MODERATE Dayhike: 6.8 miles (5 hours) — 24 miles from Hanover
Mount Ascutney, the weathered core of an old volcano that once towered 20,000 feet into the air, stands alone over the Connecticut River. The name derives from several Abenaki words meaning “mountain of the rocky summit”. In 1825, Vermont’s first mountain hiking trail was cut on Ascutney. Later, while hiking on the mountain in 1909, James P. Taylor had the inspiration for the creation of Vermont’s Long Trail, which eventually spawned both the Green Mountain Club and the idea for the Appalachian Trail. The Ascutney Trails Association maintains the trail and can be reached at P.O. Box 147, Windsor, VT, 05089.
How To Get There:
Cross the Connecticut River into Norwich and turn onto I-91 South. Get off in 14.2 miles at Exit 9, “Hartland-Windsor”. At the top of the ramp, turn left onto Route 5 South and follow it 4.1 miles through downtown Windsor. Turn right onto Route 44 West and follow it along a brook and under the I-91 bridges. Continue uphill and converge with a side road (Route 44A) coming in from the left 3.3 miles from the center of Windsor. Turn sharply left onto this road, and in 100 yards come to the Windsor Trail parking lot on the right. Park here.
The two trails which form this loop hike, the Windsor Trail and the Brownsville Trail, have trailheads separated by a mile of road walk. If you brought a second car, continue on to the Brownsville Trail parking area. If not, the road walk is short and scenic. Leaving the parking lot, turn left and retrace your path back to the junction with Route 44. Continue straight on Route 44 West. After 0.9 miles, with fields on both sides of the road, the trailhead is on the left side of the road, just past a blue-green house.
From the road (0.0 miles), the white-blazed Brownsville Trail follows the fence around the northwest corner of the field, turns uphill along a brook, and climbs steeply into the woods.
At 0.2 miles, the trail turns right onto the old Norcross Quarry Road and begins slabbing the hillside.
At 1.1 miles, reach Norcross Quarry. An old boom with some of its guy wires still intact lies off the trail to the right. This quarry was the most active of four quarries once in operation on Ascutney. Granite from here became the columns for the Columbia University Library in New York City. This particular granite has a high percentage of iron in it, which causes it to stain during weathering. As a result, the quarry had a short life and eventually went bankrupt in 1910.
At 1.3 miles, past the quarry, the trail turns sharply left and climbs among ledges to where a side trail leads left to Quarry Top Lookout.
At 1.6 miles, the trail swings close to a ski trail from the Mount Ascutney Ski Area, which went bankrupt in 1991. The trail turns left here and switchbacks uphill. The sharp vegetative break here between hardwoods and softwoods is evidence of the New England hurricane of 1938, which blew over several million trees across New England. The softwoods standing here survived the gusty winds. The hardwoods sprouted in the sun where old softwoods were blown down.
At 2.0 miles, reach Knee Lookout, with views to the east, and continue more gently uphill.
At 2.3 miles, the grassy area is North Peak, elevation 2,660 feet. Limited views through the trees to the west show Pico and Killington. Climbing gently at first, the trail resumes a steep switchbacking climb.
At 2.9 miles, reach the junction with the Windsor Trail (later your descent route). Continue uphill to the right.
At 3.0 miles, the trail reaches the remains of the Stone Hut, which originally was built as an overnight shelter. At the dedication of the Stone Hut in 1858, some 300 people attended the ceremony and were treated to a full course dinner, live music, and speeches. To the left, an unblazed trail descends to the top of the auto road in 0.7 miles. To the right a short side trail leads to Brownsville Rock and excellent views north over farmland to Camel’s Hump and Mount Mansfield. The solitude of this view is a pleasant contrast to the bustle that often awaits ahead on the summit.
At 3.2 miles, returning to the Stone Hut site, turn right and continue 0.2 miles along the Windsor Trail to the summit of Mount Ascutney and its accompanying lookout tower (built in 1920).
At 0.0 miles, to descend, follow the Windsor Trail back to the Stone Hut site (0.2 miles) and down to its junction with the Brownsville Trail (0.3 miles), which was your ascent route. Turn right and wind down through softwoods. The trail soon passes a short spur trail on the right with views of the Connecticut River valley.
At 0.7 miles, the Blood Rock Trail leaves to the right and reaches Blood Rock, with views to the north, in 0.3 miles. (This is an alternate descent route — rejoining the Windsor Trail below Blood Rock after 0.5 miles.) Blood Rock was exposed in a landslide in 1927. A local youth, Huntington Hoisington, was attempting to carve his initials into the rock with an axe when the head slipped and caught him on the hand. The ensuing blood gave the rock its name.
At 0.9 miles, the Windsor Trail switchbacks down to the junction with another alternate descent route, which leaves left for the Log Shelter built by the Ascutney Trails Association in 1968. (After passing the shelter, this trail rejoins the Windsor Trail in 0.2 miles.)
At 1.0 miles, the Blood Rock Trail rejoins from the right.
At 1.1 miles, half Way Spring is reached, along with the lower junction of the Log Shelter Trail. The Windsor Trail turns sharply left here and begins traversing a low shoulder of the mountain.
At 1.5 miles, cross the right fork of Mountain Brook and continue slabbing downhill.
At 1.7 miles, the trail parallels the left fork of the brook before re-crossing the right fork.
At 1.8 miles, a short spur trail leads left to Gerry’s Falls on Mountain Brook. The ashes of Nelson Gerry, a local Ascutney enthusiast, were scattered here in 1931. The Windsor Trail continues downhill on a wide woods road, gradually leveling out.
At 2.4 miles, the trail swings left away from the brook and descends through a grown-in pasture. Soon, the trail reaches an open pasture and continues straight across and downhill.
At 2.6 miles, the Windsor Trail trailhead is reached at the bottom of the pasture, where your car is waiting.