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Quench'd: Beyond the Kingdom Trails

May 11th, 2024 | by Peggy Shinn

Welcome to our 9th edition of Quench'd! 

Growing up, we had this expression in my family: "find the new within the known." Whenever we found a new trail, new coffee shop, or activity within our hometown that we knew so well, we had found a "new within the known." It's an expression that celebrates the richness of a place and a sense of having fun exploring an area you know so well.

Today, Peggy's story exemplifies that expression to me. She highlights some lesser-known mountain bike trails in Vermont that are just as fun to ride as the very well-known Kingdom Trails. I especially agree with her suggestion of the TAM! Chipman Hill is a can't miss in that network.

-Keaton

Whenever mountain biking friends want to come to Vermont, they ask about the Kingdom Trails. And rightly so. The KTA — celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2024 — has built and maintains over 100+ miles of trails.

But the KTA is not the only place in Vermont with destination-worthy mountain biking. 

During the pandemic, as a “stay-cation,” we decided to ride all the trail networks in Vermont — beyond the KTA. But when I pulled up Trailforks to lay out a plan, I found far more trail networks than I’d expected. Around my house in Rutland alone, there are 13 networks within a 30-minute drive — totaling over 300 miles of singletrack. We could go on a mountain bike vacation without even packing a suitcase! 

From the Canadian border to the Massachusetts state line, I found 65 MTB trail networks in Vermont — everything from the huge KTA in the Northeast Kingdom to a 20-mile network of green beginner trails at Brattleboro’s Retreat Farm.

As we began chiseling away at the list, I soon realized that nothing yet existed explaining which network would be good for whom: beginners or experts, or those looking for weeeee or — maybe most importantly — those not looking for weeeeee

Four years later, we’re not yet halfway through the list. But here are a few recommendations from what we’ve ridden so far.

Welcome to our 9th edition of Quench'd! 

Growing up, we had this expression in my family: "find the new within the known." Whenever we found a new trail, new coffee shop, or activity within our hometown that we knew so well, we had found a "new within the known." It's an expression that celebrates the richness of a place and a sense of having fun exploring an area you know so well.

Today, Peggy's story exemplifies that expression to me. She highlights some lesser-known mountain bike trails in Vermont that are just as fun to ride as the very well-known Kingdom Trails. I especially agree with her suggestion of the TAM! Chipman Hill is a can't miss in that network.

-Keaton

Whenever mountain biking friends want to come to Vermont, they ask about the Kingdom Trails. And rightly so. The KTA — celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2024 — has built and maintains over 100+ miles of trails.

But the KTA is not the only place in Vermont with destination-worthy mountain biking. 

During the pandemic, as a “stay-cation,” we decided to ride all the trail networks in Vermont — beyond the KTA. But when I pulled up Trailforks to lay out a plan, I found far more trail networks than I’d expected. Around my house in Rutland alone, there are 13 networks within a 30-minute drive — totaling over 300 miles of singletrack. We could go on a mountain bike vacation without even packing a suitcase! 

From the Canadian border to the Massachusetts state line, I found 65 MTB trail networks in Vermont — everything from the huge KTA in the Northeast Kingdom to a 20-mile network of green beginner trails at Brattleboro’s Retreat Farm.

As we began chiseling away at the list, I soon realized that nothing yet existed explaining which network would be good for whom: beginners or experts, or those looking for weeeee or — maybe most importantly — those not looking for weeeeee

Four years later, we’re not yet halfway through the list. But here are a few recommendations from what we’ve ridden so far.

