Interested in exploring a gorgeous section of the Appalachian Trail as it passes through Southern Vermont?
The trailhead for Harmon Hill in Woodford is only ten minutes from downtown Bennington, and it’s the perfect day hike to get your blood pumping.
While the climb up Harmon Hill’s iconic stone steps is grueling, the spectacular view of Bennington nestled at the foot of Mount Anthony is well worth it.
Harmon Hill is a favorite destination for local hiking enthusiasts and visitors alike, but it’s not a trail for the faint of heart. Listed as ‘hard’ on AllTrails, Harmon Hill has garnered local renown for its capacity to rob you of your breath within the first 10 minutes of the climb.
Despite the challenge, the trail is almost always sprinkled with a handful of hardy thru-hikers and stubborn day-hikers, unwilling to be defeated by the jumble of stone steps marching their way up the mountainside.
For those willing to press on against the incline, there are few hikes in the area so rewarding. If you can make it past the rocky stairs and scrambling switchbacks that compose the first 0.75 miles of the hike you’ll find yourself strolling along with relative ease that feels all the better after the intensity of the early climb.
Eventually, the hardwood forests become more loosely spaced until they finally widen into fern-filled meadows from which you can see the town of Bennington tucked into the valley below.
Quick Facts: Harmon Hill on the Appalachian Trail
Hiking Harmon Hill: The Details
To reach Harmon Hill, head east from Bennington on VT 9 towards Brattleboro. About 3.5 miles from the edge of town the AT/LT parking lot will be on the left.
The trailhead is on the right side of the highway, directly across Route 9 from the parking lot, so you will need to carefully cross the road to start the hike.
A wall of brambles separates the trail from the dusty pull-off beside the road, and the moment you step through its opening and onto the trail you’ll find yourself going up, up, up.
The jumbled stone steps weave up the mountain in steep switchbacks for the first 0.6 miles, and the highway is quickly lost in the haze of green beneath you.
With the number of rocks and roots present, the footing can be treacherous in some places. I used a sturdy walking stick on the way up and saw a lot of others using hiking poles. Whichever you prefer, I definitely recommend finding some kind of walking stick to help stay balanced.
Though the first stretch of the hike up the stony switchbacks is intense, it is one of the most uniquely scenic trails in Southern Vermont. The haphazard slabs of stone are wrapped in cords of gnarled tree roots and decorated with feathery ferns and blankets of moss – like something pulled straight out of a Tolkien book.
The trail cuts through a hardwood forest which includes maple, beech, birch, hophornbeam, and ash. There is jewelweed and trillium dusted along the forest floor, and ferns everywhere you look.
Once you’ve made it past the stone steps, the vibe of this hike changes completely. The path from here goes along the ridge, occasionally dipping and rising slightly but coming nowhere close to the same level of difficulty as the earlier parts of the hike. The forest is also more open, allowing wide meadows of ferns to thrive in broad patches of sunlight.
The trail descends slightly which keeps the view from the ridge out of sight, and the ground becomes slightly boggy—wooden plank bridges aid in traversing the wetter areas.
Just past here, at about 1.2 miles, the forest opens up even more as you near the summit. Another expansive bed of ferns, dappled in sunlight and speckled with trees waves gently in the wind as you reach the view.
The view from the top of Harmon Hill is kept clear by controlled burns which leave behind lush meadows of ferns and a fabulous view of Bennington and the surrounding area. There are plenty of places at the top to set up a picnic blanket or simply sprawl in the grass for a snack and a drink.
Although it’s a well-trafficked trail, the summit of Harmon Hill has ample room for multiple groups to drink in the sun and the breeze before returning to the trail.
Harmon Hill Trail Map and Elevation Profile
Need a Harmon Hill trail map you can download and print? Here ya go! We’d also recommend investing in the waterproof (and totally awesome) Green Mountain National Forest trail maps from National Geographic.
Tips for Enjoying Your Hike
Wear the right shoes—the first part of the trail is very rocky with ample opportunities to roll or twist an ankle, so it’s important to wear shoes with a sturdy sole, good grip, and decent ankle support.
This trail is carry in, carry out. Like the rest of the Appalachian Trail, there isn’t trash disposal along this route, so remember that anything you bring up will have to come back down with you. Want to be a good trail ambassador, bring a small garbage bag to clean up trash left by less thoughtful hikers.
Be careful going down! Although it feels like going up is the real challenge, going down the steep rocky part of the hike can be just as strenuous, and a fall on those steps would be a fast way to ruin a great hike.
Pack plenty of water. The steps are a killer workout and I’ve found that the best way to conquer them is by going slow and drinking often. Expect to finish a whole bottle on the way up; I finished my first one before the one-mile mark.
Bring bug spray! I forgot to pack my insect repellent the last time I hiked Harmon Hill and was shocked that I wasn’t immediately devoured by mosquitos. That being said, I always recommend bringing bug spray when hiking in the summer.
Where to Next?
If your travels bring you to the Bennington area, you’ll find plenty to do indoors and out. Here are some more suggestions for your next southern Vermont getaway:
- Swim, camp, and hike at Woodford State Park: Located just a few miles east of the Harmon Hill trailhead, Woodford State Park is a beautiful, quiet park in all four seasons.
- Tour the covered bridges of Bennington County: There are five covered bridges in Bennington County. Three of them are in the town of Bennington/North Bennington and the other two are in Arlington.
- Explore more of Bennington: For a small town, there’s a lot to do in Bennington, especially if you love history, great beer, and outdoor recreation.
- Head east to Wilmington: Wilmington is even smaller than Bennington, but this little mountain village sits on the edge of a beautiful lake and is very close to Mount Snow. Take an afternoon to explore it properly.
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Gabriel Reed recently graduated from Keene State College with a degree in English and is a writer and photographer from Southern Vermont. In his free time, Gabe enjoys spending time outdoors and pursuing his love for fantasy stories, medieval aesthetics, and grilled meats.