Smugglers’ Notch is a narrow pass between Mount Mansfield and Spruce Peak, part of Vermont’s Green Mountains. The name comes from its illicit past, when swashbucklers and bootleggers smuggled illegal goods through the Notch.
Today, the area is better known for the outdoor activities at Smugglers’ Notch State Park: climbing magnificent boulders, swimming in glacial potholes, hiking, disc golf, camping, bicycling, fishing, winter sports, and a whole lot more.
I visited over the July 4th weekend and fell for Vermont’s cowlicked air, rolling green countryside, stellar climbing, and even better beer. There was so much to do that I’ve already planned a trip back. Thinking of going? Here’s how to have an adventure-packed weekend at Smugglers’ Notch state park.
Smugglers’ Notch State Park is Vermont’s Weekend Getaway
Where to Camp at Smuggler’s Notch
Smugglers’ Notch State Park campground is in the Mount Mansfield State Forest, a 44,444-acre expanse perfect for outdoor pursuits. The winding road to the park slithers through the Green Mountains and is marked with 1,000-foot cliffs and fallen rocks. Beware of tight curves and thin roads on this senses-tingling drive.
The campground has 20 tent and 14 lean-to sites. Tent sites range from $20-$22 per night for out-of-staters, while lean-tos are $29 per night, plus a $7 reservation fee. Most plots are walk-in only and not accessible by vehicle. Due to the narrowness of Route 108, very few spots can accommodate RVs.
Campers can enjoy a new restroom facility with flush toilets, running water, and coin-operated hot showers. Firewood and ice can be purchased on-site.
“There are so many hiking trails and recreational opportunities in and around the Park-from Stowe Mountain Resort to the quaint shops in town and local craft breweries[…]Without a doubt, Smugglers’ Notch State Park is a favorite of mine!” — The Dyrt camper Rachel P.
What to Do at Smugglers’ Notch State Park
For an ambitious thigh-buster to the top of Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak, take the 3.7-mile Hellbrook Trail, an out and back with a ladder-like 2,683 feet of elevation gain and rock scrambles. Or try the more moderate Mount Mansfield Loop Trail, at 7.3 miles and with 2,880 feet of elevation, which takes you across the Mansfield Ridge from The Forehead to The Chin (the ridge looks somewhat like a face). This path is replete with wildflowers and some of the only alpine terrain in the state.
Vermont has an abundance of ponds, lakes, streams, and falls. At 3,000 feet, Sterling Pond is the state’s highest-elevation pond, accessible via a moderate 2.3-mile hike—you’ll earn your dip in the cool waters!
For easier-access swimming, head to Bingham Falls, a 40-foot cascading waterfall with deep gorges and pools, surrounded by red and yellow maple and white birch. Wherever you go in the park you’ll find water, from trickling streams to the Brewster River, and even fresh spring drinking water at Big Spring.
“You can easily walk to Bingham Falls across the street, which I think is one of the most lovely waterfalls in the whole state.”— The Dyrt camper Tara S.
Once called a “mountain biking mecca” by The Boston Globe, there are over 50 miles of single track through the green forests. For paved cycling, try the 5.3-mile Stowe Recreation Path. It starts at historic Stowe Village and ends at a Vermont staple: a covered bridge. Don’t miss Scenic Route 108, which goes up and through the Notch, and can be cycled as well. Lean into the sharp turns, enjoy the views, and get a workout to boot.
Smugglers’ Notch is one of the few cooler-weather summer climbing areas in New England. When heat and humidity make climbing almost unenjoyable elsewhere, you’ll find me heading to Vermont.
The 1,000-foot cliffs are impossible to miss as you wind your way along the 108, and the same goes for the roadside boulders. You can park in a pull-out and jump on a boulder within 10 seconds, so be prepared to extend your drive; climbers will find them tough to resist. With hundreds of boulder problems and Alpine-like trad and sport lines, you’ll be pleased with your climbing options.
If you enjoy Smuggs in the spring, summer, and fall, you’ll love it in the winter. Stowe is a classic Northeast ski getaway, with the distinction of having the third-highest snowfall in the East. The mountain provides 2,160 feet of vertical drop and hosts plenty of intermediate to difficult terrain, as well as beginner-friendly slopes. Nordic and backcountry skiing, fat tire biking, and snowmobiling are also excellent options in the colder months.
Eating and Drinking
Some of Vermont’s best breweries (and there are a lot of them) are in the Stowe-Waterbury area. The Alchemist, with their world-famous Heady Topper, is a popular choice near the beginning of Route 108. Stowe Cider, Prohibition Pig, and the Von Trapp Brewery offer up distinct, tasty food and beverage options after a big day out. For spirits, sample a snifter at Smugglers’ Notch Distillery or WhistlePig. Satisfy your burger cravings at the Burger Barn, or step it up a notch with the locally-sourced menu at Hearth and Candle. And of course, no visit would be complete without the Ben & Jerry’s Factory Tour. Yum!