Riding Around Vermont: Stowe

The Stowe area is not a part of Vermont that I’ve spent a lot of time in, on the bike or otherwise.  It’s not like I’ve never ridden there, but my riding there has always been based around events like Singlespeed USA or the Epic Summer Event.  Those events gave me a little taste of what was available and I wanted more.  Fortunately,  while I camping at the Smuggler’s Notch State Park this weekend, I was able to fit in some quality time on the trails.

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Somewhere on Cady Hill. (photo by Ryan Thibault)

The trails in Stowe are not a centralized system like Kingdom Trails, Millstone or some others; they are spread out all over the valley.  The SMBC trail map has them broken down into different areas: Trapp Family Lodge Trails, Adams Camp, Cady Hill, Sterling Forest and a few others.  I’ve ridden a fair portion of each of these areas and they each have a little different character.  I still haven’t gotten to ride Perry Hill in Waterbury nor the Little River trails at all.  I’ll add them to my “bucket list” of Vermont riding.

The Adams Camp trailhead.
The Adams Camp trailhead.

Since I was staying at the state park, Adam’s Camp was the closest and easiest starting point for me.  A mile or two of paved downhill and then I was on dirt.  From there, it was all climbing.  Fortunately, the climbing is spread out over long gradual grades with frequent bermed switchbacks.  I used to think of banked corners as being only for downhill, but I’ve found that they’re surprisingly helpful when ascending as well.  The grades are such that my 1×10 setup never left me wanting a granny gear.

Excellent but challenging terrain makes the SMBC trails worth the trip.  (photo by Ryan Thibault)
Excellent but challenging terrain makes the SMBC trails worth the trip. (photo by Ryan Thibault)

Before too long, I realized that connecting to the various trails I wanted to ride wasn’t going to be as easy as I hoped.  I can be a little bit directionally challenged in the woods.  Fortunately, I ran across another biker who was out for an early morning ride like me.  I changed directions to follow his route.  He was able to help me find the connection to Pipeline and gave me directions to connect back to the Cady Hill trails.  Thanks, Eric.

Somewhere near Adams Camp
Somewhere near Adams Camp

From there, I met with Ryan (MTBVT Ryan, that is) and Matt in downtown Stowe.  After the prerequisite yakking and attempts at organization, we hit the trails.  Ryan and Matt seemed to know where they were going so I could just drop out of navigation mode and enjoy the ride.  Somehow, there seem to be more trails on Cady Hill than the map shows.  It could just be that I wasn’t paying attention so every intersection was a surprise.  Regardless, the riding there is great.  Cady Hill has the most dense concentration of trails in the valley.  It’s a great combination of technical riding and flow.  The trails have plenty of ledgy outcroppings and roots but it’s not the kind of terrain that beats you up; they’re just enough to keep things interesting.  Like much of the single-track elsewhere in town, the descents are made up of lots of berms.  Very fun riding.

The top of Kimmers.
The top of Kimmers.  It just goes on and on…

By the following day, I felt like I had enough of a mental handle on the layout that I ventured out on my own.  I did some loops in the Adams Camp area and beyond.  I love the town loops, but the bigger trails out beyond the village are more my speed – I like the feeling that I’m going out exploring, not just pedaling fun little circuits.  Many still have that great rhythm to them and there’s a little more natural technical challenges to be found.

More banked corners... (photo by Ryan Thibault)
More banked corners… (photo by Ryan Thibault)

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to get out to Sterling Forest this weekend.  I love the “old school” single-track out there.  There you’ll find less groomed and shaped terrain and more “organic” single-track that follows the land.  I think of this kind of stuff as being classic Vermont trails.

The SMBC overview map.
The SMBC overview map.

Without a doubt, there is a ton of great riding in the town of Stowe, but it’s not always easy to put it all together into a ride.  There is a very good trail map which you can purchase at iRide and probably some of the other bike shops in town, but even with that it’s a little more challenging to put together a single continuous ride.  Riding on my own, I’d need to check the map pretty frequently just to keep track of where I was.  Thankfully, most trail junctions had some signs.  These trails cover a huge area and getting lost could put you much further out than you’d expect.  Really, the best way to explore the SMBC trails is with someone who knows the area to act as a guide.

Also, there are lots of “off-map” trails to be discovered.  This is great when you know where they go, but can add to your confusion when doing the mountain bike orienteering method of riding.  Again, this is where some local wisdom could be very helpful.

If you’re never ridden here before, here are my recommendations: Ride out at Adams Camp and get at least one run down Kimmers and Hardy’s Haul.  You’ll want to do them more than once, trust me.  I’d also recommend hitting Pipeline by the high school.  The other “must do” on my list would be to go to Cady Hill Forest and get turned around a couple of times.  Everything is fun to ride in that area and you won’t mind it at all when you find you’ve circled the same loop twice accidentally.  My final recommendation is to find someone to show you around so that you don’t miss some of the great riding in and around this town.  The hard work of Stowe Mountain Bike Club (SMBC) and others really has created an excellent network of trails.

Fun stuff on Kimmers
Fun stuff on Kimmers
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