Snake Mountain from the secret side

Snake Mountain has to be the most popular day-hike in Addison County. It’s an easy walk, the views are unique and expansive, and it’s only a short drive from anywhere else in our part of the Champlain Valley.

As such, I thought I’d never write about it. “Everybody already knows about Snake Mountain,” I thought, “Why clutter the internet with redundant recommendations?”

Most people climb the ridge from the west side, on a well-established trail (parts of it are remnants of an old road to the Grand View Hotel on the summit) leading through upland hardwoods. It’s beautiful, it’s popular, but it’s definitely not the only way up Snake Mountain.

Yesterday, my girlfriend and I, only slightly lost, stumbled upon a WMA access parking lot on Snake Mountain Road, on the EAST side of the mountain.

“EAST is only one letter away from EASY,” I thought. “This should be quick.”

My optimism was only strengthened by a “Summit” sign nailed to the beginning of the trail, as if we’d reached our goal merely by turning into the parking lot.

The climb begins steeply from the east side, and then flattens through two cleared fields. The woods started with juniper heavy with berries and hop hornbeam, then gave way to oak and beech higher up. Gray Squirrels chattered at us from their leafy nests.

The trail follows a series of terraced wetlands, thanks to especially determined beavers (what kind of beaver climbs the only mountain in ten miles to build a dam?). The ponds were topped with a thin skim of clear ice, and we watched for their engineers while chewing waxy wintergreen leaves from the bank.  

The trail continues to follow a small stream before joining the west side trail at a prominent curve. The junction is preceded by another misleading “Summit” sign. After a few minutes on the well-worn trail, you emerge at the real summit – 200 degree views of the Champlain Valley, the Lake, and the Adirondack Mountains in the distance.

Snake Mountain is not only convenient and relatively easy, but its view is unparalleled. As a solitary eminence in the valley, it affords an unexpected vantage. It’s rare to see such a flat expanse from such a lofty height. The sensation is more like being in a very quiet helicopter than on a mountain. Remnants of a concrete pad from the Grand View Hotel perch abruptly on the edge of the cliff, so that the tableau seems like a matte painting poorly blended into the foreground.

Snake Mountain views are best late in the day, when the sun is dropping behind the Adirondacks. If you hike up at sunset, remember to bring a headlamp for the hike down. The west side trail is slightly more complex and perhaps a little longer than the standard route, despite the frequent summit signs. We left the summit 15 minutes before sunset and reached the bottom in almost total darkness.

Snake Mountain is a Wildlife Management Area, maintained by Vermont Fish and Wildlife and open to hunting in season. Deer muzzleloader and archery is open for another three days, so wear bright colors and don’t put on the Rudolph hat quite yet. Enjoy the hike, and explore!

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Addison County Independent

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Middlebury, VT 05753

Phone: 802.388.4944
Fax: 802.388.3100