Published on September 1st, 2013 | by Sarah Galbraith
8 Great Things to Do in the Mad River Valley
Photos by Jeb Wallace-Brodeur.
1. Ride a Revolution
The Mad River Valley’s newest mountain bike trail, Revolution, has people talking. With more than 400 feet of vertical over 1.2 miles, both the up and down include swooping turns and flowy ribbons of fun. “It’s super fun, and you can do it in both directions,” says John Atkinson, Mad River Valley resident and one of the masterminds behind this new creation. Revolution also gives access to the many miles of mountain bike trails further up the hill, like Clinic, Busternut, Enchanted Forest, and Cyclone. This is a multi-use trail, so runners and hikers are welcome and cyclists should be respectful of these other users.
Smartly, the Revolution trailhead is located at American Flatbread (americanflatbread.com) on Route 100 in Waitsfield, where dinner is served Thursday through Sunday. As for the trails, plan your trip with the excellent foldable and waterproof Mad River Valley Trails Map, available at local retailers or online at mapadventures.com. Residents can join the Mad River Riders (madriverriders.com), a local cycling group, for access to group rides and maps and to support development of riding opportunities.
2. Paddle Like Mad
The Mad River Valley offers easy access to two major Vermont Rivers: the Mad and the Winooski. Both rivers are fun, but the Mad in particular is known for its beauty and sections of rapids, sprinkled among winding sections of both fast- and slow-moving waters.
Clearwater Sports on Route 100 in Waitsfield Village offers daily guided river trips on both the Mad and Winooski Rivers, leaving at 9:30 a.m. and returning at 3 p.m., or custom guided trips for groups. The cost for regularly scheduled guided tours is $85 per person and includes boat rental, all equipment, expert guides, and transportation. For more information or to plan your trip, contact Clearwater Sports at (802) 496-2708 or clearwatersports.com.
Flat-water paddling and on-shore boat rentals are also available just to the north on Waterbury Reservoir at 177 Reservoir Rd., just off of Route 100 in Waterbury Center. Kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddle boards are available to be rented from Umiak Outdoor Outfitters on the shore, and on a first-come first-served basis from 10 a.m. To 6 p.m. Rental prices range from $20 to $50, depending on the type of boat and length of rental. For more information contact Umiak in Stowe at (802) 253-2317 or umiak.com.
3. Run a Ridge
The Long Trail follows the Monroe Skyline from Lincoln Gap, where the LT crosses Lincoln Gap Road, to Appalachian Gap, where the trail crosses Vermont Route 17. This 11.6-mile hike is perfect for an overnight trip, with good camping at Green Mountain Club’s Battell Shelter, a three-sided lean-to that sleeps eight and offers several nice tent sites; Glen Ellen Lodge, a four-walled lodge that sleeps eight with limited tenting options; and Theron Dean Shelter, a small three-sided lean-to that sleeps five and is perched on high with limited tenting.
This ridgeline can also be done in a single day by the experienced and fit hiker. Or, for long-distance runners, this stretch is a favorite backcountry run among locals. Moretown resident and local outdoor enthusiast Emily Johnson aims to do this long run once a year. She says, “I love this run because it is one of the highest consistent stretches of trail along the Green Mountain divide.” She points out that there is a good climb to start off in either direction (north or south), and the extended downhill on the other end can be tough on your feet, so she recommends well cushioned running shoes. She adds, “There are lots of great views along the way, too, and several shelters if you need to dodge a storm.”
For more information on this section of the Long Trail or to plan your trip, see the Green Mountain Club’s “Long Trail Guide.”
4. Swim the Falls
Warren Falls, along the Mad River, is a popular swimming spot with clear and cold water, deep pools, and high rocks for jumping. This swimming spot, and more than 30 others, are featured in the 2012 book, “Take the Plunge: An Explorers Guide to Swimming Holes of Vermont.” Access to the falls is along Vermont Route 100 about 3 miles south of Warren Village, with parking available in a large pull-off on the right side of the road (heading south). Just follow the sound of falling water to find your swimming spot and be sure to explore the pools down-river. As always, be careful when jumping in: Check water depth and make sure that rocks, logs, or other storm debris are not hiding below the surface.
5. Conquer a Gap Ride
Pedaling any one of Vermont’s gaps is a challenge, and two in one day will earn you a beer for sure. The Mad River Valley is home to the gnarliest gaps in all of Vermont: Lincoln and Appalachian Gaps, on Lincoln Gap Road and Vermont Route 17, respectively. Riders can conquer both gaps by looping Vermont Route 100 in Warren, Vermont Route 17 in Waitsfield, Vermont Route 116 in Bristol, and Lincoln/Lincoln Gap Roads in Lincoln. But even an out-and-back over just one of these gaps will have your legs screaming.
Vermont cycling enthusiast and owner of Flahute Bikes, Josh Saxe, advises riders remember the words of Jens Voigt, a German professional road cyclist: Shut up legs. “They’ll scream most of the way up,” says Josh, who has ridden these gaps a few times. Saxe also recommends playing it safe on the way back down. These are winding and steep roads that are well traveled during tourist seasons. Saxe says, “Descending is fun, but keep the rubber side down.”
Strava, an online tool that allows users to track their routes and pace, is a great resource to get inspired with routes and to challenge other users. As for the rest of us, the relatively mellow terrain of Vermont Routes 100 and 100B and US Route 2 offer miles of happy and scenic cycling and a scenic tour of the Mad River Valley for all levels.
6. Play a Round
No caddy necessary. Pick up driver, approach, and putter discs, and hit the disc golf course at Sugarbush Resort to play a round of 18 holes. Sugarbush offers two courses, each with a map: The Peak Course stays up high and the Base Course is down low. Walking the course will run you a mere $5 per person; lift access is available for the Peak Course for $15 more. Maps of both disc golf courses are available at the resort or online at sugarbush.com.
7. Take in the View
A short 1.3-mile hike north on the Long Trail from the height of land on Vermont Route 17 (Appalachian Gap) leads to Molly Stark’s balcony. This spectacular spot offers views to the east, showing Camel’s Hump and the Worcester Range. The hike gains about 500 feet in elevation over this short distance, making this a moderate but do-able hike for most hikers. Bonus: Bring a handmade sandwich from the Warren General Store (warrenstore.com). For more information on this hike and to plan your trip, see the Green Mountain Club’s “Long Trail Guide.”
8. Go with the Flow
Tubing Vermont’s rivers is a favorite past-time for locals, and the Mad offers spectacular scenery and varied currents to keep the flowing fun. For tube rentals and shuttles, contact Clearwater Sports in Waitsfield at (802) 496-2708 or clearwatersports.com.
Sarah Galbraith of Marshfield, Vermont hikes, bikes, skis, and cartwheels her way through Vermont in all seasons.