Tristan Von Duntz
Sarah and Elise hiking at Barr Hill Natural Area
To adventure is to engage in an exciting activity, especially the exploration of unknown territory. That is, according to the dictionary. As a lifelong adventurer, excitement and uncertainty has drawn me to hiking, mountain biking and backcountry skiing. Adventure is something I have always reveled in, spending hundreds of days and nights exploring trails, campsites, and backcountry by foot, bike and ski. I have always loved heading into the unknown.
Having a baby can put an abrupt stop to adventure and exploration — if you let it. Sure, parenting is an adventure in its own right: That little one is exciting and unknown territory. But my own motherhood experience has to involve adventuring into the outdoors with my child, too. Doing this successfully requires planning, and so that "unknown territory" part of the adventure experience can be hard to come by as a parent of a baby or toddler. It's still possible, though. A recent trek to the Northeast Kingdom provided just the right mix of unknown territory and family fun.
My family hopped into the car on a warm and sunny Sunday and headed to Barr Hill Natural Area
in Greensboro. It was a photo assignment for my partner Tristan (see his pictures
along with an article in a recent issue of Seven Days
, Kids VT
's sister publication), and we took the opportunity to explore a new place. A little bit of internet research gave us directions to the trailhead and told us that the views were amazing. We couldn't wait.
Tristan Von Duntz
Taking in the view while nursing Elise at Barr Hill Natural Area
After a few wrong turns, and some guidance from a woman walking her dog, we headed up a dirt road that led into the natural area. Sure enough, the views were outstanding. We parked the car in a pull-off and readied our gear for a short hike on the nature trails. I stood by the car facing an expansive view of the Green Mountains from south of Killington Mountain to Mt. Mansfield. I raised my arms overhead, stretched them wide and breathed in the fresh air.
We started our hike up a double-track road alongside old fields and ancient, sprawling maple trees. The wind rustled a field of tall grass as we walked by. After gaining some elevation, the forest changed to a spruce-fir-hardwood mix, and the air took on the scent of fresh pine. Our daughter, Elise, bopped along in her hiking carrier, happily looking at all the things I pointed out: spruce boughs, fuzzy seed heads on tall grasses and some chickadees flitting by.
We eventually came to the start of an interpretive trail, where we signed a register and picked up a map. It was marked with letters that matched sign posts along the trail where we could learn about the natural history of each spot.
Shortly after starting out on the trail, we came to a broad, open hillside. It was dotted with picnic spots including fire rings, and had two signs that identified the mountains that had come back into view. And speaking of that view: It was even better than at the car. This place had the feel of a mountaintop, but the access of a dog park. We spent ample time taking it all in and letting Elise crawl around on the grass.
We eventually pulled ourselves away from the view and walked the whole trail. It was rolling terrain through beautiful forest, and afforded several more lookouts from rocky outcroppings. One lookout showed us the mountains further north, from Mt. Mansfield on to Jay Peak and beyond into Canada. We finished the trail looking at thick beds of club mosses, curled pieces of birch bark and crunchy fallen leaves. Then the trail circled back out to the grass hillside where we started. We sat down and took one last look.
This family hike had everything we were looking for: big mountain views, open space and a sense of heading into the unknown. Since we're experiencing the hiking season that just keeps on giving (read: no snow), I highly recommend checking this place out. Once the snow falls, the area becomes part of the groomed ski-trail network at Highland Lodge
and Craftsbury Outdoor Center
(stay tuned for that adventure in a later post). While you're in the area, check out Hill Farmstead Brewery