Long Trail Section 2

Appalachian Gap to Smuggler's Notch

This northbound (NOBO) section from Appalachian Gap to Smuggler’s Notch, which included two NE 4,000 footers (Camel’s Hump and Mt. Mansfield), was the most challenging and most rewarding part of the Long Trail so far. 


Note: This map is intended only to show the route. Mileage stats in section below were calculated using the End to Ender’s Guide from GMC.

Day 1: Appalachian Gap to Stealth Camp Past Camel’s Hump

14 miles, 4,500ft of elevation gain

Hike Date: July 2020

We started this NOBO section at Appalachian Gap and the trail immediately climbed some steep terrain to a little overlook. The rocky and eroded trails welcomed us back by challenging our every step. Even spots that descended were mostly down sheer drop offs requiring us to use our hands to support the climb. We definitely underestimated the difficulty of the terrain in this section. The elevation gain and loss quantifies it, but it’s much more taxing than that would make it seem. People say that the northern sections of the Long Trail are much more difficult. Well, we can tell you that it lived up to its reputation and then some!

Taking big steps on the ascent
Steep section from Appalachian Gap
Overlook view

The trail mellowed out a bit as we passed Birch Glen Camp, which has a large covered porch that would be great in rainy weather. From there, we continued on slightly easier trails climbing past Cowles Cove Shelter and up to Burnt Rock. 

Relatively flat trail
Birch Glen Camp

The bit up Burnt Rock was the hardest ascent we had up to this point on the Long Trail. There was one steep and rocky corridor that led to some narrow passageways between rocks. Then, it was a fun climb on some exposed rock slabs and ledges to get to a wonderful view and large open summit area with many ledges to rest and hang out on. Many people day hike up to Burnt Rock, which we would highly recommend! The views were gorgeous and expansive. Grateful for the incredible weather, we rested to eat lunch in the sun and dried our sweat-filled shirts and buffs on the hot rocks. 

Slab section on the way to Burnt Rock
Squeezing through rock sections
Narrow rock ledges on Burnt Rock
Open climb up to Burnt Rock
View from Burnt Rock

The next section of trail from Burnt Rock to Camel’s Hump included some of the most difficult terrain we’ve faced on the Long Trail. The descent from Burnt Rock dropped down some ledges that required rope and ladder assistance in spots. Then, we climbed again to two smaller peaks: Mt. Ira Allen and Mt. Ethan Allen, which are both over 3,000ft. This section was already challenging, but does not compare to the next. It just kept getting harder! 

Kevin carefully climbing down a slab section with ropes and handholds
Another steep section - at least there was a ladder!
Beautiful trail section
View from Mt. Ethan Allen

The climb up Camel’s Hump after Montclair Glen Shelter (an enclosed cabin with no tenting space) was a sustained arduous effort up boulders, slabs, and rock steps. Camel’s Hump is so tall that we caught glimpses of it on our way, which kept us motivated. We thoroughly enjoyed the trail for both its beauty and its challenge, stopping a few times for snacks and water to keep us going.

Slab section on the way to Camel's Hump
Sustained rock stairs to Camel's Hump
View of Camel's Hump
Almost at Camel's Hump with what we just hike behind us

It was absolutely worth the tough climb because Camel’s Hump immediately became our favorite mountain in Vermont! Near the top, we were treated to sweeping views of the ridgeline terrain we had covered so far. It’s always special to look back on the miles you already hiked and we took advantage of the opportunities to pause and catch our breath. There were some tricky boulder sections at the top, made even more challenging with our bulky backpacking packs. After stepping carefully and using our hands to make multiple points of contact with the ground, we made it to a huge ledge below the summit that provided sweeping views of the mountains, Lake Champlain, and the sinking sun in the late afternoon sky.

Yes, this rock section is the actual trail!
View with Lake Champlain
View from Camel's Hump looking back at all we just hiked

We made the last push in the alpine zone, completely above treeline, to the actual summit and rested for a snack. Not only is Camel’s Hump a peak on the Long Trail, it is also one of New England’s 67 4,000 footers. This was our 49th NE 4,000 footer and our first outside of New Hampshire (we finished the NH 48 in the fall of 2019). From the summit, we got a great look at the terrain ahead of us. In front of us was Mt. Mansfield, which we would summit in two days. Knowing that we had a few miles ahead of us before camp, we took a last look back to see the sunlight glisten over the water and then pressed on NOBO.

