I meant to write this article for several days now, but it’s been a fairly busy time around the pond since the last post. I’m behind on the Garden 2022 story as well. The goal is to catch up this week and be more diligent going forward! 😉
The Sunday following my hike of Black Mountain in New Hampshire with my son, I still had nothing on the to-do list and felt energetic. Wheeler Mountain is pretty close to home, and I’d added it to the “I need something to do” list a few weeks ago for just this situation. So, at about 9AM off to Willoughby State Forest I went.
I’ve hiked Wheeler Mountain Trail three times previously, so this trip was nothing new. A walk with great views at the top. The State Forest is accessed via Wheeler Mountain Road off US Route 5, a bit south of Barton. The road is dirt, and passable for cars. Although the speed limit is 35MPH, we’re all better off taking that road at a slower pace.
A few miles in is the parking lot for the trailhead. On this day there was only one other car there, which is unusual, as this is a popular hike. It was forecast to be a very hot day for the North Country, and that may account for the lack of customers. While I prefer the cooler weather, hot days are also okay, as the temperature is usually lower in the woods. As long as you carry enough water and stay hydrated, hot days can be coped with effectively and enjoyed.
Shortly after starting along the trail you cross Wheeler Mountain Road and begin to ascend the ridge leading to the summit. I’m told that this trail is fairly new, and it replaced a more direct path. I don’t know why the trail was changed, but it’s the only one I’ve known since arriving in the neighborhood in 2017. The trail is standard-issue northwoods rocks & roots, with some packed dirt patches and minor boulder scrambling sprinkled about. I like it! There are also quite a few very large glacial irregulars strewn about the ridge, making for interesting scenery.
The hiking guides will tell you Wheeler Mountain Trail is a little over 4 miles round-trip, with an elevation gain of 1200 feet. There’s more to the story however. The summit is indeed 1233 feet higher than the parking lot, but as you crest the ridge at about 2200 feet the trail then descends several hundred feet before ascending back to the summit at 2366 feet. My guess as to the actual “ups” to the summit for this hike is 1500 feet. Perhaps a little more?
The second bonus feature of Wheeler Mountain Trail is that the trail doesn’t end at the summit. From the summit the trail continues to Eagle Rock, which is the real terminus of the trip, and where the great views to the southwest are, including a bit of Lake Willoughby.
The additional journey to Eagle Rock adds more “up” and distance as well, but it’s the fun variety, walking on granite rock face. Completely worth it, too, once you get to the views. I’m pretty sure I heard an eagle screech, but did not see him in the bright blue sky.
Being an out & back trail, the trip down is the same as the one up, except on the return trip the dip mentioned earlier might take a little starch out of you, having to climb up to go down. It is mostly downhill once you recapture the crest of the ridge at the small patch of ferns, where the trees draw back to let the sun peek through. Then it’s back into the cool canopied woods, and you know you’re near trail’s end when you make a final, sharp left turn after passing two enormous granite boulders.
By the time I reached the Jeep the temperature was almost 90° in the full sun. The air conditioning was on and the water was cold as I idled out of the State Forest, and I felt pretty good. Two mountains and ten miles of up & downs in two days- not a bad weekend!
Thanks for stopping by!
I think that’s why I keep going up there. Great views of the Northeast Kingdom.