Day hikes have become a way of life in a pandemic. Social distancing is important in the time of COVID-19 but there are only so many Zoom calls I can do. Being outside in responsible ways has been my salvation.
I’ve spent six decades taking thousands of trips into the outdoors. I’ve never done a month straight of micro pocket adventures within 10 miles of one area.
But recently, began hiking to a different area near Burlington, each day and creating my own bucket list. I’ve seen more beaver felled trees than you can shake a beaver peeled stick at. I’ve watched the many moods of the Winooski River and Lake Champlain. Mostly though, I went out with few expectations but always returned with the reward of a precious surprise of nature.
I consider my backyard wilderness hikes a gift. It’s been a time to slow down and learn the lessons available right outside my doorstep. And these day hikes near Burlington, like the pandemic, remind me of the words of Pema Chodron. “Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.”
I believe right now we need to know the restorative power of nature.
My hiking rules:
Day hikes must be within 10 miles of Burlington, Vermont. Hikes must be totally self-contained. That means not visiting stores or towns near hiking destinations. No quick stops are allowed, even if I’ve used up the last of the butter at home and I desperately need to make banana bread. If there are more than 10 cars in the parking lot, I seek a different place to hike. If I meet other hikers on the trail, I pass with at least 6 feet distance. I wear my mask at busy junctures or trailheads. I try to hike at less popular destinations and times.
These hikes are sorted by areas. I intentionally left out the popular Burlington hikes such as Lone Rock Point and Red Rocks. Instead, I focused on the smaller, less-visited areas for day hikes within a rough 10-mile radius of Burlington. I show highlights and a few key points about each hike. More detailed information, maps, and directions can be found on the links embedded in each hike description. Many of these hikes are short—an hour or two. Just enough time out before you need to get back for your next Zoom call.
10 Walks Near the Winooski
1. The Intervale
The Intervale is the crown jewel farming area of the city of Burlington. A hike here wanders through the woods and fields of the floodplain. Birds are plentiful. I watched a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers call back and forth on a recent visit.
2. Ethan Allen Homestead
Besides having a great museum, the Ethan Allen Homestead has about 4 miles of trails for day hikes. The elevated boardwalk across the marsh offers a novel look at swamp life. The walk from here to the Intervale is a great way to extend your hike. Also, if you walk north along the bike trail and over the pedestrian bridge crossing Rt. 127, you can enjoy Ethan Allen Park. Linking all these parks by hiking or biking is an enjoyable day. There is also a canoe launch on the Winooski here if you want to wheel your boat a quarter mile on the canoe carriers provided by the park.
3. Muddy Brook Nature Trail
Muddy Brook is another hike along the Winooski River. However, just when you are thinking it’s another Intervale, you see the flashing white water of the river. The river runs fast and clear here unlike the sleepy brown current further downstream. The riverside trail travels past some enormous trees— cottonwoods, oaks, and silver maples. Unlike the surrounding area, these giant trees were left to grow towering while others were cut.
The river view spur trail is out and back, stopping at a clear brook emptying into the Winooski. However, with all the on-line yoga courses I’ve done in the last month, I used my newfound balance to tightrope walk across a log bridging the stream. From there, the trail continues to a peaceful rock outcropping perched above the river. Great place for lunch.
4. & 5. Derway Island and Derway Cove
Derway Island lies in the northernmost part of Burlington on the Winooski River. During my most recent visit, a beaver decided to entertain me. I think the beaver thought I was too close so was warning me about social distance.
Derway Cove is the newest park run by Winooski Valley Regional Parks. Although it doesn’t have a trail system yet, it’s a great place to fish and launch a self-propelled boat. Birdwatching is amazing too. Recently, I saw a beautiful pair of hooded mergansers–a more uncommon bird in these parts.
For both areas, park off North Avenue past the sewage plant in Burlington.
