Are you busy? stressed? Does your schedule leave you no time to head for the mountains for a soul-rejuvenating hike? Are you worried about being in the woods during fall hunting seasons? Here are some great ideas for hikes right around Burlington no heady summits, maybe, but accessible and beautiful.
I discovered Red Rocks when I had a badly sprained ankle and couldn’t do serious hikes for two or three months. This South Burlington Park has a network of trails over rocks, along the beach and through woods. In winter the trails are good for skiing or snowshoeing, and the “ice sculptures” that form along the shore are fantastic. In May there is a profusion of wildflowers: hepaticas, bluets, Dutchman’s breeches, trillium, trout lilies, and many others. If you go in July or August, you can stop for a swim after your walk.
Another favorite nearby hiking place is Shelburne Bay Park. Trails lead from the parking areas that are just beyond the public boat launch on Bay Road. There are trails near the lake, in the woods, and up over steep little Allen Hill. You can relax on a bench and eat your lunch while watching boats in the bay. Across the road is a nature trail along the LaPlatte River where there are often great blue herons and other birds.
Just beyond Shelburne Bay Park is Shelburne Farms. They have many trails suitable for skiing or snowshoeing in winter and hiking in the summer. There are geese and ducks in the lake, and views from Lone Tree Hill. You can stop and see baby lambs, pet a burro, or watch horses and brown Swiss cows. There are beautiful gardens and one path lined with lilacs beautiful to see and beautiful to smell in late May or early June.
The Winooski Valley Park District has a number of parks with trails along the Winooski River. The trail behind the Champlain Mill might be hard to get to, with all the construction, but when the dust settles it will once again provide a lovely walking place along the river. I’ve hiked there many times over about five years doing “tracking” for Keeping Track. It’s been exciting to see a small stream developed into a large pond by beavers. Once we saw the beavers up close. We’ve also seen deer in this area, and signs of raccoons, otters, and other animals. On the Burlington side of the Winooski River is Salmon Hole, a beautiful rocky area along the river.
In the north end of Burlington, there’s the Ethan Allen Homestead, with trails along the Winooski and through swamp lands.
If you don’t mind walking on pavement, the Burlington Bike Path stretches for about eight miles along the waterfront. Here you can see everything from busy industry to empty fields and woods, as well as attractions such as the boathouse, ECHO and the interesting sculptures behind the Water Department. Of course there are also beaches at Oakledge, North Beach, and Leddy Park. I once saw huge flocks of Canada geese on the edge of the lake here. This trail is now connected to trails in Colchester by a bridge across the Winooski River.
When you really want to enjoy the outdoors but don’t have time or opportunity to go to the mountains, these may be just what you’re looking for.
For more suggestions about good walking and hiking trails in the Burlington area, see Nature Walks in Northern Vermont and the Champlain Valley, by Elizabeth Bassett. This useful book is available through libraries and bookstores, as well as at GMC headquarters in Waterbury Center.