In late March and early April, the GMC Visitor Center phone starts to ring; eager hikers are calling to ask about trail conditions in Vermont. And that means hiking season is in sight!
But before we lace up our boots, we need to consider the condition of the trails which become vulnerable to erosion and irreparable damage at this time of year. It helps to understand what causes mud season in the first place.
In Vermont, the ground freezes deeply in winter and is covered by a layer of snow. As temperatures begin to climb in spring, the snow layer melts and the ground gradually starts to thaw at the surface. The frozen lower layers prevent water from filtering through the soil so it settles at the surface and turns the soil to mud.
As hikers, our tendency is to avoid mud—you know, those sketchy spots where you stop and extend a trekking pole to check the depth of the mud before you decide if you’re going to risk it. When it’s too deep we look to the outskirts of the mud hole for an alternative route. Sometimes we cling to trailside vegetation for support as we hop along the edges, or go off trail to circumvent the mud completely.
Clinging and hopping or leaving the trail contributes to erosion and damage to the trail and surrounding vegetation. If you can’t walk through the mud without it swallowing your boot, consider turning around and giving the trail more time to dry.
Keep in mind that higher elevation soils can take longer to dry out. Often, a trail may be dry at the trailhead but will gradually change to mud as you climb.
The GMC, Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, and Green Mountain National Forest advocate responsible use of the state’s hiking trails from early March until Memorial Day weekend.
The State of Vermont closes trails on state lands from April 15 through the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend. These lands include: Coolidge State Forest, Camel’s Hump State Park, Mansfield State Forest, Long Trail State Forest, and Jay State Forest.
For your reference, we have compiled a list of lower elevation mud season hiking alternatives on our website, or pick up a copy of GMC’s The Walker’s Guide to Vermont available online or in our Visitor Center gift store.
Thank you for your cooperation and help protecting one of Vermont’s finest recreational resources!
Illustration by Emily Benning
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