Words and pictures by Tubbs Ambassador Sheila | Day Hiker
We live in northern Vermont, and our location gives us quick and easy access to some amazing recreational opportunities in the nearby mountains and woods. We love heading out to a favorite remote trail, miles from the nearest paved road. But, in keeping with the somewhat quirky nature of Vermont, one of our favorite places to hit the trails for snowshoeing is actually near an industrial area. Wait, isn’t that a bit of a curious destination? Yes, it may seem so…but for a unique, amazingly scenic, and historically fascinating snowshoe hike, head to the Millstone Trails, in Barre, Vermont.
Barre is a very small city, whose title “ Granite Capital of the World” is well deserved. For well over a hundred years, the granite industry in Barre has produced world renowned granite for monuments, buildings, and spectacular grave markers. The granite industry began to flourish in Barre in the late 1800’s, when it was discovered that the quality of granite in the high hills outside the city is unmatched. Immigrants, from Scotland , Italy, and other European countries flooded the Barre area, bringing their craftsmanship and stonecutting skills to the hundreds of quarries that dotted the landscape.
The Millstone Trails network, managed by the Millstone Trails Association http://www.millstonetrails.com/ maintains over 90 miles of trails on the site of 75 abandoned quarries, high in the wooded hills over the central Vermont area. The network, only about 10 years old, is primarily a mountain bike mecca….however, in the winter, it is home to snowshoers, cross country skiers, fatbikers, and disc-golfers. Yes, there is a free year-round public disc golf course set amongst the quarry piles, right near the primary parking area, in the Barre Town Forest.
There are trails of varying difficulty, from narrow winding trails through the woods, to wide, groomed, trails that cross brooks and streams. There are some impressive lookouts, many situated over the 50 abandoned quarry holes, or on the top of waste granite piles. These lookouts are marked on the map, available from the association, or downloadable from the website. We love the Grand Lookout, where vistas can extend for nearly 100 miles. This is a great location for families !
Along the trails you can observe relics of the granite industry, when the quarries were flourishing…derricks, cranes, sheds, and rock piles, “relics” being reclaimed by nature. Some of the old granite walls and deposit areas have incredibly detailed carvings in them. Each June, MTA sponsors a “Rockfire” festival, and the year’s new carvings are revealed during the festival, illuminated at night by torches.
There are interpretive signs in the network…not so many as to be obtrusive, but placed in such a way as to provide insights into the history of the area. The impressive array of trails means that each trip here can be different. We can stop by for a quick hour hike, or we may spend a few hours exploring new sections of the area. Snow conditions can vary, from crusty and firm, to deeper powder. Only the main, wider trails are groomed, so for snowshoeing, the wooded trails often provide access to some nice untracked snow. We have used Tubbs Flex Alps snowshoes here, as well as Tubbs Wilderness snowshoes…it all depends on what the snow conditions may be . There is often more snow here than in lower elevations nearby.
We rarely see any other folks here…the network is so large, that even on a winter weekend, you may feel you have the entire place to yourself. At present, MTA is not charging a fee for winter use, though they do welcome donations. The trails are closed to bikers from mid-November to mid-December (our hunting season). Though technically walkers and hikers are not prohibited, commons sense indicates that the trails are best avoided during that month.
If you are heading to the many ski areas in the mountains of Vermont, cruising along Interstate 89, consider stopping to check out these trails. Throw on your snowshoes, head back into history, and enjoy the views!