By Jerry Grange
Trip notes: Mount Pisgah is a ridge that runs north to south, paralleling beautiful Lake Willoughby, a land-locked fjord. There is both a North Trail and a South Trail. Using both trails to make a traverse of the mountain is an interesting alternative; a road section of 3 miles along Route 5A completes the loop. The route described here is the South Trail.
From the CCC parking lot on Route 5A, cross the highway and follow the well-maintained trail as it navigates boggy terrain on a series of bridges. The trail then ascends very steeply, and passes Pulpit Rock after 0.9 miles. The short spur down to Pulpit Rock is steep, and the loose, gravely surface combined with the considerable dropoff, makes it somewhat dangerous. So, if you climb down for the view of Lake Willoughby below, and to Mount Hor across the road, be very careful. This section of the trail traverses an extremely steep slope; it seems a wonder the dense forest was able to establish itself here.
Continuing up the mountain, and after a fair amount of climbing, the route leads up a small slab, where there is a good view south to Burke Mountain. Pisgah’s wooded summit is just a short ways beyond. From the top, take a few minutes to descend a short distance on the North Trail, where you can pick up the side trail (left) to the stupendous clifftop vantage point. This is the high point of the hike! Lake Willoughby is literally at your feet, about one thousand feet straight down. The cliff is the domain of ravens, and in winter of occasional ice climbers. Return by the route you came up.
Although not a high mountain, even by New England standards, Pisgah is a prominent feature and its steep-sided dome shape is easily identified from many miles away. There are a number of other fine hikes in the area, as well. Burke Mountain (3,267′) and Wheeler Mountain (2,371′) come to mind. With its crisp granite slabs, Wheeler offers the hiker an ever-so-brief taste of rock climbing.
Approach: From St. Johnsbury, drive north through Lyndonville to the village of West Burke. From here, continue north on VT 5A for six miles towards Lake Willoughby and the trailhead parking at the base of the CCC road, on the left side of the highway just south of the lake.
Maps and References: Day Hiker’s Guide to Vermont, p. 159; Hiker’s Guide to the Mountains of Vermont, p. 82; Northern Vermont Hiking; and Vermont Atlas & Gazetteer, p 54.