All photos/art by Gil Martinez
The 18-mile stretch of Route 108 that connects Stowe and Jeffersonville via Smugglers’ Notch is a destination in itself, as well as a way to get from one town to another during the spring, summer, and fall. It starts out looking like any other easily negotiable Vermont road, but after it courses past the resort-area businesses that trail north out of Stowe and leaves behind the ski area, it’s easy to see why no plow dares make the passage in winter.
Steep slopes crowd close once you reach Mount Mansfield State Forest, and Route 108 narrows to a blacktop corkscrew of a road with a 16 percent grade. On the Stowe side, there’s access to the resort’s gondola and auto road to Mount Mansfield’s summit, along with picnic and camping spots. Near the crest of the notch, where the dark walls of Mount Mansfield and Spruce Peak loom above the road, you can pull over and hike to Sterling Pond, the highest pond on the Long Trail. Here it’s never fully daylight, especially beneath the 1,000-foot rise that lofts to the stark rock formation called Elephant’s Head. Did smugglers really use this route more than two centuries ago to secretly transport supplies to the Canadian-based British army? If not, they should have: Not only is it the most direct way through the northern Green Mountains, but it’s also crammed with rocky nooks and crannies.
Vistas broaden after you navigate the sharp summit turns, and the road straightens on the way down past Smugglers’ Notch ski resort and into Jeffersonville. Now you’re in northern Vermont, where things are just a bit more rustic, and even a sizable ski area isn’t beset by bistros and boutiques. Take time to enjoy it before you make that drive back to the other side of the notch.