Maybe it’s the crisp air or the explosion of autumnal colors, but something about fall makes it our favorite time of year to get off the pavement and explore Vermont’s backroads and trails. To get the best views of the hills and mountains in all their fall glory, sign up for a quick trail race or if you’re up for it, a challenging half or full marathon on dirt roads and twisting single and doubletrack trails. Goodies like cider, doughnuts, fresh cheese or even craft beer wait for you at the finish line.
Here are our three favorite dirt road and trail races for fall.
Black River Beatdown, Oct. 8, Craftsbury, Vt.
The terrain around the Craftsbury Outdoor Center is a destination for some of the nation’s top cross-country skiers and runners. This weekend the trails are the site of a technical cross-country race over ski trails, mountain bike trails and open meadows. You’ll tear through spruce swamps with thick trees and maybe some mud while descending to the Black River before turning around to complete a roughly 10K course. Bikers can sign up for a 10 or 20-mile option that snakes along the shores of Great Hosmer Lake. If you’re still looking for more racing action, sign up for Craftsbury’s Checkpoint Challenge later that afternoon, an adventure race that requires teams to navigate with map and compass while completing team challenges. At the end of the day, recover at the Oktoberfest dinner held at the Center. www.craftsbury.com
Trapp Mountain Marathon, Oct. 15, Stowe, Vt.
There are fall trail runs, and then there’s the kind of trail race that the Trapp Family Lodge plays host to at the peak of foliage. The Trapp Mountain Marathon is held on a 13.1-mile loop with 1,900 feet of elevation change that alternates between double-track, dirt roads, and flowing single-track. While running through a mix of hardwood and pine forests, you’ll experience plenty of turns, drops and steep climbs as you near the highest point on the Trapp property; Round Top Mountain at 2,400 feet. Then, let your legs do the work as you cruise down toward the finish line at the Outdoor Center with the leaves crunching underfoot. Full marathon runners will complete the loop twice. After crossing the finish line, you earn a glass of Vienna Lager at the von Trapp Brewery’s recently opened bierhall. www.trappmountainmarathon.com
Circumburke, Oct. 22, East Burke, Vt.
This race, open to runners and bikers alike, is called Circumburke for a reason; the 25-mile course runs around Burke Mountain in the towns of Burke and Victory. The terrain is wild and rugged as you fight your way through the Darling State Forest on the flanks of Burke Mountain and nearby Umpire Mountain. For trails, you’ve got the sections of Kingdom Trails singletrack, Civilian Conservation Corps roads and abandoned logging roads that wind their way in an approximate 26-mile loop with a 3,000 vertical feet gain. It took last year’s runners between 3.5 and 7 hours to finish. While your feet squelch through mud or kick up leaves, you’ll be able to catch views of the Pilot-Piney Range, Franconia-Kinsman Range and the Presidential Range in New Hampshire’s White Mountains through the trees. Not to toot our own horn too much, but it’s such a local favorite that it was voted one of the best races in Vermont in the Vermont Sports Black Diamond Awards in 2014, 2015 and 2016, so you know it’s bound to be good. www.circumburke.org