On a whim back in August, our family decided we wanted to camp for a night and discover some new mountain biking trails. I did some research and poking around on the interwebs, and discovered Mt. Ascutney State Park in Windsor, VT. The state park had everything we were looking for: close proximity to mountain bike trails, beautiful hiking trails, available leantos, and less than two hours from our home.
I am going to talk about the positives first, and then lay out the few negatives at the end. Sound good? Great!
The state park is located off of a paved road, about 15 minutes from the closest interstate exit. It is situated on the side of Mt. Ascutney, a 3200+ mountain. There is actually an toll-road that goes up the mountain. The campground has two distinct loops. We stayed in the loop to the left of the entrance in one of the lean tos. Our campsite was a prime site. It was very large, and quite private. As a bonus, it even had direct access down a path to a large recreation field that included a volleyball net. Our children and their friends loved biking around the field and exploring it while waiting for meals, etc. The lean to was very clean, and recently painted. It had ample room for 6, and could fit 8 as well. The lean tos come with a bench that can be used inside, or out by the fire which was a nice touch.
Our site was situated under large pine and hemlock trees, with some small deciduous trees mixed in. This kept the site shady, but rays of sunshine did break through at times. Our lean to faced east, so we had a view of the sunrise in the morning.
The bathroom was clean, and the shower area was recently tiled with nice tilework. Outside of the bathroom there was a little library book case with books for campers to borrow. Such a fun idea!
The state park maintains its own mountain biking trail loop, which accessible directly from the campground. It is a 3 mile beginner friendly loop, with some nice rollers and moderate terrain. Down the road about 10 minutes at the Mt. Ascutney Outdoor Center, there is a whole network of mountain biking trails that range from novice to expert. I checked out some of the trails there, and particularly enjoyed the trails in the Mile Long Field. Beautiful switchbacks traversed an idyllic Vermont field.
The hiking trails are also pleasant--there is a sweet little nature loop in the campground with signs identifying different trees. There are also other trails that lead to the summit of Mt. Ascutney. We decided to drive up Mt. Ascutney to see the sunset our first night. Sunset was at 7:30. HOWEVER, the toll road also happened to close at 7:30, which we had ignored on the sign. Well, the state park staff enforce their rules, and they came up to the top before (sadly) the sun had set to tell us we had to drive back down. Half of our group decided to stay at the top and watch the sunset and then hike down in the dark. It was quite the adventure--thankfully we always carry headlamps and flashlights in our car.
It was a bit disappointing that the auto road closes before sunset, but I understand that the park needs to have rules to keep folks safe. There are 6 cabins that the state park rents out that are partially up the mountain on the auto road. Folks who rent those sites actually do have access to the summit at sunset. So if you are looking for an easy sunset experience, that would be the way to go.
Overall, our experience at the campground was fantastic. The other campers were quiet, everything was clean, and access to local recreation was convenient.
The road nearby is noisy. Because of its location, you can hear both the local highway and I91. If being in the quiet wilderness is important to you, than this campground might not work out.
From time to time, as a Dyrt Ranger, I am given gear to test out and review. On this camping trip, we tested out a Gregory Endo 15 3D Hydro Pack. Gregory specifically designed this pack for mountain bikers. We chose the one in Carbon Black. Our first impression of the pack was that it was made out of sturdy, rugged materials, which is important for a pack that has to take the abuse of mountain biking. Our second observation was that it didn't have any external water bottle pockets the way a regular day pack would. This of course makes sense as water bottles would easily fall out while biking. The waist belt is unique as it can slide into a few different positions in order to change how the pack rides on your back. The back panel is lifted away from the users back, which provides excellent ventilation. Inside the pack are sever pockets, including a removable pouch ideal for storing bike tools. My husband really appreciates that feature as it makes it much easier to find his tools on the go. The included reservoir is easy to fill, and we like that it is also very easy to hang to dry. It seems to dry faster than the reservoirs that we have from other brands.He has also used the pack a few times on hikes, and it is comfortable for that as well. The straps are low profile, so it doesn't work for carrying super heavy stuff.
My husband says the pack is comfortable. He says it does bounce a bit while descending rougher trails, and he wished there was a way to prevent that. Overall, it does its job well, stays out of the way, and holds the gear and water that he needs when biking. It is great that companies are starting make mountain biking specific packs.
Had a great hike and lunch at top of mountain. Climbed weather tower and was an awesome experience.
Before hiking Mount Ascutney, we camped in the state park of the same name. We hiked the Weathersfield Trail (2.9 miles from trailhead to summit). It was a challenge, but well worth it. There were several lookout points with spectacular views. I highly recommend it!
We arrived around 7pm for a weekend stay. The ranger station was closed, but the rangers were kind enough to leave a note on a whiteboard for all the campers with reservations arriving late. The note reminded everyone of their campsites, and included a map that showed where each specific site was. It was very helpful! The campground is very wooded and dark, so without this map it would have been even more difficult to find our site!
Due to the looming threat of thunderstorms, we chose a lean-to site. Each sturdy lean-to was equipped with a broom to sweep out any leaves/dirt/debris that had accumulated in there. All sites included a fire ring and picnic table. There were some dated, but clean restrooms. There were coin-operated hot showers that were reasonably priced ($1 for 10 min). The campground also sold firewood ($6 for a good-sized bundle) and ice ($2 for a 5lb. bag) which can be purchased at the ranger station.
One aspect of this campground that I loved was the privacy. Due to the spacing between sites, and all the trees, it was quiet and peaceful. The campground couldn't have been more than a third full, but I bet it would still be quiet if it were more populated.
I really enjoyed my stay at Mt. Ascutney State Park Campground, and would love to return!
Came here on the last weekend of the season and loved it! The leaves were beautiful and the campsites we're well groomed and fairly secluded. You can hike up to Mount Ascutney from the campground (it's a really gorgeous 360 view) or drive a few minutes for a shorter hike. The state park fee collection lodge at the entrance had firewood for sale and the bathrooms were super clean!
Make sure to visit the namesake of the park (you can hike or drive up). If not for the important history of this trail (its construction inspired the Long Trail and then the Appalachian Trail and then the CDT, PCT, etc.), some of the best hikes are the other ones thanks to the relative solitude. Go in early-mid October to enjoy the fall colors and to find more peace and quiet. A number of sites have lean-tos, as is northeast tradition. Some of the campsites are close to the road but we didn’t notice too much noise (but we weren’t in the ones closest to the road.
Mt. Ascutney is a monadnock, which means it's a mountain all on its own and not actually part of the Green Mountains. The campground is nestled into the base of the mountain. It's definitely a hiking destination. Otherwise there isn't much to do besides eat s'mores and relax at camp. There's a bit of road noise from the campground, but it's pretty quiet at night.
There are four different trails up the mountain of varying levels of difficulty. You can also drive right to the top and hike around on the summit trails, which are really pretty and pop out onto ledges with gorgeous vistas. There's a nice fire tower at the top, giving you a 360 degree view across the Green Mountains to the east and the White Mountains to the west. You can also see much of the Connecticut River Valley, which is just beautiful.
I almost forgot to tell you about the hang gliders. There's a launch on the summit, and you can watch the gliders on almost any decent day in the summer. It's so much fun. There 's also a great swimming hole called 20-foot hole not far from the base of the mountain. Wilgus State Park is a few miles away. It's a great park for Connecticut River access, especially for paddlers.
Amazing, hiking to the top of the mountain was fabulous. Would definitely suggest to anyone in the area. Definitely great for mountain bikers as well.