View of Mt. Mansfield from Camel's Hump

Coming off Camel’s Hump, we dropped down some ledges and traversed a few open rock outcrops. Be careful: this would not be a great trail to take in the rain with slippery footing. Completely drained from the tough day already, we knew we weren’t making our intended 16.2 miles to reach Bamforth Shelter. While this would add miles to our next day, we listened to our bodies and decided that rest was more important. We found a flat enough area of forest and chose a spot to stealth camp well off trail, ending after about 14 miles. Luckily, this spot was perfect. The mossy ground provided some extra cushion underneath our sleeping pads and after scarfing down our camp meal, we got some much needed rest. This was one of the toughest days of backpacking we’ve had on the LT, but it ended up being our favorite day so far. Sometimes you just have to push yourself a little bit to get the best rewards!

Descending from Camel's Hump
Our stealth camp for the night

Day 2: Stealth Camp Past Camel’s Hump to Puffer Shelter

18 miles, 4,100ft of elevation gain

After sleeping like rocks, we fueled up with a hot breakfast of freeze-dried eggs, tea, and coffee, and hit the trail ready for a loooooong day to make up for the miles we didn’t hike the day before! First, we continued to traverse the open rock sections north of Camel’s Hump. Then, we descended the rooty forest path down to Duxbury Road. Here, the Long Trail walks on the road for about a mile. It’s not the safest, as you walk right on the road with no shoulder or space alongside most of the time, but it’s not a very busy road. In the middle of a weekend day, we only had about 5 cars pass us as we walked. At the end of the road walk section, the Long Trail passes through a parking lot with the option to access the Winooski River. We took advantage of this to rest and take a quick dip. Swimming on backpacking trips always make Kevin feel refreshed and ready for more hiking. A perfect bath for a smelly hiker!

Rocky outcrops
Duxbury Road section
Steep dirt trail down to the road
Winooski River break

Now into the heat of the day, we passed through a few farm fields under the scorching sun. This involved climbing some stairways over wire fences and walking through the pasture land (don’t forget to check for ticks after this section). After the fields, we had another very brief section of road walk and then crossed a pedestrian bridge over the Winooski river. Many locals were gathered there enjoying a Sunday afternoon swim. Some were even jumping off the bridge like a high dive into the deep water below.

Stairway over wires between farm pasture
Farmland trail
Bridge over Winooski River

On the other side of the river, we took an underpass to cross the highway and then climbed a short stretch of uphill road. This was probably the worst section of the day for us. We were already overheated and tired from the hot walk in the fields and ascending on pavement is one of our least favorite ways to walk. Luckily, this was very short and we quickly turned into the forest, finally back on mountain trails after the road and field sections.

Least favorite road section of the day

These trails brought us into Mansfield State Forest and challenged us with a series of switchbacks up a hill on dirt tracks. Once a little higher in elevation, the trail was beautiful with ferns splendid in the bright light and slightly undulating terrain steadily climbing higher and higher.

Entering Mansfield State Forest
Dirt switchbacks
Beautiful forest path

The trail got steeper and more rocky as we continued to ascend toward Bolton Mountain. We were really flagging about 15 miles into the day and took longer and longer breaks each time we stopped. Harrington’s View was a great place to recoup before pushing up Bolton. We needed the rest, but it was never going to be enough to have us feeling good going up the stationary rock escalator of the trail up Bolton Mountain. At the top, we got zero views, just a nondescript summit sign – pretty typical of the Long Trail. This reminded us why Camel’s Hump the day before was so special.

Never-ending rocky path
Are we there yet? Taking a break at Harrington's View
We made it? Underwhelming summit sign

Past the summit, we knew we were tantalizingly close to our final destination for the day, Puffer Shelter. The trail descended steeply, jarring our joints as we tried to step down with exhausted legs. Then, a light rain began, making the footing even more treacherous – perfect end to this trying day! We were so tired that we didn’t take any pictures, just trudged on as best we could. We finally reached the shelter after 18 miles over difficult terrain, sore, fatigued, and desperately in need of a long rest. By reputation, Puffer Shelter has a great view, but we arrived in a cloud, so we would have to wait until the morning and hope for clearer skies around sunrise. There are a few tent spots around the shelter and along the trail between there and the privy. Most of them were already full, but we were able to squeeze into the last remaining space and bundled up for a rainy night.

