This Year’s Best Fall Mountain Marathons

Take to the trails this month with a new five-peak mountain marathon and a few classic favorites. 

Whether you run, walk or hike them, Vermont’s fall mountain marathons all guarantee the same thing: stunning scenery, challenging terrain and no cars or pavement. Over the past few years, a number of new mountain trail running events have gained popularity. Routed almost entirely on dirt trails, much of it singletrack, these races or runs are perhaps the best ways to take in fall foliage. Here are four of our favorites.

Oct. 8 | North Face Race to the Summit

It’s not really a marathon but if hill sprints are your thing, sign right up. The North Face Race to the Summit in Stratton is a deceptively short 2.18 miles. It’s the elevation gain of 2,003 feet that will

get you. You can, of course, hike or walk it. But there’s a $600 first place prize ($300 for second and $100 for third) for the top male and female finisher. For everyone else, there’s the view from the summit of southern Vermont’s highest peak, at peak foliage.

Oct. 14 | Westmore Mountain Challenge

In its first year, the Westmore Mountain Challenge already has our vote for the most spectacular (and challenging) trail run in Vermont. The route takes runners and hikers on a one-way, 26-mile run up ve mountains in the Northeast Kingdom, with 4,423 feet of elevation gain. It ends as you pass the southern end of the fjord-like Lake Willoughby and run five miles out to finish at the NorthWoods Stewardship Center. The route is almost entirely singletrack trails, built by Conservation Corps and other volunteers.

It’s not so much a race as a challenge, says organizer Rebecca Midthun, and you can do shorter distances, thanks to shuttles arranged at strategic checkpoints after Mount Hor, Mount Pisgah, Haystack and Bald Mountains. Start is at Moose Mountain and finish is at the NorthWoods Center. There, Sterling College professor and ultra marathoner Pavel Cenkl will give a talk on his Climate Change Run across Scandinavia. Registration is capped at 120.

Oct. 14 | Trapp Mountain Marathon

The cross-country trails at Trapp Family Lodge’s 513 acres have almost a surface that makes them ideal for trail running either a half-marathon or doing two laps for a full 26.2 miles. The trails criss-cross the hilltop property past pastures where Highland cattle and sheep graze, through orchards, high meadows and up to hardwood forests. More than two-thirds of the route is doubletrack with the rest on winding singletrack trails. At the high point, Slayton Pasture’s classic rough-hewn cabin serves as a rest stop, but the best stop and reward is the Trapp Bierhall at the lowest point. All finishers get a custom finisher’s glass which you can fill with your Von Trapp brew of choice.

Oct. 14 | CircumBurke Challenge and Trail Run

The trails around Burke Mountain might be best known for mountain biking—and most people do this 26-plus mile route on knobby tires. But CircumBurke is also a running race that follows new sections of singletrack trail as well as logging roads as it careens around the wilder sides of Burke and Umpire Mountains. This is an “epic, grueling” race. Last year, runners took between 3.5 and 7 hours to finish and the top cyclist finished in 2 hours, 45 minutes.