Staying Active During Mud Season

Muddy boots

As mud season challenges Vermonters' outdoor activities, this article provides alternative suggestions for staying active.

Mud season can be a challenging time for Vermonters who want to stay active. With daytime temperatures warming and snow disappearing from the mountains, most of us have already put away our winter sports gear. We’d like to resume warm-weather activities like hiking and mountain biking, yet many of those trails are a sloppy mess. We’re often stuck waiting for drier conditions. 

Fortunately, there are several ways you can get exercise outdoors during mud season without having to slog through the goo. In this article, we’ll give you some ideas for mud season outings. We’ll also provide tips for how to use mud season to get a jump on preparing for summer fun.

Hiking Trail Alternatives

Hiking is a popular activity year-round in Vermont, but using high-elevation trails during mud season is discouraged to prevent them from being damaged. Hikers are asked to plan alternative lower-elevation outings.

“During mud season the ground is thawing, so not only are you getting snowmelt, you’re also getting groundwater coming up and that is contributing to the really muddy conditions,” says Chloe Miller, communications manager for the Green Mountain Club (GMC), the nonprofit organization that maintains about 500 miles of hiking trails in Vermont, including the 272-mile Long Trail. 

Hikers’ footsteps during mud season compact the soil, Miller explains. That exacerbates trail erosion, as water is not able to adequately drain in compacted soils.

Another source of damage is from hikers walking around muddy spots on trails. “When most people encounter a big mud puddle, they don’t want to step directly into it. It’s very natural to want to go around the mud puddle, and that widens the trail, which impacts the vegetation alongside the trails,” she says. It’s especially a concern at higher elevations where fragile plants grow.

Trails on state lands are closed during mud season. If a trail is closed, there should be a sign posted at the trailhead, Miller says. Hikers can also find information about a trail’s status by using the Trail Finder website.

Despite trail closures, there are plenty of alternative hikes you can do during mud season, Miller says. Some of the best utilize automobile roads that go up to mountain summits. “Mount Philo and Mount Ascutney are two of the most popular mud season hikes, because you still get some great elevation and views. You just walk up the road instead of the trails,” she says. 

The GMC has published a list of suggested mud season hikes on its website. It’s important to choose trails less susceptible to damage when conditions are muddy, Miller says. “The thing people should aim for is thinking about durable surfaces — gravel and paved trails.”

The GMC’s Visitor Center, located at its headquarters in Waterbury Center, is another source of information about good mud season hikes. Staff can make recommendations based on your preferences and many guidebooks and maps are available for purchase.

If you’d like to hike with a group of people, GMC section members regularly organize daytrips to locations around the state. A calendar of events is on the club’s website. 

Easier Walks

Vermont’s thousands of miles of dirt roads are great for scenic walks in the summer and fall, but foot-deep ruts and wide swaths of muck make them less ideal in springtime.

For mud season walks, consider an outing on one of the state’s four rail trails. Normally busy with bike traffic in the warm months and snowmachines during the winter, Vermont’s 149 miles of rail trails get less use in the spring.

Their routes cross gently rolling terrain, making them perfect for easy walks. Surfaces are compacted gravel, which keeps mud to a minimum. Motorbikes, ATVs, and other recreational vehicles are not allowed on rail trails, leaving them in good condition during mud season. There are many other recreational paths in the state that offer excellent walking opportunities in mud season. They include:

  • Island Line Trail: This paved path runs along the Burlington waterfront and then heads north along the shore of Lake Champlain, crossing into Colchester. A unique experience is following the trail to the Colchester Causeway, where the lake is on both sides of the path and gorgeous views are all around.
  • Stowe Recreation Path: Beginning in Stowe’s village, this paved path runs for more than five miles along the Mountain Road and offers splendid views of Mount Mansfield.
  • Newport Waterfront Recreation Path: Seven miles of paths wind along the shore of Lake Memphremagog, connecting to the Beebe Spur Rail Trail.
  • Ethan Allen Park Trails: These trails go through Burlington’s Ethan Allen Park in the city’s northern end. Not to be missed is a stop at the Ethan Allen Tower, built in 1905.
  • South Burlington Recreation Path: A 26-mile network of trails through South Burlington’s neighborhoods offers a wealth of walks.
  • Montpelier’s Hubbard Park: The 200-acre park in Vermont’s capital city has seven miles of trails, and a stone tower with stairs that you can climb to get a view of the capitol building and surrounding mountains. If you’re in the mood for more walking, head across Elm Street to North Branch River Park, which offers both level walks along the river and steeper trails in the forest.

For directions to these trails and more, check out the Trail Finder website, which has details on hundreds of Vermont trails.   

Preparing for Summer Hikes

Vermont’s hiking season doesn’t get into full swing until Memorial Day weekend, when all the trails are typically open. To be ready for summer hikes, the GMC suggests take time during mud season to prepare. 

For example, walking an auto road to the summit will “get you a similar amount of elevation gain and cardio burn” as a trail hike, says Miller. Excursions on rail trails and bike paths also help build endurance, she adds.

The GMC offers educational workshops during mud season to help people gear up for hiking season. There is a Hiking 101 online series for beginners. More experienced hikers who want to backpack overnight can view the GMC’s annual End-to-Enders panel discussion, which gives tips and advice for successfully completing longer hikes on the Long Trail. Check the club’s events and workshops page for more information.

Mud season preparations should include reviewing your hiking gear, Miller says. “It’s a really great time to check out your gear to see if you need to make any repairs or need to replenish any of your hiking supplies,” she advises.

Protecting Biking Trails

If you prefer to ride through Vermont’s forests instead of hike or walk, mud season can impact you as well. Mountain bike trails can be easily damaged during mud season, according to the Vermont Mountain Bike Association (VMBA). That means bikers should stay off them until they dry out.

“If your tires leave a noticeable rut in the trail, turn around and find a durable surface to ride elsewhere,” the association says. If there is standing water on the trail, that’s also a clear sign to turn around. “Riding through puddles drags moisture further down the trail, creating more mud and mud holes,” the VMBA says. 
In its mud season guidelines, the VMBA says bikers should check trail conditions beforehand through resources like the VMBA website or a trail-finder app like Trailforks. If a trail is closed, bikers should respect that and look for drier trails.

Not only can riding in muddy conditions damage trails, it can also accelerate wear and tear on your bike, including the drivetrain, suspension, and bearings, the VMBA adds.

Bikers looking for mud season alternatives can check out Vermont’s rail trails, which feature rides on either pavement or well-drained gravel surfaces. Be sure to check a trail’s status before heading out, as some trails may be closed to repair recent flood damage. For a more strenuous mud season workout, consider riding up one of the mountain auto roads mentioned earlier in this article. A list of Vermont bike trails is available on the TrailLink site.   

Mud season is also a great time to get your bike ready for the summer ahead. You can get a professional tune-up at one of Vermont’s many local bike shops. Or you can do it yourself with a small investment in tools and cleaning agents like chain degreaser. For more information, check out this article on giving your bike a spring tune-up and cleaning. There are also many how-to videos on YouTube. 

Enjoy Spring

If you like to stay active, you don’t have to get bogged down during Vermont’s mud season. Although some trails are closed, there are plenty of alternative hikes and walks available to give you a good workout. It’s also a great time to try out some new activities, like outdoor yoga or rollerblading/inline skating on paved paths. 

With the days getting warmer and longer, we hope you’ll take the opportunity to get outside and enjoy spring!