Puffer Shelter

Day 3: Puffer Shelter to Smuggler’s Notch

12.5 miles, 3,300ft of elevation gain

With high hopes for a sunrise view, we woke before dawn, packed up, and ate cold breakfast by the shelter. From there, the rising sun lit up the angrily cloudy sky to the east while the mist obscured any chance of a view north toward Mt. Mansfield. It was a great way to start the day and sent us off in high spirits on the trail before 6:30am.

Sunrise view from Puffer Shelter

We hiked through the morning mist, once again contending with the jarring steps down and slippery rocks from the overnight rain. This whole section of the Long Trail was treacherous in terms of footing. It felt like we had to pick our steps so carefully just to stay on our feet. It was mentally draining to dedicate such attention to each footfall in addition to the physical challenge that the trail presented. Kathy definitely hit a wall this morning. She can start questioning why we hike and backpack when the weather isn’t great or our legs are sore. But, with some walking meditation and positive self-talk, she usually moves from this negative space after a few miles on the trail. Until this point, the trail had been very LT-esque: rocky, rooty, muddy, and honestly, a little bit boring. But, when we started climbing up to the Forehead, the real fun began. From a distance, the peaks on Mt. Mansfield look like the silhouette of a face. At the southernmost end is the Forehead, then the Nose, then the Lips, then the highest point and official 4,000+ft peak, the Chin. Starting our ascent of the Forehead, we climbed ladders, scrambled over boulders, and shimmied our way through some tough rock scramble sections. Though some of these parts were scary, it was so much fun and really rejuvenating. We needed a section that was a little bit different from what we had seen for days already.

Trail in the morning mist
Climb up to the Forehead
Steep ladder down a rockface
Rock boulders on the way to the Forehead

Many parts of this trail popped above treeline, providing fleeting views of the landscape behind us before swirling clouds enveloped us and obscured the surroundings. Without many views, we hurried through this section, passed the parking lot atop the toll road for day hikers, and joined them on the trail toward the summit on The Chin.

A gorgeous fleeting view from the Forehead

As we made our way to the summit of Mt. Mansfield, which is in the alpine zone, we appreciated the clear pathways marked by corridors of string. It’s so important to stay on rock and off the delicate alpine vegetation and it was great to see how clearly the areas for hiker travel are marked. The clouds rolled in and out as we hiked above treeline to Mansfield, obscuring views one moment and opening up completely the next. We rock hopped our way up in the mist, taking in the views of the Nose behind us and the summit ahead. Luckily, we got to the summit in one of the rare clear moments and could see in every direction. What a perfect celebration of our 50th New England 4,000 footer! In the distance beyond that, you can see all the way to the White Mountains in NH on a clear day.

Kevin rock hopping
View of the Nose
Trail selfie with the Nose and Lips behind us
String marking fragile vegetation
View of the valley and White Mountains from Mt. Mansfield

Before descending, we took a last look out to the north at the mountains of the Sterling Range we will hike on another section. Then, we started one of the steepest downclimbs we have ever encountered. The trail drops pretty much straight down for the first 0.3 miles off Mt. Mansfield including an impossibly steep chute that required all four limbs to shimmy down. It felt like we were moving at a crawling pace, but we kept at it, knowing how close we were to the end of the section. Once past the most difficult steep sections, the trail just kept going and going – down, down, down.

Very steep and rocky descent from the Chin
Concentrating on picking steps!

At the bottom, the trail comes out to Rt. 108. It was not super clear, but it continues directly across the road. It took us through the flat woods and then along the newly constructed boardwalk through Smuggler’s Notch to GMC’s Barnes Camp Visitor Center. This was a beautiful spot and made for a great ending to this section for us.

Boardwalk to the Barnes Camp Visitor Center

Subscribe to our Newsletter!

We'll send you updates when new content becomes available


  1. Terry Blackburne-Lee
    September 13, 2020

    You are both so amazing. I’m so glad you can enjoy trekking as a couple.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *