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Vermont’s Mighty Monadnock: Exploring Mount Ascutney State Park

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Gorgeous mountain vistas, unique hiking trails, and a beautiful family-friendly campground – Mount Ascutney State Park is a playground for nature lovers, history buffs, and outdoor adventurers. Its close proximity to Wilgus State Park on the Connecticut River means you can hike to spectacular vistas in the morning and paddle the meandering river in the afternoon. What more could you ask for in an outdoor vacation? 

Quick Facts: Mount Ascutney State Park
Address: 1826 Back Mountain Rd
Windsor, VT 05089
Activities: swimming, hiking, paddle sports, camping
Open: Memorial Day weekend to 2nd weekend in October
Fees: $4 adults, $2 kids
Camping: 38 wooded tent/RV sites (no hook-ups) and 10 lean-tos
Dogs: Yes, on-leash
Google Maps Directions
Official Park Website

Built between 1935 and 1938, Mount Ascutney State Park was one of the very first state parks established in Vermont. The mountain’s first hiking trail was created way before that — in 1825. It was the first organized mountain hiking trail in Vermont, and some accounts suggest it was the first in the country.

Today, hikers can scale the mountain from one of four trailheads, or they can explore a series of summit trails after driving up the 3.7-mile toll road (free for campers and other park visitors).

Mount Ascutney State Park is one of our favorite parks in Vermont. It’s got some incredible hiking trails and some unique features that are fun to explore. Keep reading to find out about our favorite trails, activities, and secret swimming holes near Mount Ascutney State Park.

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Sunset on a hiking trail in Mt Ascutney State Park.

Mt. Ascutney is unique as far as Vermont mountains go. It’s a monadnock — an isolated mountain of erosion-resistant rock, in this case, granite. It’s a conspicuous mountain, towering 3,144 feet above the Connecticut River Valley below, but it’s not part of Vermont’s Green Mountains. Geologically, it has more in common with the Whites of New Hampshire, but geographically, it stands alone.

When it comes to mountains, I hate to pick favorites, but Mount Ascutney has totally stolen my heart, and I’m already planning a camping trip for the fall. 

Mt. Ascutney Hiking Trails

A hiker checks out the view from the hang gliding platform on the top of Mt. Ascutney in Vermont.
The hang-gliding platform on Mt. Ascutney

There are four trails leading up to the summit of Mt. Ascutney, and everyone I talked to had a different opinion as to which one was their favorite. I can’t call myself an expert, because we didn’t have time to explore them all, but here’s an overview, as well as our opinions. To experience the Mt. Ascutney trails for yourself, check out this trail map and guide from Vermont State Parks.

Futures Trail to Bare Rock Vista to the Summit of Mt Ascutney

Me, posing with a trail sign at the Futures Trailhead in Mount Ascutney State Park.

At 4.6 miles (one-way), the Futures Trail is the longest trek up to the summit of Mt. Ascutney and the only trail the begins in the campground. This was a plus for us, so we decided to give it a go. Like many mountain hikes, this trail is characterized by moderately strenuous switchbacks through mostly hardwood forests, which transitions to evergreens as you gain elevation.

If you’re looking for a shorter hike, perhaps to watch the sunrise, the Futures Trail will take you to Bare Rock Vista after a mile of hiking. The views here are incredible, and there are lots of great spots for a picnic here as well.

Brownsville Trail to the Summit

Sunset vista from the top of Mt. Ascutney.
View from one of the vistas on the Brownsville Trail

The Brownsville Trail is a 3.2-mile (one-way) hike to the summit with some nice views on the way up. Within the first mile, you will pass a cool quarry and some rusty mining equipment. The Brownsville Trail starts out steep, but levels out for a bit, so you’re not going straight up the whole way. Brownsville Trail parking is located on Route 44, not inside Mount Ascutney State Park.

Weathersfield Trail to the Summit

Birch trees growing near one of the Mt. Ascutney hiking trails.
Woodland respite on Weathersville Trail

The Weathersfield Trail to the summit of Mt. Ascutney seems to be the most popular of all the routes. The trailhead is maintained all year and is located off of Route 131 on Cascade Falls Road in Weathersfield. The parking area can fit about 10 cars, so get there early to secure a spot. The route to the summit is 2.9 miles (one-way) and there are plenty of viewpoints on the way up, as well as small streams and waterfalls.

Windsor Trail to the Summit

The Connecticut River from a vista on Mt. Ascutney.
The Connecticut River from a Mt. Ascutney Vista

Windsor Trail is 2.7 miles (one-way) to the summit of Mt. Ascutney, making it the shortest of the four routes. The trailhead is located on Route 44A in Windsor, not far from the trailhead for the Brownsville Trail. You could turn the hike into a loop by hiking up Windsor and down Brownsville, and then trekking back to your car on Route 44. Highlights of Windsor trail include Gerry’s Falls, a small, but pretty waterfall, Castle Rock (great views), and Brownsville Rock (more great views).

Mt. Ascutney Summit Trails

Don’t have the time or energy to hike to the top of Mt. Ascutney? After driving up the toll road (Mt. Ascutney Parkway) to the parking lot near the summit of Mt. Ascutney, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the green mountains. Take any of the boulder-encrusted trails that meander around the summit and you’ll find yourself in a dark, enchanting forest that smells like Christmas because of the abundance of spruce and fir trees. Every short hiking trail leads to more incredible views, and as you hike, a thousand birds will serenade you with their sweet songs.

The Mt. Ascutney Observation Tower 

For a 360° view of the Green Mountains and the White Mountains of New Hampshire, climb the 24.5-foot high observation tower. Interpretive signs name the distant peaks in all directions, and it’s a pretty good spot for a selfie. We saw Mount Mansfield, and on the clearest of days, even Quebec is visible.

A selfie from the observation tower at the top of Mt. Ascutney in Windsor, Vermont.
Mt Ascutney selfie – me and my hiking buddy, Illya.

The Hang Gliders on Mt. Ascutney

Did you know that Mt. Ascutney is one of the top hang gliding destinations in New England? And that even if you’re not a daredevil, you can watch them take off and glide through the air?

There’s a hang-glider launch on the west and south peaks and you can easily access both from the summit parking lot. I imagine it’s pretty thrilling to ride the thermals, but for me, it was enough to watch the hang gliders soaring across the clear blue sky. We didn’t get to witness a launch while we were there, but we’ve heard that it’s a pretty common occurrence on just about every nice day.

Hang gliders on Mt Ascutney
Hang gliding on Mt Ascutney!

Mt. Ascutney Camping

Mount Ascutney State Park has 38 wooded tent/RV sites and 10 lean-to sites that are arranged within two camp loops. Each loop has a restroom providing modern plumbing and coin-operated hot showers. There is a sanitary dump station for RV’s, but there are no hookups. There are also five cabins that you can rent – each with bunks for sleeping, electricity, a table, and an outdoor fire pit. 

The sites are fairly private, and the Futures hiking trail is easy to access from the campground. Ice and firewood are both available for sale. A two-night stay is perfect for exploring all that Mt. Ascutney has to offer.

Tips for Visiting Mount Ascutney State Park and the Surrounding Area

Get your game on. There’s a lovely rec field just below White Birch, Cherry, and Cedar lean-tos. For some reason, it’s not on the map, but it’s a fantastic place for a game of Frisbee or football, and the stargazing is pretty amazing from here.

Porcupines are plentiful! We saw two porcupines on our recent visit. They’re cute, but can be a real danger to dogs who don’t know better. Dogs are permitted within the park and in the campground, but you should definitely keep them on a leash at all times.

Insider tip: Did someone say swimming? While there’s no place to swim on the mountain, you’ll find a pretty magical swimming hole just a short drive from Mt. Ascutney State Park. Twenty-Foot Hole in Reading is the perfect place to cool off after a long hike.

You can paddle too! Wilgus State Park, just 4 miles from Mount Ascutney State Park, is perched on a slow-moving portion of the Connecticut River. Rent a canoe or kayak to explore the shores of Vermont and New Hampshire. Wilgus State Park was our base camp when we paddled a short section of the Connecticut River with Great River Outfitters. 

