Secret swimming holes, endless miles of hiking trails, and mind-boggling vistas await you in Vermont’s Green Mountains, not to mention secluded campsites, streams full of trout, and fall foliage that makes all the other states jealous.
In Vermont, we take our outdoor recreation seriously, in part because we are fortunate to have nearly 400,000 acres of federally protected land in our backyard.
The Green Mountain National Forest, located in southwestern and central Vermont, is the place to go when you want to paddle a quiet lake, photograph a waterfall, hike a trail, or simply commune with nature.
We’ve been exploring the trails, lakes, ponds, and waterfalls in the Green Mountain National Forest for decades, and it’s high time we share some of our favorite spots with you.
Quick Facts: Green Mountain National Forest, Vermont
Land area: 400,000 acres
Activities: hiking, paddling, camping, fishing, hunting, skiing, snowshoeing
Entrance fee: None
Ranger Districts: Manchester and Middlebury/Rochester
Whether you’re visiting the Green Mountain National Forest for the first time, or are looking for a few new spots to explore, you’ll want to add these special places to your Vermont itinerary.
Green Mountain National Forest South
The southern section of the Green Mountain National Forest is located in Bennington, Windham, and Rutland counties. This region includes a section of the Appalachian Trail, the southernmost section of the Long Trail, two front-country campgrounds, and five designated Wilderness areas.
The Catamount Cross-Country Ski Trail passes through parts of the Green Mountain National Forest, and there are also four developed ski areas — Mount Snow, Stratton, and Bromley Mountains for alpine skiing, and Prospect Mountain for Nordic skiing.
This area is served by the Manchester Ranger District, 2538 Depot Street, Manchester Center, VT 05255, (802)-362-2307
Green Mountain National Forest North
The northern section of the Green Mountain National Forest is located in Rutland, Addison, and Washington Counties. It includes three designated Wildnerness Areas, including the Breadloaf Wilderness Area, which is the largest in the state.
A stunning section of Vermont’s Long Trail travels through this section of the Green Mountain National Forest, including the incredible Monroe Skyline, which includes Mount Abraham and Mount Ellen, two of Vermont’s five peaks over 4,000 feet.
Killington, Pico, and Sugarbush Ski Resorts are also located in this section of the Green Mountain Forest, as well as the continuation of the Catamount Cross-Country Ski Trail. Two national forest campgrounds are found within this section, plus a large camping cabin.
This section of the Green Mountain National Forest is served by the Middlebury/Rochester Ranger District, 99 Ranger Road, Rochester, VT 05767, (802)-767-4261
Best Day Hikes in the Green Mountain National Forest
Whether you’re a novice hiker looking for a beautiful woodland walk, or an expert hoping to bag your next mountain peak, the Green Mountain National Forest has a trail with your name on it.
Backpackers enjoy numerous challenging routes in the Green Mountains, including a section of the famous Appalachian Trail and Vermont’s 272-mile Long Trail — the oldest long-distance hiking trail in the United States.
For the casual hiker, here’s a great selection of hikes in the Green Mountain National Forest.
Hiking in the Green Mountain National Forest: Southern Section
*All distances are round-trip
- Haystack Mountain, Wilmington: This 4.2-mile hike takes you on a moderately steep ridge to a small, rocky summit with views of distant peaks and nearby Haystack Pond. Good for dogs and kids. Check out our winter trail guide to Haystack Mountain.
- Harmon Hill, Woodford: A 3.6-mile trek that starts steep, but ends in a ridge-top meadow with beautiful views of Bennington and the Taconic Mountains. Good for dogs and kids. Here’s a trail guide for hiking Harmon Hill.
- Bald Mountain, Woodford: There are two ways to hike to the top of Bald Mountain. We like the Woodford side, which is a more mellow climb. Be sure to continue past the summit for a view at White Rocks toward Bennington. This 3.8-mile hike is suitable for dogs and older kids. Here’s a Bald Mountain Trail brochure and map.
- Stratton Pond, Stratton: A moderate hike to a remote pond (pack your bathing suit) or take advantage of the solitude for a little skinny dipping. 7.4 miles and perfect for kids and dogs. There are a few primitive campsites around the pond. Here’s a trail guide for hiking to Stratton Pond.
- Bromley Mountain, Peru: We like approaching Bromley Mountain (3,275 feet) from the north side on the Long Trail. This route is more secluded than the popular front-side route from VT 11. The trail begins on Mad Notch Road for a total hike of 5 miles – suitable for dogs and kids. I can’t find a trail guide for this route, so I’ll have to publish one.
- Little Rock Pond, Mount Tabor: An easy 34.8-mile trail that loops around Little Rock Pond — another one of our favorite swimming spots. There is a small, primitive campground here. If you want to spend the night between Memorial Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day, it’s $5 per person. Here’s a trail guide for Little Rock Pond.
