Hiking Mount Mansfield: Discovering Clouds and Alpine Tundra

Hiking to the Summit of Mount Mansfield on a clear day

Known for being the highest peak in Vermont, Mount Mansfield and it’s rocky summit is home to the last few hundred acres of the Arctic-Alpine Tundra. See why so many enjoy hiking Mount Mansfield!

Mount Mansfield is located in the northern section of the Green Mountains. Standing at 4,393 ft in elevation, this mountain is the highest peak in Vermont. Tens of thousands of travelers come to this peak annually to tackle this challenging hike. They also experience a unique eco-system at Mount Mansfield’s summit, the quickly vanishing Arctic-Alpine Tundra.

CCC road in Underhill State Park start of hiking Mount Mansfield VermontThere are many trailheads and approaches when hiking Mount Mansfield. Time to Climb decided to go to Underhill State Park for our desired trailhead as we wanted to take the Sunset Ridge Trail.

When you park the car, make sure to stop at the ranger station and pay the $4 day fee to hike in the park. It is a reasonable & small price to pay to help keep this amazing place protected. You will also get a pocket-sized map of the trails (found inside the park) for free.

Follow signs for CCC Road (up the hill) and hike the gravel/dirt road for about .7 of a mile until you come to a bench and a bulletin board/sign for Mount Mansfield State Forest.

The billboard at the start of the Sunset Ridge Trail hiking Mount Mansfield Vermont

Make sure to take a minute to read the board. You will find useful and interesting information, including: a map of the trails, waste management instructions, land conservation initiatives and proper edict when hiking throughout the park.

Dan at the start of the Sunset Ridge Trail hiking Mount Mansfield Vermont

Once you arrive at the trailhead of the Sunset Ridge trail, make sure to sign in at the registration box. This is important as traffic through the park is tracked for allocation of resources, personnel and funding. It is also one of the ways park rangers and SAR (Search and Rescue) find where you may be in the event that you are reported missing/have not checked out of the park.

Dan Kasper hiking the Sunset Ridge Trail Mt Mansfield VT

After you cross the bridge at the registration box, make your way up the trail for .1 -.2 miles. You will arrive at the point where the Laura Cowles Trail meets the Sunset Ridge Trail. From here, you have 2,700 feet of vertical gain to conquer. You can choose to take either trail towards the summit and make a loop out of it. The Sunset Ridge Trail is 3.3 miles up and is the most scenic trail to & from the summit as it is majorly above tree line. The Laura Cowles Trail is 2.7 miles up and makes it’s way up through a wooded ravine. It is a much steeper hike. If you decide to do a loop hike, it is better to take the Laura Cowles Trail up instead of down. At Time to Climb, we chose the Sunset Ridge Trail for both our ascent and descent.

Fog along the Sunset Ridge Trail hiking up Mt. Mansfield VT

Like any hike above treeline, getting those “blue bird” skies is luck of the draw. Hiking Mount Mansfield is no different. Cloud cover was heavy throughout the entirety of our hike. Although we would have loved to have those epic views of the valley below, the thick fog rolling across the sea of stunted pines was a surreal experience. Hiking along the steep and rocky ridge during immense cloud cover was an adventure .

Dan Kasper hiking up Mount Mansfield VT above treeline

When we say steep, we mean it! Hiking the Sunset Ridge Trail to the summit of Mount Mansfield is 3.3 miles long with 2700 feet of elevation gain. You are averaging 800+ feet of vertical gain per mile. Can you spot the hikers disappearing into the clouds ahead of us?

stay on the rocks above treeline in the Alpine zone Mount Mansfield VT camping

It is very important that you stay on trails and on the rock out-croppings. The vegetation above treeline is very fragile to human impact. These plants, flowers and trees can take on some of the most intense weather conditions imaginable, but they are extremely fragile if stepped on by a hiker. STAY ON TRAIL!

It is also worth noting that upon reaching treeline, you are not allowed to camp or have  fires.

white alpine flowers blooming in Alpine tundra along the Sunset Ridge Trail hiking Mt. Mansfield Vermont

These beautiful alpine flowers are called Mountain Sandwort. They are tough little plants that are found throughout alpine areas in the Northeast. This includes the White Mountains, Katahdin and the high peaks of the Adirondacks. Be mindful as you cross the rocks hiking Mount Mansfield, as they are scattered between the stone of the Sunset Ridge Trail & Long Trail.

Wooden pathway entering into the Alpine Arctic Tundra hiking Mount Mansfield Vermont

As you reach the top of the trail, you will see where the Laura Crowles trail connects back with the Sunset Ridge trail. At this point, the trail turns and goes directly up. Follow this route for a couple of hundred feet and you will arrive at the point where the Sunset Ridge Trail connects with The Long Trail.

The Long Path connection in Artic Alpine Tundra hiking Mt. Mansfield VTHere, you will notice a change in the trail and vegetation. There are wooden boards to walk on. Grass sprouts along both sides and is found nestled between rocks. The krummholz impacted pines become much more apparent as you find them only growing when the trail dips in elevation on the sheltered side of the mountain. You have now entered into the Arctic- Alpine Tundra of Mount Mansfield!

IMPORTANT NOTE:

Keep on trail as you travel to the summit. There will be strings along the side of the trail to guide you, identifying areas where you should not cross.

PLEASE RESPECT THESE BOUNDARIES & DO NOT STEP OUTSIDE THESE LINES.

We took this quick video at the summit with a cell phone. Rain was falling and winds were roughly 10-15 mph. For the middle of June, it was a bit chilly with the temperature hovering around 50 degrees.

Dan Kasper on the Sunset Ridge trail hiking Mt Mansfield VT

As we made our way down from the summit, we could not help stopping to check out a few open windows in the clouds. This gave us taste of what the views would have been like had a curtain of clouds not engulfed both us and the mountain. Clouds or not, the sense of adventure, beauty and discovery while hiking Mount Mansfield was a once in a lifetime experience!

Check out the following links to learn more about hiking Mount Mansfield:

Mt. Mansfield State Park

University of VT – Environmental Studies of Mount Mansfield

Summit Post – Mount Mansfield



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