Bikepacking the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area, Vermont

This past weekend my friend Jonathan and I set out of Boston for a weekend of bikepacking in Vermont. I had been eyeing the Green Mountains for some time, and after a trip to REI where I picked up some National Geographic maps of the region, one of the places that stood out immediately was the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area east of Middlebury, Vermont.

Route_OnlyWith a number of mountain bike trails already mapped, I quickly googled “Moosalamoo bikepacking” and came across a recent trip report that was publish in Bikepackers Magazine by Justin Carter and Harris Bucklin (two great guys I know from winter fatbiking events in Vermont). After some very helpful email exchanges with Justin about other route options, we decided on a slightly modified route that would fit the limited time that we had over the weekend.

We left Boston late on Friday night and spent the night camped just north of Middlebury along Otter Creek. The weather conditions for the weekend were not good: heavy downpour late on Saturday and Sunday after weeks of rain and saturated soil conditions that forecast possible flash flooding. We had originally planned to extend the route done by Justin and Harris by starting up Lincoln, Vt and then riding the Natural Turnpike down to Ripton. However, we opted to start at the Oak Ridge trailhead (as they did) to make the most of more technical singletrack further into the ride during the little good weather we were expecting throughout the day.

Our revised route took us up the Center Turnpike, a relatively steep climb into the Moosalamoo Recreation Area that quickly confirmed the wet conditions that would characterize much of the rest of the trip. Jonathan had his Surly Pugsley and I brought my Krampus Ops, both of which were quite up to the task of floating through the wet and muddy stuff in all but the worst parts.

Jonathan in the slop on his Surly Pugsley early into the first ascent up the Center Turnpike.

We had originally intended on climbing the Oak Ridge-Mount Moosalamoo trail, which turns off of the Center Turnpike, to descend down Mount Moosalamoo and then hook up with Goshen-Ripton Road. However, access was temporarily closed due to trail work and so we unfortunately had to bypass, heading straight instead to Goshen-Ripton Rd. (Vermont 32). I definitely want to come back for this piece of missed riding. That said, it was hard to complain about a little extra bit of riding on Goshen-Ripton Road, which is a beautiful stretch of Vermont Gravel Road that climbs its way southward out of the Middlebury River Valley into the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area, complete with beautiful canopied forest and views to Mount Moosalamoo.

From Goshen-Ripton road, we descended toward Silver Lake along the Goshen Dam Trail, which is somewhat questionable as this is part of the VAST trail network (see original report). However, based on conversations with the Forest Service, information on the web, and information from other locals we deemed passage as an acceptable risk and fair use. This section is predominantly a double-track fire road with some very fun rollers that ultimately dropped us into one of the wettest and swampiest sections of the route, complete with abundant recently felled trees. Having had to cut out a few sections of trail that we intended to ride earlier in the day, we arrived at Silver Lake earlier than we anticipated. Instead of setting up camp when it was still relatively early and the weather was still holding out, we decided to ride the Chandler Ridge and Leicester Hollow trails, fully laden with gear, before returning to Silver Lake where we would camp for the night.

Mount Moosalamoo and Silver Lake as seen from Chandler Ridge. We chose to ride this section north to south, a decision we were happy about after we'd see the drop / gain in elevation on the south side of the ridge.

Chandler Ridge is an amazing trail, best ridden north to south if loaded with gear, or on legs of questionable stamina late in the day (thank you for that piece of advice Justin!). The climb out of Silver Lake is nothing short of some of the most perfect, switchback-laden singletrack I’ve encountered recently. You quickly work your way onto the ridge to enjoy amazing views of Silver Lake to the east, and down to Lake Dunmore which sits at lower elevation along the western edge of the ridge. The trail continues to undulate along the crest of Chandler Ridge before a rather abrupt drop in elevation, which when ridden southward blessed us with a fun winding descent that would have otherwise been a lot more challenging climb if we had ridden this fully laden in the opposite direction.

The ride back northward to Silver Lake along the Leicester Hollow Trail was a bit slower going at the start, with rockier technical sections and a number of downed trees that had to be navigated around or through. These numerous hike-a-bike obstacles definitely tired us out late in the day, but it was hard to complain after such a great day of riding. None-the-less, the Leicester Hollow Trail opened up to greet us with some of the most picturesque singletrack that we would ride during our trip, characterized by tall canopied and open forest with low green undergrowth of ferns, or the occasional fields of stinging nettles!

After the southernmost mile or so, and just after crossing a bridge to the east side of the creek, Leicester Hollow Trail opened up into some of the most scenic singletrack through canopied forest and lush undergrowth.... and fields of stinging nettles....

We rolled into our campsite at Silver Lake (first come first serve camping, fyi) just around 6 pm, which was just enough time to get setup, refill water at the nearby spring, and make dinner before the bulk of the storm activity was set to hit that evening. Sleep came quick after a long day on the saddle and some 12 year old Caol Ila single malt scotch that I had packed along for good measure!

The next morning greeted us with rain and abundant debris on the trails from high winds and storms the night before. Having pushed through the Chandler Ridge and Leicester Hollow Trails already, our route out was relatively short. The steep climb out of Silver Lake to Silver Lake Road definitely got the blood pumping early in the morning, but got most of the climbing out of the way quickly so we could enjoy this great section of gravel road en route back to Goshen-Ripton Road. Once back on Goshen-Ripton Road we headed north where we got to enjoy miles of fast-paced gravel descents, undoing our efforts climbing into the recreation area the day before. The route back to the car was a similar rapid descent along the only asphalt of the trip – Vermont 125.

Jonathan pedaling through light rain along Silver Lake Road. This photo does no justice to the sense of scale and openness one feels out here.

Back at the car, and having had a great two days of bikepacking complete with all the fun one would expect – great singletrack, some epic climbs and conditions, and some hike-a-bike – there was only one thing missing: beer. Luckily, Middlebury, VT (just minutes west of the Moosalamoo Recreation Area) is host to the Otter Creek Brewing Company, which was the perfect place to cap a great weekend.

For anyone interested in a region perfect for short (e.g., overnight) or extended bikepacking trips in New England, I would highly recommend checking out the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area. There is a lot more to explore than we had time for, or that the conditions allowed at the time. Recently, one of the guys I know from my favorite LBS in Boston – Bikes Not Bombs – did a similar ride to ours and made a video showing some of the fun that can be had in the Area.  More pictures and additional route details in the gallery photos below.

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