- White Rocks Ice Beds, Wallingford: At 1.8 miles, this short, sweet hike takes you to the foot of a giant rockslide where pockets of ice remain through the summer. It’s great for kids and dogs too! Here’s a White Rocks Ice Beds trail guide.
Hiking in the Green Mountain National Forest: Northern Section
*All distances are round-trip.
- Deer Leap, Killington: A 3-mile loop that includes a rock promontory towering over Sherburne Pass gives panoramic views of Pico Peak and the Coolidge Range. Here’s a trail guide for Deer Leap.
- Mount Horrid’s Great Cliff, Goshen: A moderate 1.6-mile hike on the Long Trail will bring you to a rugged clifftop in the Joseph Battell Wilderness. Here’s a trail guide.
- Sunset Ledge, Lincoln: This easy, 2.2-mile trek on the long trail leads to western-facing ledges with stunning views of Lake Champlain. If you do choose to watch the sunset from here, bring a headlamp to help you retrace your steps after dark. Here’s an overview of the Sunset Ridge hike.
- Mount Abraham, Lincoln: This strenuous 5.2-mile hike brings you onto a section of the iconic Monroe Skyline, where you’ll find rare arctic plants and 360-degree views from a wide rocky summit. Here’s a Mount Abraham trail guide.
- Robert Frost Interpretive Trail, Ripton: An easy, winding path through woods, meadows, and wetlands, this 1-mile loop includes posted poems by Robert Frost, who lived nearby. Here’s a trail guide.
Waterfalls in the Green Mountain National Forest
While most of Vermont’s most beautiful waterfalls are outside of the Green Mountain National Forest, there are a few stunners within. Here are our favorites. Most require a short hike.
In May, waterfalls in Vermont are at their best when the snow is running off the mountains. None of the falls below are great for swimming.
- Lye Brook Falls, Manchester: A mellow walk in a narrow wilderness valley leads to the 125-foot Lye Brook Falls. Here’s a Lye Brook Falls trail guide.
- Thundering Falls, Killington: Thundering Falls can be reached by walking a short, universally accessible boardwalk on a section of the Appalachian Trail. The falls tumble 140-feet over a steep rock crevice. Here’s a trail guide.
- Texas Falls, Hancock: The Texas Falls Recreation Area includes several boardwalks and viewing platforms where you can see a series of cascading waterfalls along scenic gorges. The viewing area is very short, but there is also a 1-mile loop trail through the woods. Here’s a Texas Falls Trail guide
- Falls of Lana, Salisbury: From the Silver Lake Trail, hike 0.5 miles to the Falls of Lana, a beautiful cascade flowing between two rocks. If you want to continue hiking, you can do a 4-mile loop that includes views from Rattlesnake Cliffs. Here’s a trail guide. The parking area includes a trail to Silver Lake Campground if you are looking for a weekend of swimming, hiking, and waterfalls.
Green Mountain National Forest Camping
Dispersed camping is allowed throughout the Green Mountain National Forest, provided you pitch your tent at least 200′ from trails or bodies of water, including streams, rivers, wetlands, and ponds. If possible, utilize sites that are already managed for overnight use, including designated tent platforms and established shelters.
Do not camp in sensitive alpine areas where trees are under 8 feet. These are very fragile ecosystems.
Campgrounds in the Green Mountain National Forest
There are seven campgrounds within the Green Mountain Forest, but we can’t vouch for all of them. Our favorites are located on the shores of some of our favorite ponds and lakes. Dogs are permitted but must be kept on a leash.
Here are our top three spots for Green Mountain National Forest camping:
- Grout Pond, West Wardsboro: By far, our favorite national forest campground is Grout Pond, where you’ll find a few car camping spots and several waterfront spots that can only be reached by hiking and paddling. Summer camping is nice for swimming, but fall camping at Grout Pond is extraordinary. Pack for cool weather and be prepared for some of the best foliage you’ve ever seen. Vault toilets and a hand pump for drinking water. Open year-round – $16 per night on Recreation.gov.
- Silver Lake, Brandon: This is a small campground on the shores of Silver Lake that can be accessed by hiking a 0.6-mile trail. Silver Lake is a lovely swimming lake, and there are lots of great trails in the area. There are vault toilets, but no drinking water. Open year-round – $10 per night on Recreation.gov.
- Hapgood Pond, Peru: A lovely camping spot near a small pond is perfect for summer and fall camping. Family-friendly swimming area and close to the Long Trail for hiking. Open between May and October. $20 on Recreation.gov. Sites 1 through 8 are first-come, first-served.
Green Mountain National Forest Cabin
In addition to the shelters found along the Long Trail and Appalachian Trail, campers can also reserve a stay at Chittenden Brook Hut, which is open for year-round use. This beautifully rustic cabin is located in Chittenden Brook Campground and sleeps up to 10 guests.
