Cliff Trail

Stowe

Short but strenuous route from the top of the gondola to the summit of Mount Mansfield.

Hiking Extreme

Distance
2.1 km
Ascent
222 m
Descent
223 m
Duration
0-1 hrs
Low Point
1.1 km
High Point
1.3 km
Gradient
16˚
Cliff Trail Map

Of the many ways to reach the top of Mount Mansfield, Cliff Trail is the shortest, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Stow Mountain Resort rates it as a “double black diamond” hiking trail. This hike requires mild rock scrambling with fall potential. If you are not comfortable with that, consider a different route to the summit.

Description

The hike begins from the top of the Stowe gondola, which is a popular summer attraction. It lets off at a spectacular view and the location of the Cliff House restaurant, where you can enjoy a pre- or post-hike meal and beverage. From the top of the gondola, you’ll walk on a dirt road for a short distance before reaching the start of Cliff Trail. At the turn, a sign reminds you of the latest time you can ride the gondola down. If you don’t want to return to the bottom on foot, make sure you don’t miss it.

The trail starts out relatively mellow and much like any other trail on Mount Mansfield–ascending a rocky path with thick vegetation on either side. Soon, however, it comes to a near-vertical rock wall and skirts along its base for a little while. You’ll know when you arrive at the “cliff” section. The trail, marked with blue blazes, turns abruptly up into a jumble of boulders and onto a steep rock face. Hand and footholds are abundant, but you’ll need to use every limb to ascend.

After the initial scramble, the grade lessens somewhat, and you can stand upright while walking the steep, bare-rock path. Due to the humid Northeast climate, the rock is often wet and slippery, so use extreme caution. Soon enough, you’ll top out on the ridgeline of Mount Mansfield and intersect with the Long Trail. Long Trail North continues to the summit, and it is much easier going, as long as the weather holds. You’ll continue to walk along bare rock, now following white blazes. Take care not to step on any of the surrounding greenery, because the alpine environment is quite fragile.

When you reach the summit of Mount Mansfield, you’ll be standing on the highest point in the state of Vermont. It’s the peak of the mountain known as The Chin. All the lesser peaks are similarly named–The Forehead, The Nose, Adam’s Apple, etc.–because from a distance, the mountain resembles an elongate profile of a human face. Take time to take in the view, if there is one free of clouds, but be sure to leave plenty of time for the descent. Going down the slick rock can be more treacherous than going up, so the return trip may actually take longer.

Sources: https://www.summitpost.org/stowe-gondola-to-cliff-trail/166132 https://www.stowe.com/explore-the-resort/activities-and-events/hiking.aspx

Difficulty

Extreme

Scrambling up mountains and along technical trails with moderate fall exposure. Handholds are necessary to navigate the trail in its entirety, although they are not necessary at all times. Some obstacles can be very large and difficult to navigate, and the grades can often be near-vertical. The challenge of the trail and the steepness of the grade results in very strenuous hiking. Hikes of this difficulty blur the lines between "hiking" and "climbing".

High Exposure

3 out of 4

Some trail sections have exposed ledges or steep ascents/descents where falling could cause serious injury.

Remoteness

2 out of 4

Away from help but easily accessed.

Best time to visit

May, June, July, August, September, October

Features

  • Alpine
  • Picturesque
  • Summit Hike
  • Wild flowers
  • Forestry or heavy vegetation

Similar routes nearby

Guidebooks in this area