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Hiking Windsor, VT by Larry Dupre, UVTA Board Member

August 12, 2013

Windsor isn’t the first place one tends to think of when discussing trails in the Upper Valley. But in and near are two of the nicer trail systems in the area, Paradise Park and Mt. Ascutney State Park.

Paradise Park

Paradise Park, in the center of town, isn’t really so much a place to hike as it is a place for a long, pleasant walk. You can take a saunter around Lake Runnemede, or a longer walk through the woods, or combine a woods walk with a walk through town. The park is a fun place to explore, and most trails are either loops, or pop out on a road somewhere in town. It’s the perfect place to bring children and dogs.

My favorite walk, almost always accompanied by my faithful Corgi, begins on Route 5 just north of the downtown. Simply pull over to the right shoulder when you see the sign for Back Forty on your left. There are normally a number of cars parked here. The North Dike and Main Dike Trails begin on the left a short walk down the unpaved Eddie’s Place.

Once on the trail, I usually turn to the left and follow it around the field to the gazebo by the lake. Lake Runnemede, also known as Everts Pond, is roughly horseshoe shaped. The trail follows the inside of the horseshoe. This area is popular with bird watchers. You can also see deer, beaver, muskrat and a variety of amphibians. If you happen to be in the field at the right time on a summer evening, you’re likely spot a few of Vermont’s now sadly rare Little Brown Bats making a feast of the mosquito population.

Once back to the North Dike trail, I turn left down a short incline and across the dike. This is a short, but unique section of trail that skirts the shallow end of the lake on one side and giant cattails on the other.

At the end of dike, the Windsor Town Forest begins and here I turn left once again and follow the woods road. In the past, I’ve turned after a short distance to follow the trail along the lake shore. However, with this summer’s heavy rains this trail has been boggy at best and occasionally impassable. So I stick to the road which leads up hill and ends in a large picnic area with an open-front shelter. From the shelter, I turn left yet again, although there are other trails which begin here and head back into the woods.

At the edge of the picnic area, my route takes me down a steep trail to a small, gated road. Turning right this time, I follow the road up hill and through a neighborhood of older homes to State St. Turning left here, I follow State St. to left on Main St. and a walk through the center of Windsor back to my car. This is truly a place that creates and connects a community through the use of trails.

Mount Ascutney

For the years when my kids were growing up, we thought of Ascutney as our “home mountain.” It was our first hike of the spring and one of our last of the fall.

Ascutney is an ancient volcano. A big chunk of rock worn down by the receding glacier; it stands alone beside the Connecticut River. A look at Google Maps satellite view clearly shows the outline of a crater. At about 3,100 feet, it’s by no definition a giant. Nevertheless, the trails are steep and challenging, the views are excellent, if marred in one direction by an antenna farm, and the mountain is rich in history.

On my last trip, with my daughter just a few weeks ago, we traveled up the Brownsville Trail and returned via the Windsor Trail. Neither of these are the most popular Ascutney hikes. The Weathersfield Trail, at the end of High Meadow Road off Route 131, with its cascades and lookouts wins that contest. The Futures Trail, which begins in the campground at Mount Ascutney State Park, is also very well-traveled. Although a very nice hike, it comes in close proximity to the toll road.

From the center of Windsor, simply follow Route 5 (Main St.) to the lights at Union St. and turn right. Union St. becomes Route 44. Stay on 44 (Ascutney St.) out of town for a few miles to the junction with Route 44A (Back Mountain Rd.) From here, you can turn left on 44A and the parking area for the Windsor Trail is a hundred yards or so to on the right or you can continue on 44 a little less than a mile to the Brownsville Trailhead on the left.

The Brownsville trail begins with a steep climb to an old narrow gauge railway, or “steam donkey” grade. A short time on this easy climb brings you to the remains of the Norcross Quarry and a very nice overlook. From here, the real climb begins.

Leaving the quarry site, the trail takes you nearly straight up a steep, wooded ridge. About three-quarters of a mile from Norcross is Knee Lookout, with a nice, but limited view. From here, the Brownsville trail continues its steep ascent to its junction with the Windsor Trail. I should note that both the Brownsville and the Windsor are blazed white, which can be a little confusing when arriving at this intersection.

Once on the Windsor Trail, the uphill march continues via one of two routes, the short, steep older route, or the longer, but somewhat easier newer. My daughter and I choose the longer route, both to spare my battered knees, and to enjoy the view from the Hang Glider’s overlook. This route brings the hiker over the west peak and from there to the viewing platform—the remnants of an old fire tower—on the South Peak. The views from the top are as good as any in the region.

The trip down begins by doubling back to the junction of the Brownsville and Windsor Trails. Once there, we continued down the only slightly less steep Windsor Trail, past a short side trail to a log shelter. There is a section of the Windsor Trail, below Blood Rock, that transverses a large granite sheet that usually has water running over it. Although there is a heavy rope strung between trees to use as a hand hold, this area is slippery and can be dangerous. I fell here several years ago while hiking alone, resulting in the aforementioned battering of one of those knees. On this latest trip, this section was as wet—and as treacherous–as I’ve ever seen it at any time of year. An example of how the increase in rain is affecting the land. One can only speculate what several season of this may result in.

Our final stop on the way down was Gerry’s falls. This is a favorite, though now unusually buggy, spot to sit and enjoy the sound of the river. Again it’s running hard for this time of year, so be cautious. The falls are not high, and there are a number of places to take off your boots and soak your feet in the ice cold river.

From the falls, it’s a moderately steep and very straight mile to the trail head on Route 44A. Taking a left out of the parking area, it’s about a mile of road walk to complete the loop back to the Brownsville parking area.

Moving at a slow to moderate pace (knees again) and stopping to enjoy the views and the falls, the loop takes us between four and five hours, sometimes a little longer. It makes for a great day.

I hope to see you out there sometime, with mud on our boots.

Larry Dupre
Windsor Resident and UVTA Board Member

Details information about these and other trails can be found at www.uvtrails.org. Click on the Trail Finder link.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Kelley Dole permalink
    August 15, 2013 10:32 am

    How lucky we are to have so many trails and resources like Upper Valley Trails Alliance!
    Kelley Dole

  2. Jason Berard permalink
    August 15, 2013 8:59 pm

    Thanks for the great story about hiking opportunities in Windsor. Interestingly, Lake Runnemede, the Windsor Trail and the Weathersfield Trail are all protected permanently by Conservation Easements held by Upper Valley Land Trust.

  3. August 15, 2013 9:28 pm

    Thanks for the detailed report of Ascutney. I’m looking forward to exploring there a bit more!

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