Located with an hour's drive of Burlington, VT at the northern end of the Green Mountain Range, the 39,837 acre Mount Mansfield State Forest has a past full of thrill seeking adventurers, smugglers and intrepid pioneers and a network of Cross Country, Snowmobile, and Downhill mountain bike trails to explore in and around Vermont's highest peak. Encompassing over a dozen mountain peaks with elevations ranging from 600 feet above sea level, at the Waterbury Reservoir, to over 4,300 feet on Mount Mansfield, it's no surprise that some of the nation's first downhill alpine ski trails. were built on Mount Mansfield.
Today, such a large land scope encompasses a wide range of natural and historical landmarks, multi-use trail networks, world class recreational facilites, the largest body of water in Central Vermont and diverse wildlife habit. The forest is also carefully managed to protect one of Vermont's most valuable resources ... the trees; and to ensure forest health and sustainability for the long term.
The mountain is mostly cloaked in the classic Vermont northern hardwood forest that draws leaf peepers seeking eye candy from around the world. As you go higher towards the ridgeline, the forest type changes to montane spruce-fir and spruce-yellow birch forest, that provides shelter for several rare, threatened and endangered plant species and wildlife. Above the treeline, Mount Mansfield holds roughly 200 acres of alpine tundra dating back to the Ice Ages.
Towering cliffs, deep gorges, 40 foot cascading waterfalls, tundra ridgelines, rock outcrops, wetlands, old and still active farm fields, ponds (Goose Pond, Sterling Pond, Bear Pond, and Lake-of-the-Clouds), mountain streams, two natural areas, three State Parks (Smugglers Notch, Underhill and Little River); and outdoor center ski and mountain bike park resorts makes Stowe and Waterbury world class mountain biking and outdoor recreation destinations.
There are over 200 miles of officially designated trails on Mt. Mansfield. Additionally, there are 40 miles of State Forest Roads that are open to hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, mountain biking, and horseback riding. While mountain biking is limited to the lower elevations on State Forest land, do not despair. Mount Mansfield hosts two alpine ski resorts and two Nordic XC Ski Centers. If you want some elevation, big air, and summit views from the seat of your bike, both the Smugglers Notch Ski Resort and the Bolton Valley Nordic Backcountry Sports Center offer miles of excellent mountain biking options; from mountain bike parks and lovely doubletrack XC ski trails to downhill fat tire mountain biking in the winter.
Early Spring, during the mud season when the snow cover melts, the trails are wet; sometimes well into into June. The best time to ride here is from mid June through mid November and when the winter fat tire biking season begins.
Mount Mansfield Mountain Bike Trails
Cotton Brook Loop Trail
Mileage / Blaze: 11 miles total. Blazed White / Black Mountain Biker Symbol, VAST Trail Markers. Intermediate
This mountain bike loop ride uses a combination of the Cotton Brook Road and the doubletrack Foster's Trail. The Cotton Brook Trail is the only trail in the Cottonbrook basin above Waterbury, VT designated for mountain bike use. It climbs on Cotton Brook Road, a mixed gravel, and dirt doubletrack logging road for 6.4 miles and then travels on double track snowmobile and cross-country ski trails for the remainder of the loop. While this is not considered a technical ride, the quad / glute shaping 6.4-mile climb over a 3% - 12% grade followed by a fast, corkscrew descent makes this more of an intermediate level mountain bike ride.
This ride also features several superb ride options for beginners using some of the multi-use mountain bike trail connectors that braid through the Cotton Brook Road and lead into the adjacent Little River State Park and it's mountain bike / multi-use trail system. These mountain bike routes also connect to trails designated for pedestrian use only.
The Cotton Brook Road crisscrosses Cotton Brook several times over bridges. Earlier in the season the stream crossings become a lot more exciting. The beautiful, peaceful burbling streams that you would meet in the summer, morph into raging torrents in the spring. The magnitude and force of water rushing through will depend on the time of year and area snowfall amounts. Plan your mountain bike ride accordingly and call ahead to check on current trail conditions.
From the parking area closest to Nebraska Valley Road, head onto Cotton Brook Road. Continue up the road about .75 mile to the Cotton Brook Road Trail Access gate. You can also access the .32 mile Little River Car Top Boat Launch Access Road here which branches off to the east and crosses the Dailey Loop Trail before heading to the launch area where there are also pretty meadows.
There are several snowmobile trails that intersect with and braid through Cotton Brook Road, so it is possible you might end up taking an unplanned detour. Most of these during the beginning of the ride do end up meeting the Cotton Brook Road again.
Basically, during the beginning stretch you want to bear west (right) at trail intersections. When you reach the big Y junction with the Foster's Trail (which will be your return route connection), you keep to the right. Here the snowmobile route travels over a 10 - 12% grade as it follows the contour of the Cotton Brook.
Eventually you'll top out at 1,600 ft. You will be rewarded for your hard work with views of the forested landscape and the Worcester Range, a small independent group of mountains that lie due southwest of Stowe.
From here it's mostly downhill. The trail switchbacks down for a while before leveling out and dropping to the valley floor. There are tight curves and speed breakers across the trail at intervals along some of the steeper inclines. At times the land slopes away from the trail edge at a 45 - 60 degree angle. Be prepared to get off and walk as there may be washouts where water run off crosses the trail. At the bottom, cross the bridge over Cotton Brook and continue along the stream. At the Y junction with the Kelty Corners Trail, keep travelling left on the Cotton Brook Road. At the intersection of Gove’s Trail and the Cotton Brook Road, go left onto the 1.4 mile Foster's Trail connector which will take you back to Cotton Brook Road.
I-89 to Exit 10. Head onto Route 100 N (Waterbury / Stowe Road) for 8 miles. Turn left on Moscow Road towards the town of Moscow and cross Little River. Continue 1.5 miles. Just after Trapp Hill Rd. (on right), Moscow Road bends and becomes Nebraska Valley Road. You want to bear to the right here onto the dirt Cotton Brook Road. There are two parking areas. The first parking area is open year round. The second parking area is located on the right just above the the Cotton Brook Road trailhead access metal gate. This is open for summer use.
Little River State Park Mountain Bike Trails
Mileage / Blaze: Over 14.5 miles. Black Symbols / White (Multi-Use), Orange Blaze (Forest Boundaries), VAST (Snowmobile), Blue Blaze (Hiking)
Along with a stay at one of the areas largest state-of-the-art, full facility campgrounds, there is a mountain bike / multi-use trail system plus a network of VAST snowmobile trails to explore with trailheads located right at the park. Over 14.5 miles of trails are designed to provide a range of mountain biking experiences. From intermediate level flow style trails that beginners looking to improve their skills will enjoy to fun technical downhill and uphill sections that advanced riders will revel in.
More details coming.
Trail Highlights & Points of Interest
Bikes & Waterfalls
Everyone loves waterfalls. There are so many gorgeous waterfalls in the Mount Mansfield, Stowe and Waterbury area, we just can't list them all... We'll settle for listing some of the best within the Mount Mansfield State Forest and immediate surroundings.
Spectacular forty-foot cascading waterfall on the West Branch of the Waterbury River that features drops, cascades, deep pools, gorges and pot holes for a half mile stretch along the Gorge. The falls are located within a 72 acre land parcel that was purchased by the Stowe State Land Trust for preservation purposes and donated to the state of Vermont. It is open to the public.
Route 108 / Mountain Road about 1.5 miles southeast of Smugglers Notch State Park. There are two paved pull offs on either side of the road. From the parking area on the east side of the road, it's a short 0.2 mile hike to the falls.
Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation
Phone: (802) 476-0170
Little River State Park