Mount Mansfield is the highest mountain in Vermont; being the highest in the state it is also the highpoint of Chittenden County. The mountain gets its name because when viewed from the east its summit ridge resembles the profile of a human face, and the names of its prominent features reflect this: Adams Apple (4,060'), Chin (4,393', highest point), Nose (4,062') and Forehead (3,940'). For about 2.3 miles (from the Adams Apple to the Forehead) the Long Trail is almost constantly above treeline, the only such long stretch of alpine zone in Vermont. Please stay on the trail to avoid harming the delicate vegetation! As the Long Trail Guide writes:
Mount Mansfield is the most frequently visited mountain in Vermont with nearly 40,000 visitors walking its upper reaches every year. This use has severely affected its fragile ecosystem.
Mount Mansfield is one of two places in Vermont where Artic Tundra can be found; the other place being Camels Hump. There are about 200 acres of Artic Tundra on Mount Mansfield; Camels Hump only holds a few acres.
The weather on Mount Mansfield can be very different from the lower surrounding areas. In winter, blowing snow and clouds are very common conditions on the summit. Above the tree line, complete whiteouts leading to disorientation may occur; be very cautious when ascending in these conditions. Visibility may be only 20 feet, so it is very easy to get lost while ascending or descending from the summit. Use less exposed routes in these conditions, for example use Laura Cowles trail instead of Sunset Ridge (Sunset Ridge is exposed for over 50% of the route).
There are many trails up the mountain, I will describe a few of the more popular routes. If hiking from the west side of the mountain the most popular place to start is from Underhill State Park. The two most popular routes from here are: Sunset Ridge Trail & Laura Cowles Trail. If you are hiking from the east side of the mountain the more popular route is the Long Trail. The easiest way up the mountain though is from the Toll Road. Here is a good map of the trails on the mountain.
Sunset Ridge Trail:
One-way hiking distance: 3.3 miles
One-way elevation gain: 2600 feet
This trail is very scenic and could be considered a classic. For a good portion of the route you will be above the tree line. This trail has the best views of any trail that ascends the mountain, since so much is above tree line. This route would not be recommended during bad weather or high winds since its so exposed.
Laura Cowles Trail:
One-way hiking distance: 2.7 miles
One-way elevation gain: 2600 feet
The Laura Cowles trail is a more direct route up to the chin, this trail branches off of the Sunset Ridge trail and rejoins it near the chin. Since its more direct it is steeper and much of the hike is through a forested ravine. This route is tougher, but more protected from the elements. Sunset Ridge and the Laura Cowles trail can be easily done as a loop. But I would recommend going up Laura Cowles rather than down.
Long Trail Southbound:
One-way hiking distance: 2.3 miles
One-way elevation gain: 2800 feet
The Long Trail is the most popular route from the east side of the mountain. This trail is very steep, but also sheltered. The Long Trail can also be combined with other hiking routes for a loop hike. You could ascend the Hell Brook trail then down the Long Trail. Or a trip up the Haselton Trail, traverse the summit ridge to the chin then down the Long Trail.
From the Toll Road:
One-way hiking distance: 1.3 miles
One-way elevation gain: 600 feet
The Toll Road is the easiest way to the summit of Mount Mansfield. Information about the Toll Road can be found here. This route starts from the nose and follows the Long Trail north towards the chin. Though its the easiest route most people hiking to the summit do not use this route. The views along the ridge to the summit are superb.
To get to the LT and Haselton Trail trailheads follow VT 100 north to Stowe, then take VT 108. The Haselton Trail starts in the Gondola Base Lodge parking lot, the LT trailhead is 0.6 further north.
The Sunset Ridge Trail starts at Underhill State Park. From Underhill Center take the Pleasant Valley Road about a mile north, then take the Mountain Road to its end at the state park (parking fee). From the park follow the old CCC road for a mile to a sharp right turn, where the trail bears left off the road.
The State of Vermont closes trails on Mt. Mansfield from Mid-April to Memorial Day to protect the fragile vegetation, and also to protect the trails themselves from erosion. The Green Mountain Club discourages hiking on any trails at high elevation during that season.
There are no fees (unless you use the toll road or gondola) and no permit is required.
The normal hiking season in the Vermont extends roughly from Memorial Day to Columbus Day. Winter conditions above treeline are harsh, but for those with the required knowledge and experience a winter ascent of Mount Mansfield can be a wonderful experience.
The upper 1.5 miles of the Mountain Road to Underhill State park is not plowed in winter. Also plowing on VT 108 stops about 0.3 miles south of the Long Trail.
Given the short distances most people climb Mount mansfield in a day. There is lodging at the Green Mountain Club's Taft Lodge. A reader has added: "The "lodge rate" is $6 per person. Bring your own stove and T.P. as fires are forbidden and the outhouse was bare. Also, water is available from an untested source - recommend bringing a filter."
While planning a trip check the weather forecast.
In winter trip reports posted on the Views from the Top (VFTT) Vermont Trail Conditions forum should be consulted before a trip. If you find nothing you can post a query at any of the following (they share viewers, it is considered poor form to post to more than one):
In addition to the map that comes with the Long Trail Guide you may want the North Vermont Hiking Trails map produced by Map Adventures.