand!
Look ma, all of us goofing up with Jordan doing a weird gangsta move. Yes, as you can see from the ArborTrek logo, I purchased the photo package but I purchased it online to save $10 and I’m glad I did. There was no way I was taking this picture.
It was honestly lots of fun but all good things cone to an end. On the 6th platform, we were about to start rappeling down when Jason got a radio call from April at reception. We were being evacuated. We all rappeled down quickly and April met us with the van nearby. Turned out one of the knots around the 8th platform had come loose and they didn’t want to put us in harm’s way. It was all done very professionally and calmly, and within 10 minutes, we were back in the lovely heated hut, taking off our zip line bling. ArborTrek was very fair and refunded us 25% of the price without us asking. I received their photos by email that same evening and was impressed at how good they were. All in all, a great company for family-friendly adventures around Stowe. If you are interested, they will be doing their zip line canopy tours through the winter. Game?
This concluded our day around Stowe.
Where We Ate
If you have a coffee fan in the family or even a rugelach fan, stop at the Vermont Artisan Coffee Bar. It was absolutely fantastic.
“This was the best coffee I’ve had outside of Italy for quite a while!” said my husband to the barista. As my husband travels often to Italy for work and doesn’t dish out on coffee easily, this certainly came from the heart. I had a very respectable cup of green tea (Cloud Mist) and my oldest had an iced maple latte that she loved. Bonus: the back restroom features one of these legendary Toto toilets with heated toilet seat. No kidding. Lest I forget: the rugelach. They offer freshly baked pastries and the rugelach definitely stood out in its own right for deliciousness.
We had lunch at Black Cap Coffee & Beer in Stowe, a recently renovated coffee bar with delicious hot sandwiches. We had two kinds: The Dope (bacon, avocado, egg) and Sophia Loren (tomato, pesto, mozzarella). To top it off, we shared a flourless chocolate cake that was gooey and quite decent.
Where We Stayed
Same as yesterday, in this charming country house.