Contributed by Katie Levy of Adventure-Inspired
On a recent trip to Vermont and New Hampshire, I had a chance to hike above tree line, which isn’t something I get to do often, living in Pennsylvania. When you’re out of the woods and above the trees, it’s an incredible feeling. You’ll see different types of (typically very fragile) vegetation, have expansive views of the world around you, and if you walk up, you’ll know you’ve earned every bit of that experience!
Mount Mansfield, Vermont
At 4,393 feet above sea level, Mount Mansfield is the highest peak in Vermont. It’s particularly special because it’s one of few places in the state where true alpine tundra can be found. That being said, park officials take great care in protecting the foliage and preventing erosion; some trails up the mountain are closed from mid-April through Memorial Day. On top of the unique flora, if you look at the mountain from the east or west, it looks like a very long human face, complete with a chin, nose, and forehead.
The most popular way to get to the top is via Underhill State Park and one of four trails leading up the mountain. The Sunset Ridge and Laura Cowles trails provide the most direct access to the summit, aka the chin. I used the Sunset Ridge trail on a recent trip and it was steep, but absolutely worth the climb once my hiking partner and I popped out of the trees. Hikers can use the Long Trail to visit all three facial features, and a toll road gives folks not interested in making the tough climb up a chance to park close to the nose. It’s absolutely worth a trip if you’re in the area, but be prepared for crowds in the summer months.
Mount Marcy, New York
Growing up in Upstate New York meant frequent trips to the Adirondacks for outdoor adventure, and one of my favorite peaks to climb there is Mount Marcy. At 5,343 feet above sea level, it’s the highest point in New York and at the heart of the High Peaks Region, one of the most beautiful parts of the state. Most of the mountain and the surrounding areas are covered by thick woods, but the last few hundred feet take hikers out of the trees and above the world below.
The options for accessing Mount Marcy are seemingly endless, depending on whether you’re looking for a day hike or an overnight backpacking trip. The Van Hovenberg trail, which starts at the Adirondack Loj, is the shortest (around seven miles one-way) and most popular way up the mountain. It’s a long day trip, but there’s plenty of backcountry camping in the area, and every time I’ve visited, I’ve stayed at least two nights. I’ve been to Mount Marcy via the Johns Brook trail and Johns Brook Lodge, and from Lake Colden via Four Corners; it’s tough to go wrong in that part of New York State.
Mount Lafayette, New Hampshire
At the northern end of Franconia Ridge, 5,249-foot Mount Lafayette stands above other nearby peaks, but not by much. It’s home to a variety of small, fragile types of alpine foliage, which is part of what makes it special, but what I loved most about climbing Mount Lafayette is the ridge walking it took to get to the top.
A variety of trails give hikers access to Mount Lafayette and Franconia Ridge, depending on whether you’re interested in visiting just the top of the mountain, or walking along the ridge to neighboring peaks. I did this loop counter-clockwise over Memorial Day weekend this year, covering nearly nine miles and visiting Little Haystack and Mount Lincoln before coming to Mount Lafayette. It’s one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve done in the Northeast, and thought it was packed, it’s well worth the trip. Be sure to add the Greenleaf Trail to your route, stop at the Greenleaf Hut (4,220′), and bring cash; even if you’re not an overnight guest, snacks are available for purchase there and after that hike, you’ll need the energy.
If you choose to do any of these hikes, keep a few key things in mind. First, weather changes very quickly when you’re up that high. Watch the forecast carefully, and stay below tree line if storms are predicted. Second, wear sturdy shoes and consider hiking poles to support you on the way down steep trails; your knees will thank you. Third, stay on the trail. As tempting as it can be to run around on the rocks above tree line, it’s tough enough for alpine vegetation to grow in the first place; stepping on fragile plants certainly won’t help.
Have you been to any of these mountains? Sound off in the comments!