6. Delta Park
You will want to bring binoculars when you visit Delta Park. Birds, birds, birds. The park is a major flyway stop for birds traveling the shoreline of Lake Champlain. There’s a sand beach to perch on to enjoy the views across Lake Champlain to the Adirondacks. Depending on the season don’t be surprised to see a bald eagle, colorful warblers, herons, and Canada geese with their heads underwater. Parking is at Airport Park in Colchester.
7. Memorial Park
Memorial Park in Winooski is the shy sister of the popular Interval. It is located directly across the river from the busy hiking trails of the Interval. Yet, when I was there, I had the place to myself. The network of trails traverses an upland forest and along the Winooski. The well-worn trails would be excellent for running too.
8. Macrae Farm Park
Macrae Farm Park has hiking trails through the meadows and flood plain of the Winooski River. The highlight of my visit to this park was the enormous ancient silver maple clinging to the banks of the Winooski. Trails can be a little wet in the spring so wear your mud boots.
There is a trail up the hill on the property with great views of Camel’s Hump and Mt. Mansfield. However, the hike up is a bizarre climb along indistinct trails marked by broken beer bottles and bones of dead animals to a tick infested summit. I’ve christened this park, “Macabre Farm.”.But if you stick to the lower loops, they are all quite lovely. Parking is at the end of Macrae Road in Colchester.
9. Woodside Natural Area and Essex Overlook
The mile-long Woodside Loop starts out on wide lawn-like trails and continues along the river. Then the trail winds through the woods overlooking the cattail marsh in the center of the property. It then descends steeply on stairs for a walk through the ferns. I was there when the first wildflowers were emerging. Trout lily leaves and bloodroot flowers were abundant. The speckled pattern of the trout lilies is reminiscent of a brown or brook trout.
Essex Overlook is a turn-off before Woodside Park. It’s not a hiking area but has picnic tables, huge black locust trees, and glimpses of the skyline from Bolton Mountain to Camel’s Hump.
10. Casavant Nature Area
I thought Casavant Nature Area would be another floodplain ramble amid the newly sprouting ferns and wildflowers. But, besides the new spring growth, I saw fantastic views of the power of the Winooski as it rushed to Lake Champlain.
5 Day Hikes Beyond Burlington
11. LaPlatte Nature Park
The LaPlatte Nature Park in Shelburne is a beautiful hike with a touch of whimsy. There is a troll bridge across the LaPlatte River. If you are lucky, the whiskered troll perched in a nearby tree will let you pass.
When hiking here, you need to be nice so you are not gobbled up by the troll.
12. Shelburne Bay Park
I visited Shelburne Bay Park during a rainy blustery spring day. It was an excellent place to watch the fury of Lake Champlain. The trail system skirts the lake with occasional viewpoints. Two recreation trails, the Shelburne Recreational Path and the Ti-Haul Trail, adjoin this park to make a splendid day of hiking.
I’m sure on calm, sunny days the view is of streaking sailboats, nearby islands, and distant Adirondack mountain peaks. But, the park is worth a day hike in any weather.
13. Niquette Bay State Park, Colchester
Ok, I cheated a little on this one. It’s 13 miles from Burlington. But it was really worth it. Niquette Bay State Park is a hidden gem tucked away on Malletts Bay in Colchester. Surely, you will want to visit the sand beach when you hike in this state park. But there are also some incredible vistas on the Island View loop trail. The striking view of Mt. Mansfield on one side of the loop is matched in beauty by a glimpse of the Lake Champlain islands on the other side. Calm Cove has gorgeous ledges on the lake surrounded by sheer limestone cliffs.
I was able to hike all the trails on a day trip. It’s highly recommended as each trail provides a different perspective on this magnificent state park.
14. Sunny Hollow, Colchester
Sunny Hollow trails are designed for mountain biking but are great for hiking as well. Because mountain bike traffic smooths out the trails, the walking is great for those who might need surer footing. Just take care to share the trail and step aside when a rider speeds through.
If you look at a topo map of Sunny Hollow the terrain looks like a person’s hand. Long thin ridges make up the fingers of the hand with old river valleys cutting between. Well marked trails loop around, traveling along the ridges and crossing swamp areas with lots of beaver activity.
