Friday, August 21, 2015

Fort Dummer State Park: Sunrise and Sunset Trails (Blog Hike #537)

Trails: Sunrise and Sunset Trails
Hike Location: Fort Dummer State Park
Geographic Location: south side of Brattleboro, VT
Length: 2 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: August 2015
Overview: Two short loops featuring two overlooks.

Directions to the trailhead: In southern Vermont, take I-91 to US 5 (exit 1).  Exit and go north on US 5.  Drive US 5 north 0.2 miles to Fairground Road; there is a traffic light at this intersection.  Turn right on Fairground Road.  Drive Fairground Rd. east 0.5 miles to Main Street and turn right on Main StMain St. becomes Old Guilford Road, which deadends in 1.1 miles at the park entrance.  Pay the small entrance fee, then drive uphill to the T-intersection at the center of the campground.  The day-use parking area is on the left of this intersection; it is signed simply as “parking.”  There is only room for 2 cars here, but additional parking is located at a picnic shelter you passed on your way up the hill.

The hike: Not to be mistaken for the comparative of dumb, Fort Dummer State Park occupies 217 acres of wooded land on a bluff overlooking the Connecticut River.  The park’s name comes from the historic Fort Dummer, which in 1724 became the first permanent English and European settlement in present-day Vermont.  The fort was initially established to protect settlers from Indian attacks, but it later protected the Massachusetts Colony to the south against French attacks from the north.
            The actual fort was situated on the banks of the Connecticut River, a site that was submerged by the construction of the Vernon Dam in 1908.  The park’s origins lie with the construction of I-91, which cut off this land from the rest of the Town of Guilford in the 1950’s.  In the early 1960’s, the land was transferred to Vermont’s Department of Forests and Parks, and the park was established in 1962.
            The park’s main attraction today is its 50-site campground, which is open Memorial Day to Labor Day.  The park has three hiking trails, and the two that lead to nice overlooks form the double loop described here.  As the names indicate, the Sunrise Trail leads to an east-facing overlook, while the Sunset Trail leads to a west-facing overlook.  The Broad Brook Trail (not described in this blog) leads steeply downhill to a swimming hole.
Sunrise Trail trailhead
            The Sunrise and Sunset Trails form independent loops, so you can hike them in either order or just one of them if you desire.  I chose to start with the Sunrise Trail because its trailhead lies just across the road from the day-use parking area.  The single-track dirt Sunrise Trail enters the woods at a point marked by a small wooden sign.  In only a couple hundred feet, the trail forks to form its loop.  For no real reason, I chose to turn left and hike the loop clockwise.
            Heading north, you pass through a low-lying area full of hemlock trees.  Wooden bridges get you over the worst of the wetness, which would cover a significant area during Vermont’s late spring mud season.  Copious blue rectangular paint blazes keep you on the official trail and off of some wild trails.
            The trail curves right twice as it climbs on a gradual grade toward a small knob.  At 0.5 miles, you reach the top of the knob and the east-facing overlook for which this trail is named.  The view from here is fantastic.  The Connecticut River and the lake created by Vernon Dam sit in the foreground while New Hampshire’s Bear Mountain stands in the background.  A bench here encourages you to sit and take in the view.
Sunrise overlook
            Past the overlook, the trail descends moderately to reach its lowest elevation.  Maple trees are more numerous in this part of the forest.  Curving right, a brief climb closes the loop, after which a left turn and a short walk return you to the parking area and complete the Sunrise Trail.
            Whereas the Sunrise Trail started right beside the parking area, the start of the Sunset Trail takes more effort to find.  Head south on the gravel road into the southern part of the campground, the part containing sites 27-51.  Where the road splits to form the southern campground loop, turn right to start hiking the loop road counterclockwise.  Just after passing campsite #37, look to the right for the signed gravel spur road to the playfield.  Turn right and walk across the playfield.  The signed trailhead for the Sunset Trail is at the rear of the playfield.
            Another single-track blue-blazed dirt trail, the Sunset Trail tops a small rise before descending to its west-facing overlook.  At one time this overlook provided a nice view of the rolling Vermont hills and farms to the park’s west, but now the view is largely blocked by a pair of large pine trees.  This viewpoint is the only overlook on the Sunset Trail, so make of it what you can.
Sunset "overlook"
            The trail curves right at the overlook and begins a gradual descent.  Traffic noise from nearby I-91 enters your ear as you approach the bottom of the hill.  At 1.6 miles, you reach the bottom of the hill and an intersection with a gravel road.  As directed by a sign, you need to turn sharply right to continue the Sunset Trail.  Following the gravel road in the other direction would take you to the main park road near the park entrance.
Boyden farm structure
            A couple hundred feet later, you reach the brown homestead that is the remnants of the Boyden farm.  The building is actually in decent shape considering it dates to the 1880’s.  Past the farm, the gravel road continues by climbing on a gradual to moderate grade to return you to the campground playfield, thus ending the Sunset Trail.  Turn left to get back to the main campground loop, then hike the rest of the south campground loop road to return to the day-use parking area and complete the hike.


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