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Smugglers Notch

Northern Green Mountains, Vermont

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Smugglers Notch

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  • Hikers and their dogs near the start of the trip.- Smugglers Notch
  • Early views of the steep chutes and huge cliffs of Mount Mansfield.- Smugglers Notch
  • The visitor center at the top of the notch.- Smugglers Notch
  • Looking into the boulder garden.- Smugglers Notch
  • Views to the south from the top of the notch.- Smugglers Notch
  • Large irregular boulders create small caves once used to as hiding places for illegally traded goods.- Smugglers Notch
  • Looking up at the cliffs.- Smugglers Notch
  • Looking down the unplowed Route 108.- Smugglers Notch
  • The entrance to the ice caves.- Smugglers Notch
  • The large ice flow on the Smuggs side.- Smugglers Notch
  • Entering the ice caves.- Smugglers Notch
  • Inside the ice caves.- Smugglers Notch
  • Looking back at the gate at the northern terminus of the Notch.- Smugglers Notch
  • - Smugglers Notch
Overview + Weather
Pros: 
Great views. Other adventures nearby. Ice caves.
Cons: 
Snowmobile traffic.
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Region:
Northern Green Mountains, VT
Congestion: 
Moderate
Pets allowed: 
Yes
Net Elevation Gain: 
489.00 ft (149.05 m)
Parking Pass: 
Not Required
Preferable Season(s):
Winter
Total Distance: 
3.00 mi (4.83 km)
Trail type: 
There-and-back
Trailhead Elevation: 
1,683.00 ft (512.98 m)
Current Local Weather:
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Adventure Description

Adventure Description

Contributor

Winter brings peace to Smugglers Notch. Despite occasional snowobile traffic, Vermont's most popular highway becomes a haven for human powered recreation. Backcountry skiers and ice climbers share lines, cross-country skiers zip up and down the winding road, and snowshoers explore caves of both ice and stone. Accessible from Stowe and Jeffersonville, it's the heart of winter recreation in the Northern Green Mountains. 

From the small parking lot on Route 108 near Smugglers Notch Resort, it's a 1.1-mile hike to the visitor center at the peak of the notch. While the buildings are all closed during the winter, the views only improve. Without the swarms of people, speeding cars, and thick foliage, visitors are free to stare skyward at the impressive cliffs rising precipitously above on the flanks of Mount Mansfield to the west and Spruce Peak to the east. In many cases, a closer look will reveal ice climbers working their way up one of the many chutes. 

Continuing south from the visitor center leads to the iconic boulder garden, where fragments of the mountain have tumbled down to the notch floor, creating a maze of house-sized boulders and small caves. In the early 1800s these caves were used by locals of dubious moral character to smuggle goods to and from Canada, violating the Embargo Act of 1807. In 1922, the already well trodden route was adapted into a road suitable for cars. The caves experienced a renaissance of use as a place to stash booze during prohibition, leading people to eventually name this craggy corner of Vermont "Smugglers Notch." 

The road continues south, dropping steeply toward Stowe before leveling out once again. The southern terminus is located adjacent to the parking lot for Stowe Mountain Resort's downhill area, about 3 miles from the parking area at Smugglers Notch Resort. It is common to see the occasional downhill skier skating through the flats on either side, returning from a trip down the Birthday Bowls.

Returning toward Smuggs, visitors will notice an especially impressive ice flow descending from the right side of the trail about three quarters of a mile from the Smuggs Trailhead. The adventurous can climb the short embankment up to the base of the ice flow where a small entrance to an ice cave can be found. Inside the light filters through the green tinged ice, making the walls appear to glow. 

Smugglers Notch is a great destination for cross-country skiers and snowshoers looking for a short hike with a big reward.

Backcountry Safety

Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.

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Location + Directions

Location + Directions

Nearby Camping + Lodging

(4 within a 30 mile radius)

Nearby Adventures

(36 within a 30 mile radius)

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