The Maple Ridge and the Butler Lodge Trails make a great loop to the Forehead on Mount Mansfield's summit ridge that avoids the usual crowds on Sunset Ridge and the Chin. Hikers will cross trickling streams, climb through maple and birch groves, walk along open ridges, traverse steep rock walls, and jump over a minor crevice to reach the summit. Including a small portion of the Long Trail involves climbing down ladders, crossing wooden bridges on cliffsides, and ducking through natural tunnels. It is not a hike for the faint of heart. An intersection below the summit bypasses this route with slightly less involved terrain, but it lacks the views from the top.
After signing in at the trailhead on Stevensville Road, hikers will continue uphill along the access road to a red gate with a sign that says "Hiking Trails." Continue past the gate for 0.2 miles, taking a left at the first trail junction. Another immediate left leads up the Frost Trail, and the right route is the more gradual Butler Lodge Trail you will use as your return trail.
The Frost Trail crosses a small stream and climbs steeply up the slopes. Along the way hikers will climb through maple, birch, beech, pine, and hemlock as they ascend through the vertical succession.
At about 1.25 miles the Frost Trail tops out on Maple Ridge with the first of many views to the north, west, and south. From here the hike is mostly open with a few dips back into the forest.
Another 0.25 miles brings you to the intersection of the Maple Ridge Trail. Soon the few remaining trees will give way to the Krummholz Zone at about 3,000 feet. These stunted balsam firs are shaped by the extreme cold and wind found on the upper reaches of the Green Mountain Spine.
A large fin of schist known as Tdfsahe Cut poses a distinct challenge, especially in snowy conditions. About 14 feet tall, the rock is slick save for a few ridges, and it requires a diagonal traverse to reach the top. Several lesser scrambles follow, and there is a small gap over a 4-foot-deep trench. This is known as The Gap, and it requires a small but intimidating jump.
The next trail junction is the Wampahoofus, named for a legendary creature that resembled a moose mixed with a wild boar. The story goes that the male Wampahoofus traveled exclusively around Mount Mansfield in a clockwise direction, while the females traveled counterclockwise. After years of doing so, they eventually developed shorter legs on the uphill side, and over time, their oppositely shortened legs prevented them from breeding. Such is the legend of the Wampahoofus.
This trail offers a bypass below Mount Mansfield's summit to the Butler Lodge and Butler Lodge Trail. To reach The Forehead, continue straight for 0.2 miles, scrambling up the exposed rocky face to the broad summit.
Mount Mansfield's summit ridgeline will clearly be in view, and it can be easily reached via the Long Trail North. The Green Mountain Spine can be seen to the south with Camel's Hump in the distance.
The Long Trail South begins with a gradual descent and views over Mount Mansfield's eastern face. Stowe Mountain Resort's ski lifts can be seen clearly. The descent steepens, and you'll find the occasional wooden ladder placed for assistance. At one point hikers must climb over boulders on a cliff face to reach a wooden bridge over yet another gap.
At the junction with the Long Trail's foul weather bypass hikers will take a hard right, continuing to follow the white blazes of the Long Trail South through a boulder tunnel and on to the Butler Lodge Trail.
The Butler Lodge is a primitive cabin with a composting toilet and a water source. It is maintained by the Green Mountain Club, open year round, and requires a $5 per night stay. It is staffed by a caretaker from May through October.
From the Butler Lodge the trail continues downhill for about a 1.75 miles. This is a much more gradual descent through open hardwoods. Wooden steps to help prevent undue erosion. Hikers will find themselves back at the junction of the Frost and Butler Lodge Trails, taking a left and an immediate right to return to the red gate and parking area just beyond.