There is a propane stove, an enclosed outhouse, and a common room for sharing meals. Guests can drive to the hut during the summer and fall, but once the gate to the forest service road closes for the winter, you will have to ski or snowshoe in.
Dogs are not permitted in the cabin. Rates are $75 to $155 per night, depending on the season. Reserve your stay through Vermont Huts Association.
Green Mountain National Forest Paddling
Some of the most beautiful and secluded spots in the Green Mountain National Forest can be found on the water. Here are some pristine paddling spots for your next Vermont adventure — we’ve included a few of these in our guide to the best lakes and ponds in Vermont.
- Chittenden Reservoir, Chittenden: This is a beautiful 721-acre reservoir managed by Green Mountain Power. There are lots of shallow coves, making it a great spot for wildlife and bird watching. If you don’t have a boat of your own, rent one from Reservoir Dawgs.
- Grout Pond, Stratton: Grout Pond is an ideal spot for paddling, especially if you reserve a campsite and spend the weekend.
- Somerset Reservoir, Stratton: 1,623 acres owned by Great River Hydro, this entirely undeveloped lake is an awesome paddling spot on a calm day. There are great views of Stratton Mountain and it’s completely surrounded by forest.
- Woodford State Park, Woodford: This small state park borders Glastenbury Wilderness and encompasses Adams Reservoir, which is a small mountain pond. There is a campground and canoe/kayak rentals for those that don’t have a boat of their own. There’s also a nice trail around the lake. Read our recreation guide for Woodford State Park before planning your trip.
Plan Your Trip to the Green Mountain National Forest
Has the Green Mountain National Forest enticed you enough to encourage you to plan a trip? In addition to all the recreational opportunities that we’ve mentioned above, you’ll also discover endless miles of scenic back roads, so don’t forget to bring your camera!
Maps and Guides for Exploring the Green Mountain National Forest
For driving and getting around, I recommend buying a copy of the Atlas and Gazeteer for Vermont/New Hampshire. Why? Cell service may fail in the mountains, and this incredibly detailed atlas includes topographical contour lines, trails, points of interest, and every back road in Vermont. It’s a great thing to have in your vehicle, especially if you enjoy looking at maps!
For exploring the trails and recreation areas in the Green Mountain National Forest, pick up a set of National Geographic maps. There are two in the set — one for each section of the national forest.
Finally, if you’re planning on doing a lot of hiking, get AMC’s Best Day Hikes in Vermont (I co-authored the 3rd edition, which was released in May 2023).
When to Visit the Green Mountain National Forest
There is nothing like the Green Mountains on a beautiful summer day in Vermont — maybe that’s because summer is so dang short here! For memorable swimming and camping, visit between late May and late August. Hiking is great in the summer too!
For unbelievable fall foliage, come during the first two weeks of October. The nights will be cool for camping, but it’s still fun if you’re prepared. Hiking is fantastic in the fall, but shorter days mean you may want to plan shorter hikes. We’ve got several fall-foliage articles in our main menu under ‘outdoors’.
I’m sure that there’s all kinds of winter fun to be had in the Green Mountains too, but it does require next-level preparation that I won’t go into here.
If you’re visiting for the first time, or are a casual adventurer like we are, visit between May and October. You won’t be disappointed!
What to Pack for Your Adventure in the Green Mountains
You want your trip to be memorable for all the right reasons. While this isn’t an exhaustive packing list, it does include a few important items that you won’t want to forget.
- Insect repellent: Unfortunately, the Green Mountain National Forest is a hot spot for ticks that carry Lyme Disease, so you’ll have to be diligent with your bug spray. We have the best luck with Sawyer Insect Repellent with picaridin (derived from peppers). Get the spray, not the lotion! And be sure to spray your shoes and socks before setting out.
- Sturdy hiking shoes/boots: Vermont trails are notoriously rocky, rooty, muddy, and slippery. You want sturdy shoes with grippy soles.
- Trekking poles: Great for helping with balance on uneven trails, especially when going up and down steep inclines with lots of aforementioned roots and rocks! These poles from REI are my favorites. I appreciate the cork grips for when my hands are sweaty!
- Merino wool: I could wax on poetically about Merino wool all day, but I won’t. I will tell you that Merino in the summer is awesome – it wicks away moisture, doesn’t smell, and dries really quickly. It can be worn for several days without washing, and the new merino fabric isn’t even itchy. Convinced? Grab a few of these ultralight merino t-shirts from Woolly before your trip!
- Packable down jacket: Throw this small down jacket into the bottom of your day pack for those chilly summits or fall picnics. It weighs hardly anything, but it will keep you warm when you need it! Here’s the men’s version.
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Tara Schatz is a freelance writer, and the founder and editor-in-chief of Vermont Explored and Back Road Ramblers, an American road trip blog. She is also the co-author of the 3rd edition of AMC’s Best Day Hikes in Vermont, which was released in May 2023.