During an end-of-summer visit to Vermont, my friend, Catherine, suggested a “sunset” hike up Snake Mountain. We didn’t see the sunset, and got a little lost on the way down (despite the fact it’s an easy loop-trail with signage), but we had a mountain of laughs on this little adventure and learned a lot, too.
Geography Snake Mountain is part of a series of scattered hills extending from the greater Taconic mountain range, and is oddly separated from other mountains within the range so that it appears prominently up 1,287 feet from the surrounding flat landscape of Champlain Valley.
1,215 acres span the upper slopes and summit of Snake Mountain. Not far from the summit is Red Rock Pond, a small, shallow pond surrounded by hardwoods and a rocky ridge. Near a summit known as Cranberry Bog is a 10-acre wetland about 33 feet deep and more than 9,500 years old.
At one time, locals referred to it as “Rattlesnake Mountain”, likely because of the venomous Timber Rattlesnakes believed to be living within the rocks and ledges. Local legend also includes the story of a menacing “Black Beast of Snake Mountain” haunting the mountain slopes.
During a period of time when mountain top resorts offering guests fresh air and breathtaking views were popular in the Northeast, Addison County resident and Vermont State Representative, Jonas N. Smith (1805 – 1884), built the Grand View Hotel on the summit of Snake Mountain in 1870, and it then became known as Grand View Mountain. The hotel was destroyed by fire and abandoned in 1925, but reminders of its history are still visible on Snake Mountain, including the hotel’s concrete slab foundation at the summit and the carriage road that once shuttled vacationers up to the hotel (still used today by hikers as the main trail to the summit).
In 1959, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department began acquiring land in order to establish the Snake Mountain Wildlife Management Area for the purpose of conserving wildlife habitat and providing public access.
Habitat and Wildlife Snake Mountain is home to many creatures, plants and a few snakes.
Herbs and Wildflowers Among the forests and wetland grow white trillium, dog’s-tooth violet, bloodroot, sweet cicely, beech-drops, large-flowered bellwort, bishop’s-cap, hepatica, Canada-violet, dwarf ginseng, small-flowered buttercup, Christmas fern and rattlesnake fern. Look for back’s sedge, four-leaved milkweed, handsome sedge, needle-spine rose, hair honeysuckle, large yellow lady’s-slipper, podgrass and squaw root. The Vermont state-endangered Douglas’s knotweed has also been found.
Mammals White-tailed deer winter in the area. Coyote, bobcat, red and gray fox, raccoon, cottontail rabbit, gray squirrel, and the occasional moose and bear also inhabit Snake Mountain.
Birds Snake Mountain provides opportunities to see a variety of “birds of prey”, including eagles, falcons, hawks, vultures, ospreys, and the less common harriers during migration (mid-September to early November), and peregrine falcons have nested on its cliffs. Woodland songbirds, woodpeckers and owls can also be spotted as well as wild turkey and ruffed grouse. [Birds of America]
Reptiles and Amphibians You can find a variety of salamanders (red-backed, Jefferson, four-toed, blue-spotted and spotted), American toads, spring peepers, gray tree and wood frogs on Snake Mountain. Milk, brown and garter snakes may also be seen.
Recreation Snake Mountain is open to regulated hunting, trapping, hiking and wildlife viewing. A network of walking trails crisscross the mountain and provides access to the summit, Red Rock Pond, and Cranberry Bog. The accessibility, easy climb, and expansive views of Champlain Valley and the Adirondack Mountains from the summit make it one of the best beginner hiking trails in Vermont and a local favorite.
Hiking Trails & Tips
♦ “It’s muddy and buggy”. That was the advice we were given by a local, and it was spot on. Don’t forget the bug spray, along with water, binoculars and camera.
♦ The hike to the summit and back is approximately 5 miles and can be accomplished in about 2 hours. During our hike, a runner using a pair of trekking poles passed us going up & down the mountain. The guy was flying, and I decided I needed some of those poles! * SHOP Trekking Poles and Hiking Staffs That’s a great workout; however, the fun of Snake Mountain is the experience of getting away, exploring, enjoying nature and the views. Take your time, stop, rest & look around, and listen to the quiet of the forest.
♦ The main trail starts at Wilmarth Road up the old carriage road. It’s a wide path with a steady 30% incline and bypass paths along the way to help hikers avoid muddy spots. The trail gets rockier, narrow and winding as it gets higher with a jag left about 1/3 of the way up. (The road to the right is Mountain Road Extension, and you don’t want to go there during either the ascent or descent because you’ll wind up back tracking.) Just short of the half-way point, the trail connects on the left to a more narrow and steeper alternate summit trail that takes hikers past Red Rock Pond. Either trail takes you up, but probably best (especially for first-timers) to continue to the right on the old carriage road, and descend down by way of the Red Rock Pond trail or back over again the easier old carriage road trail.
♦ Some of the trail paths cross over private lands. Be respectful and watch for signs (seems simple enough, but so easy to take a wrong turn). The “Wilmarth Road →→” sign is there to guide hikers away from a wrong turn on Mountain Road Extension during descent, but my friend and I were distracted and missed it, and (you guessed it) had to double back once we finally realized the trail was not looking quite right.
♦ Dogs are allowed, but must be leashed.
♦ Plants may not be picked on public land.
How to get to Snake Mountain
Snake Mountain is located in west-central Vermont between Addison and Weybridge. From Burlington, drive South on Route 7 to Route 17 West toward New York. From Middlebury, drive from the college north on Weybridge Road (23); turn left/west onto Route 17.
At the Route 22A intersection (there’s a general store and white town hall building), turn south on Route 22A. Drive 2.5 miles and look for Wilmarth Road street sign (a gravel lane that cuts through fields). Wilmarth Road intersects with Mountain Road, and you’ll see the start of Snake Mountain trails at the intersection. Turn left onto Mountain Road. Park a short distance down the road in the small, unmarked gravel parking lot on the left.
Snake Mountain Wildlife Management Area
Mysterious Snake Mountain by Chad Abramovich, Obscure Vermont (October 28, 2013)
Snake Mountain From the Secret Side by Christian Woodard, Addison County Independent (December 7, 2011)
The Fall Migration of Raptors by Emily Brodsky, University of Vermont EcoBlog (October 2, 2011)
Snakes of Vermont, Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department
iNaturalist Vermont Mission: Spring Ephemeral Wildflowers by Kent McFarland, Vermont Center for Ecostudies (April 26, 2014)
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Feature photo of view from summit of Snake Mountain is courtesy of Flickr user, Jeanne Mayell, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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