Best for Beginners

Best for Beginners

  • Raptor Lane Trails (Dorset): 9 miles of wide machine-built trails that zigzag part way up Owl’s Head Mountain. Yes, there’s climbing. But it’s gentle.
  • Slate Valley—Fairgrounds Trails (Poultney): The Slate Valley network is vast. But the machine-built trails around the old fairgrounds (now open fields) make for about 5 miles of nice beginner loops. Their names imply the fun you’ll have — Merry-Go-Round, Bumper Cars, Cotton Candy, Clown Shoes, and Tightrope. 
  • Pesky Cairn (Killington): This lollipop loop in Gifford Woods State Park has four miles of machine-built fun. But unless you’re fit, beware the quarter-mile climb back up the lollipop stick.
  • Back 40 (Randolph Center): This machine-built 2-mile loop is labeled blue (for intermediates). But it’s a good transition for beginners who are ready for the next challenge (meaning a few of the turns are tight). Do it three times (in different directions), and you’ll be ready for Randolph’s award-winning cuisine (tacos or Thai food).
  • Raptor Lane Trails (Dorset): 9 miles of wide machine-built trails that zigzag part way up Owl’s Head Mountain. Yes, there’s climbing. But it’s gentle.
  • Slate Valley—Fairgrounds Trails (Poultney): The Slate Valley network is vast. But the machine-built trails around the old fairgrounds (now open fields) make for about 5 miles of nice beginner loops. Their names imply the fun you’ll have — Merry-Go-Round, Bumper Cars, Cotton Candy, Clown Shoes, and Tightrope. 
  • Pesky Cairn (Killington): This lollipop loop in Gifford Woods State Park has four miles of machine-built fun. But unless you’re fit, beware the quarter-mile climb back up the lollipop stick.
  • Back 40 (Randolph Center): This machine-built 2-mile loop is labeled blue (for intermediates). But it’s a good transition for beginners who are ready for the next challenge (meaning a few of the turns are tight). Do it three times (in different directions), and you’ll be ready for Randolph’s award-winning cuisine (tacos or Thai food).

Best for First-Timers

Best for First-Timers

  • D&H Rail Trail (Castleton): 8 miles of flat, flat, flat cinder trail that passes farm fields and slate quarries. Stop in Poultney for ice cream, then head on back.
  • Beebe Spur Rail Trail (Newport): Only 4 miles of this rail trail exist in Vermont — following the shore of Lake Memphremagog. But bring your passport, and you can cross into Canada and continue riding the trail, well, seemingly forever. Stop for lunch at a café in Beebe, Quebec, and feel like you’re in Europe. Oui!
  • Lamoille Valley Rail Trail (St. Johnsbury to Swanton): At 93 miles long, the LVRT is the longest rail trail in New England. Jump on it anywhere and pedal the gradual grades either east or west.
  • West River Trail (South Londonderry): Following (mostly) an ill-fated railroad bed (that frequently saw trains topple into the adjacent river), the WRT is wide for the first four miles, then turns into more technical singletrack down to Ball Mt Dam. For newbies, ride to the start of the singletrack and turn around for an 8 mile jaunt.
  • D&H Rail Trail (Castleton): 8 miles of flat, flat, flat cinder trail that passes farm fields and slate quarries. Stop in Poultney for ice cream, then head on back.
  • Beebe Spur Rail Trail (Newport): Only 4 miles of this rail trail exist in Vermont — following the shore of Lake Memphremagog. But bring your passport, and you can cross into Canada and continue riding the trail, well, seemingly forever. Stop for lunch at a café in Beebe, Quebec, and feel like you’re in Europe. Oui!
  • Lamoille Valley Rail Trail (St. Johnsbury to Swanton): At 93 miles long, the LVRT is the longest rail trail in New England. Jump on it anywhere and pedal the gradual grades either east or west.
  • West River Trail (South Londonderry): Following (mostly) an ill-fated railroad bed (that frequently saw trains topple into the adjacent river), the WRT is wide for the first four miles, then turns into more technical singletrack down to Ball Mt Dam. For newbies, ride to the start of the singletrack and turn around for an 8 mile jaunt.

