My family and friends are always on the lookout for new places to go out and play. There are so many awesome trails in Vermont that we’ve explored or that we have on our bucket list to cross off soon.
Sometimes, though, we just don’t want to venture too far from home. Franklin County has some great places to discover, even if they don’t necessarily give you the workout of Smuggler’s Notch or the unbelievable views of Camel’s Hump. As the self-appointed Franklin County Ambassador of BVTMB, I’d like to introduce you to three of the Van Lovin clan’s favorite local trails.
Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge, Swanton
The Refuge itself consists of over 6000 acres in northern Franklin County. It was established in 1943 as a safe haven for migratory birds. There are over 200 species of birds that have made their summer homes in these wetlands, including bald eagles, osprey, and great blue heron. There are a number of well-maintained hiking and walking trails throughout the Refuge that bring you along the Missisquoi River and Maquam Bay shoreline. Most of them are open year-round (if you’re feeling adventurous in February).
Our favorite is the Stephen J. Young Marsh trail, which is an easy, relatively flat 1.25-mile loop through the woods around the marsh. We’ve been going to this location since my youngest was about 3, so it’s a great walk for little legs. At the beginning of the trail, you’ll find an observation deck overlooking the marsh. If you’re lucky, you can spy on ducks and egrets, and you might even get a glimpse of some nesting osprey. We’ve had some pretty cool wildlife sightings with the kiddos, from turtles to crayfish, salamanders to garter snakes. This trail is our tried and true “what should we do today?” activity because we’ll never know what we’ll find when we explore. It’s a great place to teach our kids how important preserving fragile habitats is, and how we can help keep our environment clean.
Saint Albans Town Forest Trail, Saint Albans
French Hill Road takes you out of Saint Albans Town proper and into the Town Forest. Follow the signs to Forest Drive and park at the trailhead, and off you go on another loop that leads you past a beaver pond that’s full of awakening life in the springtime. You can look for frog eggs and tadpoles at the water’s edge, and songbirds’ nests overhead. It’s an area that has limited cell service, so it almost feels like you’re venturing off the grid. I couldn’t tell you how long the trail is because my hiking app wouldn’t load.
We took our time the day we went with some family friends. We had a picnic on the trail, and spent a couple of hours wandering down the trail with the kiddos (two 4-year-olds and an 8-year-old).
The adventure doesn’t end when the hike is over: taking French Hill Road back to Saint Albans will give you some of the most spectacular views of northern Lake Champlain you’ll ever see.
Hard’ack Recreation Area, Saint Albans
You might know Hard’ack as the ski and sledding hill in Saint Albans, with groomed trails and a tow rope to get skiers up to the top. You might also be familiar with it if you live near here and have kids involved in the Recreation Department’s soccer program. But the best part of Hard’ack is behind all of this: miles of trails groomed for hiking and walking.
You can get to the trails by walking up the ski hill, or by parking further down on Governor Smith Drive and finding the “back entrance”. There’s space for the kids to run ahead, trees and rocks to climb and play in, and if you find the right trail, you might end up looking out over Lake Champlain. Fall is a perfect time to wander along the trails with the maple leaves crunching beneath your feet.