15. Colchester Pond, Colchester
Colchester Pond has a 3-mile trail circling the lake. The up and down through mossy forest and bridged wetlands is a wonderful day hike. There is a boat launch for canoeists and kayakers. Like Delta Park, Colchester Pond is designated an Important Birding Area. Therefore, try birdwatching for water species as well as songbirds. Fishing is great too.
Burlington’s Best Hikes
16. Burlington Bike Path
The Burlington Bike Path can be a very busy place on a nice weather day. The trick to a more secluded bike path experience is to go at sunset. The crowds have thinned and the view across the lake to the Adirondacks is unparallelled when the sun sinks. My favorite place to view the show is from the Winooski Bike Bridge. Park at Airport Park then walk the bike path to the bridge. As Charlie at Auer Family Boathouse says, “The sunset really starts after the sun goes down”. He’s referring to the glorious colors left in the sky and Lake Champlain after the sun departs.
17. Ethan Allen Park
This park can get busy as it’s located right off North Avenue in Burlington. Ethan Allen Park has 4 miles of trails used by hikers and bikers. Even though the tower is currently closed, the view from the cliffs there and the pavilion offer a striking panorama of Lake Champlain. The bike bridge across Route 127 links it to a bike path leading to the Ethan Allen Homestead.
18. Donahue Sea Caves
The Donahue Sea Caves area is best visited in the winter. In fact, it’s the only time you will be able to see the actual cave as you must cross the ice on the frozen pond to get to the entrance. Other times of the year, it is a pleasant downhill hike to the landlocked lake that used to be the site of the prehistoric sea. Parking is at Burlington High School across from the trailhead entrance.
19. Centennial Woods
Adjacent to the campus of the University of Vermont, this day hike in Centennial Woods is an easy break from campus activity. Trails wind around the 65 acre property running over rocky ledges and bridged marshland. I hiked there after a light snow and the hemlocks were beautifully burdened with the white stuff. Don’t be surprised to see UVM students practicing for their next dendrology exam in the forest. Parking is at the end of Catamount Drive.
20. Oakledge Park
Oakledge Park is a Burlington city park south of town. The Burlington bike path starts here and runs along the shore of Lake Champlain. The trails are pleasant walking paths near the lake. A treehouse accessible to people with disabilities is a highlight of this park. Many of the paths are also paved for accessible recreation.
The Micro Parks
These parks are smaller areas with quite short day hikes in Northern Vermont. However, they are listed because of their unique scenic character. You can combine a couple of the parks for a perfect afternoon of exploring.
21. Salmon Hole
Salmon Hole below the Winooski dam is an angler’s paradise in the summer providing a habitat for trout, salmon, bass and other species. The trail descends into the ravine for a pleasant half mile walk along the river. Climbing on the ledges in the river is a fun adventure.
Parking is at the Salmon Hole overlook area. This is a good park to combine with the Winooski Gorge Overlook as they are close to one another.
22. Winooski Gorge Overlook
This micro park is all of 11 acres mostly composed of a view over the gorge at the Lime Kiln bridge. But if you take the Overview trail and continue on fainter paths downhill you will get to the river for a different perspective of the limestone bluffs of the Winooski Gorge.
23. Mount Calvary Red Maple Wetland
Mount Calvary is a 12 acre park nestled behind a cemetery in the New North End of Burlington. A unique ecological combination of dry soil loving trees and swampy lowlands, Mount Calvary holds the remnant plants of old blueberry farms. For this reason, a visit in the late summer is in order.
24. Mayes Landing
Mayes Landing defines the idea of a micro park with its one acre base for recreating. But for fishing and bird watching it can’t be beat. There are no trails but the view of where the Winooski River joins Lake Champlain is superb. There’s no on-site parking so park on North Avenue and walk down the bike path to the Winooski Bike Bridge and you’ll find it. Cross the bridge to continue on to Delta Park for a two-fer park experience.