For a half-day hike that combines a good physical workout with unique geographical features and terrific views, try Sterling Pond.
The hike to the pond starts at the top of Smugglers’ Notch, across from the wooden information booth. The trail, which traverses a short stretch of the state’s Long Trail, weaves its way up 3,000-foot high Sterling Mountain.
After registering for your climb, access the trail at the Long Trail sign. The trail quickly turns into a set of rocky steps and becomes relatively steep for at least a third of the climb. For most of the climb, you won’t see much on the trail except woods, rocks and an occasional varmint. Take frequent breathers, look around and continue upward. Be sure to persevere, because the rewards are worth the effort. It takes an hour or so to reach the pond, depending on your pace.
The trail, marked with white splotches on trees, eventually intersects with a ski trail. Turn left here and follow the sign for the Sterling Pond shelter.
The pond — a great place for a picnic — is fairly large, and is Vermont’s highest elevation trout pond. The setting is quiet and peaceful as you walk on a path that circles about three quarters of the pond. At the right time of day, wildlife could be seen here, including an occasional bear. For overnight visits check out the Watson Camp bunkhouse, a Green Mountain Club-sponsored structure that sleeps eight in warmth, if not luxury. The bunkhouse is on the far side of the pond as you approach it from the trail. A visit to this bunkhouse also provides scenic views of mountains to the west and north.
For an even more stunning mountain view, return to the trail intersection and follow the ski trail up for another 15 minutes to the top of Spruce Peak. Here you will overlook the Notch and get a close-up look at the flank of Mt. Mansfield, and the more distant Lamoille River valley.
If somebody can pick you up, you can descend by following ski trails and a lift line down to the Smugglers’ Notch Resort. Or, cross over and descend into Stowe via the Stowe resort’s ski trails. Otherwise, retrace your steps back down the Long Trail to the Notch parking area.