A cloudy view of Mt. Ascutney from the Connecticut River in Windsor, Vermont.
Paddling on the Connecticut River near Mt. Ascutney.

A few things you’ll need for your trip to Mt. Ascutney State Park

Whether you’re heading out for a day hike or spending the weekend, here are a few items that will make your trip to Mt. Ascutney more memorable. 

  • Bug spray – Like everywhere else in Vermont, mosquitoes are plentiful on Mt. Ascutney. I think we’ve tried every single insect repellent on the market. Our current favorite is Sawyer Picaridin repellent for a couple of reasons. It does not leave our skin feeling all greasy and yucky, it doesn’t damage synthetic fabrics like DEET products, and it seriously lasts for 12 hours. We spray it on in the morning and forget about it, and it repels mosquitoes, flies, and ticks that cause Lyme disease. Also, we’ve tried the lotion version and find that it doesn’t work as well as the spray.
  • Your hammock – Not all Vermont State Parks are conducive to hammock camping, but Mt. Ascutney State Park is a great spot to hang around in the trees. Bring your hammock for this one, and if you don’t have one, buy one. We love our Kammok Mantis, which is an all-in-one setup that is rain and bugproof!
  • A quick-dry towel – On a hot summer day, you will want to check out the local swimming hole, I promise. Pack your swimsuit and a quick-dry towel because your campsite will likely be in the shade, and those beach towels never dry. 
  • A light-up disc – If you’re camping on Mt. Ascutney, take advantage of the playing field to either watch the stars or play a game of catch. This light-up disc from Aerobie will provide hours of fun before or after your campfire.

Hotels Near Mt Ascutney State Park

Finally, we know that not everyone loves pitching a tent, and that’s okay! The map below gives an overview of both hotels and vacation rentals near Mt. Ascutney. Simply click on the map to view a specific property.

Vermont’s only monadnock, Mt. Ascutney is a wild and enchanting mountain. Whether you visit for the day or spend the weekend with your family, you’re sure to fall in love with Mount Ascutney State Park.

Go Wander Wild

Monday 17th of May 2021

I loved reading about your experience in Mount Ascutney State Park. Your descriptions really made it come alive for me. Happy travels!

Tara Schatz

Tuesday 18th of May 2021

Thank you! Happy travels to you as well!

Farrah

Friday 30th of April 2021

I've only been to Vermont briefly (only a weekend, and unfortunately our hiking plans got derailed due to veryyy heavy rain :'( ), but I'd love to go back to explore more someday -- it'd be awesome to get to camp here! Your photos are gorgeous!

Tara Schatz

Friday 30th of April 2021

Thank you, Farrah! Definitely get in touch if you make it east! I'll show you around!

Kristen

Tuesday 27th of April 2021

Wow! Your photos are absolutely stunning. I love the dense ferns, so gorgeous. Growing up, I went to Vermont often in the winter to ski and snowboard. I missed out on some awesome hikes!

Tranquil Trekker

Monday 26th of April 2021

I love Vermont state parks! It's the only place I've seen that does lean-tos. I'll definitely have to add this one to my list!

Tara Schatz

Tuesday 27th of April 2021

I always thought that lean-tos in Vermont were totally normal until I started visiting other state parks. We are lucky to have them!

Josy A

Monday 26th of April 2021

What a beeeautiful area! I have to admit, I'd want to go for one of the summit trails, but it sounds like the woodland hikes are stunning too. Do you have to do anything to protect your car from the porcupines? We noticed that in trails near the Canadian Rockies, park rangers leave chicken wire to wrap around your car so the porcupines don't chew tires and brake lines... maybe that is just Canadian spikey-dudes!?

Would you be tempted to try hang gliding? It must be pretty spectacular views from up there!

Tara Schatz

Tuesday 27th of April 2021

No hang gliding for me, but it is so much fun to watch! Also, I haven't heard that about porcupines. The only advice they give us around here is to not pee close to where you're sleeping and don't leave your boots outside your tent because they crave salt and will eat your boots.