Long renowned for its spectacular scenery, the Northeast Kingdom offers numerous opportunities for those who like to explore the region’s landscape on foot as the area abounds with hiking trails suited for outdoors adventurers of all ages and ability levels.
Perhaps the most popular hiking region in the Kingdom is the Willoughby Lake area in Westmore. Here, you can ascend to the heights of the two well-known peaks that tower high above the waters of the deep, six-mile long lake. Mount Pisgah (2,751. ft.), forms the east side of Willoughby Gap and is accessible by three separate trails. On the opposite side of the lake is Mt. Hor (2,648 ft.), also accessible by several trails. Ledgy outlooks near both summits provide dramatic views out of the lakes and well beyond.
Two other longtime favorites near Willoughby Lake are Bald Mountain (3,315 ft.) and Wheeler Mountain (2,371). At the summit of Bald Mountain, the highest peak in the immediate region, a steel fire tower allows visitors unrestricted views of much of the Northeast Kingdom, including many nearby ponds and lakes. Wheeler Mountain, though much lower, offers many rewards as much of the upper mountain trail passes over open ledges with varying views. Just below the summit, a short side path also leads to an east-facing perch with views toward Willoughby Lake and Bald Mountain.
Groton State Forest is another popular hiking destination offering trails to the open summits of both Big Deer Mountain (1.992 ft.) and Owl’s Head (1,958 ft.), and also Kettle Pond, which is ringed by an easy three-mile-long family-friendly footpath. At the western edge of Groton State Park lies 3,037-foot Spruce Peak, home to another fire tower offering views up and down the Green Mountain range.
Burke Mountain, reached by either foot, bicycle, or automobile (summer and fall), provides great views in all directions from its summit tower. Especially noteworthy is the view west toward Willoughby Gap and the view east toward New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Hikers can reach the summit via trail or the paved auto road.
Closer to the Canadian border in Orleans County, 3,861-foot Jay Peak can be reached by foot via the famous Long Trail, the country’s first long distance hiking trail that extends more than 272 miles from the Massachusetts border north to the international boundary with Canada. The 3.4-mile hike from Rt. 242 to the summit is rated moderate to strenuous, but the reward from the summit is well worth the effort as the view is excellent.
In Essex County, Monadnock Mountain (3,148 ft.) in Lemington is probably the area’s least appreciated mountain. Well off the beaten track, this mountain rises 2,000 feet above the nearby Connecticut River valley and though its summit is wooded, a restored (2005) fire tower offers a panoramic views that includes much of northern Vermont and neighboring New Hampshire.
Other Kingdom favorites incudes Belvidere Mountain (3,360 ft.) in Lowell, another peak accessible via the Long Trail with a fire tower at its summit; Bluff Mountain (2.380 ft.) in Island Pond; Haystack Mountain (2,712 ft.) near Willoughby Lake, with its three different outlooks to the west, south and east.
Bald Mountain: Via Long Pond Trail (off Long Pond Road), 2.2 miles. Elevation gain: 1,450 ft. Rating: Moderate.
Belvidere Mountain: From the south via Long Trail and Forester’s Trail (beginning from Rt. 118), 2.8 miles. Elevation gain: 2.040 ft.; Belvidere Loop Hike via the Frank Post, Forester’s and Long Trails, 7.9 mi.. Elevation gain: 1,980 ft. Rating Strenuous.
Big Deer Mountain: Via Big Deer Mountain-Osmore Pond Loop (from New Discovery Campground, Groton State Forest), 4.1 miles. Elevation gain: 80 ft. Rating: Easy.
Bluff Mountain: Via Bluff Mountain Community Trail (off Mountain Street in Island Pond), 1.9 miles. Elevation gain: 1,100 ft. Rating: Moderate.
Burke Mountain: Via Red and Profile Trails (beginning near Sherburne Base Lodge), 2.5 miles. Elevation gain: 1,650 ft. Rating: Moderate.
Haystack Mountain (Westmore): Via North Trail (off Long Pond Road), 0.9 miles. Elevation gain: 850 ft.; Via South Trail (off Long Pond Road); 1.1 miles. Elevation gain: 525 ft. Rating: Moderate.
Jay Peak: Via Long Trail (from height-of-land on Rt. 242), 3.4 miles. Elevation gain: 1,638 ft. Rating: Moderate/Strenuous.
Kettle Pond: Via Kettle Pond Trail (off west side of Rt. 242), 3.2 miles. Elevation gain: minimal. Rating: Easy.
Monadnock Mountain: Via Monadnock Mountain Trail (off Rt. 102 in Lemington), 2.5 miles. Elevation gain: 2,100 ft. Rating: Moderate/Strenuous.
Mount Pisgah: Via South Trail (off Rt. 5A,) 1.9 miles. Elevation gain: 1,450 ft. Rating: Moderate/Strenuous; Via North Trail (Rt. 5A), 2.3 miles. Elevation gain: 1.530 ft. Rating: Moderate/Strenuous.
Mount Hor: Via Herbert Hawkes Trail (off CCC Road, Rt. 5A), 1.4 miles. Elevation gain: 700 ft. Rating: Moderate.
Owl’s Head: Via Owl’s Head Trail (from Osmore Pond access road), 1.9 miles. Elevation gain: 210 ft.; from end of auto road, 0.25 mile. Elevation gain: 100 ft. Rating: Easy.
Wheeler Mountain: Via Wheeler Mountain Trail (off Wheeler Mountain Road, 1.2 mi. from Rt. 5), 1.7 miles. Elevation gain: 700 ft. Rating: Easy/Moderate. (Please note that a new trailhead for Wheeler Mountain was established in 2016 and the trail mileage listed here may not be accurate).