Best for Flow

Best for Flow

  • Tunnel Ridge (Rochester): The nexus of the growing Velomont Trail, Rochester is home to a growing network of machine-built flow trails that are so long, you’ll wish you had an e-bike for the ascents. Tunnel Ridge is the queen of these flow trails. At 5 miles long, it has 110 switchbacks. But who’s counting?
  • Old Gents (Rochester): On the other side of the valley from Tunnel Ridge, Old Gents is short enough (not quite a mile long) that your friends will entice you to do it twice (which means, yes, another climb to the top).
  • Sherburner (Killington): A loop off the popular-for-beginners Pesky Cairn trail, Sherburner is 1.6 miles up, then 1.3 miles of weeeeee! 
  • Florence—Upper & Lower (Stowe): Another not-quite-a-mile long stretch of machine-built berms and swoops. Guaranteed you’ll want to lap it.
  • Little River (Waterbury): This network only has four miles of trails. But two are for going up, and two for swooping down. After climbing up Stonewall, start with Hillfarmer and flow into Highbridge. Loop it again by climbing up the Dalley Loop road. And if you need a rest, claim that you’re reading the many historical signs that point out old farms and other dwellings. Note: The State Park charges a fee for entry.
  • Black Bear (East Haven): This two-mile descent gets more old school and gnarly the farther down you go. Bail out when it first crosses the Haul Road and do the upper third again. And again. Note: KTA membership required to ride this trail. 
  • Tunnel Ridge (Rochester): The nexus of the growing Velomont Trail, Rochester is home to a growing network of machine-built flow trails that are so long, you’ll wish you had an e-bike for the ascents. Tunnel Ridge is the queen of these flow trails. At 5 miles long, it has 110 switchbacks. But who’s counting?
  • Old Gents (Rochester): On the other side of the valley from Tunnel Ridge, Old Gents is short enough (not quite a mile long) that your friends will entice you to do it twice (which means, yes, another climb to the top).
  • Sherburner (Killington): A loop off the popular-for-beginners Pesky Cairn trail, Sherburner is 1.6 miles up, then 1.3 miles of weeeeee! 
  • Florence—Upper & Lower (Stowe): Another not-quite-a-mile long stretch of machine-built berms and swoops. Guaranteed you’ll want to lap it.
  • Little River (Waterbury): This network only has four miles of trails. But two are for going up, and two for swooping down. After climbing up Stonewall, start with Hillfarmer and flow into Highbridge. Loop it again by climbing up the Dalley Loop road. And if you need a rest, claim that you’re reading the many historical signs that point out old farms and other dwellings. Note: The State Park charges a fee for entry.
  • Black Bear (East Haven): This two-mile descent gets more old school and gnarly the farther down you go. Bail out when it first crosses the Haul Road and do the upper third again. And again. Note: KTA membership required to ride this trail. 

Best for an Old School Challenge

Best for an Old School Challenge

For anyone who likes old-school challenge — in other words, narrow hand-built singletrack that more closely resembles a hiking trail than MTB terrain and with lots and lots of climbing — try:

For anyone who likes old-school challenge — in other words, narrow hand-built singletrack that more closely resembles a hiking trail than MTB terrain and with lots and lots of climbing — try:

Undiscovered Gems

Undiscovered Gems

In our quest to ride every trail network in Vermont, we have not shied away from small town networks built more for the locals than to attract tourists. Along the way, we discovered some great trails worth the trip. It’s a list we hope continues to grow. 

  • Memphremagog Trails (Newport): Built off the Beebe Spur Rail Trail, we stumbled upon this hidden gem while visiting friends in Newport. Don’t miss Buzzell and Brown’s Sap Run, with its super long, fun bridges.
  • Hardwick Village Forest (Hardwick): This 7-mile network behind the town school feels like more than it really is. With trail abilities equally divided (5 greens, 5 blues, and 6 black diamonds, and even 1 double black diamond), there’s something for everyone here. After riding every trail once, we were pooped!
  • TAM Trail (Middlebury): Literally the Trail Around Middlebury, the 16-mile TAM takes you through a microcosm of Vermont. You’ll ride a wide cinder trail past a city golf course, follow singletrack through hay fields, climb over a fence into a cow pasture (and then back out again), and end on purpose-built singletrack in Battel Woods. Ride parts of the TAM, or do the whole thing.

So where should we head to next?? Suggestions welcome!

In our quest to ride every trail network in Vermont, we have not shied away from small town networks built more for the locals than to attract tourists. Along the way, we discovered some great trails worth the trip. It’s a list we hope continues to grow. 

  • Memphremagog Trails (Newport): Built off the Beebe Spur Rail Trail, we stumbled upon this hidden gem while visiting friends in Newport. Don’t miss Buzzell and Brown’s Sap Run, with its super long, fun bridges.
  • Hardwick Village Forest (Hardwick): This 7-mile network behind the town school feels like more than it really is. With trail abilities equally divided (5 greens, 5 blues, and 6 black diamonds, and even 1 double black diamond), there’s something for everyone here. After riding every trail once, we were pooped!
  • TAM Trail (Middlebury): Literally the Trail Around Middlebury, the 16-mile TAM takes you through a microcosm of Vermont. You’ll ride a wide cinder trail past a city golf course, follow singletrack through hay fields, climb over a fence into a cow pasture (and then back out again), and end on purpose-built singletrack in Battel Woods. Ride parts of the TAM, or do the whole thing.

So where should we head to next?? Suggestions welcome!

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