It finally happened–we agreed to take that road trip, the one everyone dreams of. We rented a pop-up trailer, threw the dog in the back, and just went…. Ok, really, I planned meticulously for months, but still…..road trip!!!!
Stop 1 on the East Coast Road Trip??
Smuggler’s Notch, VT.
I had it all planned out. We had only one night there (even though I had to pay for two—weird park rule)—and there was a mountain to hike there, damn it, so we would make time!!!
According to Google Maps, the drive from Toronto area to Smugglers Notch should take 6 ½ hours, and according to my Garmin GPS, it would take 7. Ok, so we leave the house at 6 am, grab some coffee along the way, eat a packed lunch en-route, (cross the border and clear customs without a hitch) and arrive by 1, surely. Right? Wrong.
Mistake #1–do not cross border before it is absolutely necessary. On our side, you follow the 401 E highway (going 100+km/hour) almost all the way to Montreal. But no, we wanted to cross early–despite being told that on the other side of the border, main roads were smaller, went through every little town. That wounded quaint, right? Sure quaint. But time-sucking. And then it appeared that my GPS was determined to take me on every back route through the Northern United States—in a circular pattern. After a very lengthy detour where my GPS kept trying to make us drive in ever-increasing circles to force me to cross a bridge that was under construction and closed, we arrived at the (top of) the Notch at 4 pm. And immediately upon cresting the peak, dragging a rented pop-up trailer with my SUV, the skies opened and let loose a rainstorm the likes of which I had never seen. As. We. Drove. Down. The. Notch. The water was a foot deep, sluicing down the road, which was barely wide enough for oncoming cars to pass on, which had no shoulder to pull off on, which had hundreds of drenched hikers spilling out onto.
We didn’t even know the GPS was taking us THROUGH the Notch en-route to our campsite. We just kind-of assumed we’d check in, drop the trailer, and go for a drive to find it. Nope. It found us. That’s what I get for typing Smuggler’s Notch into my GPS. Such a newbie.
The downpour continued as we checked into Smuggler’s Notch State Park, continued through our entire and very first pop-up trailer set-up. Rain ponchos don’t do much good when you’re looking up, when your arms are stretched over your head. Our poor dog was terrified and trying to cower under our feet, getting absolutely soaked. And little did we know, so were our beds. So we slept on a tarp on that first night.
And of course the rain stopped shortly after we finished setting up and finished dinner. The sun broke through, giving up spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, the forest, and the clouds that were still clinging to the tallest peaks.
At the state park, we stayed in site 20. This is the cutest State Park ever! There are only 20 sites in total, and half of them are walk-in sites (what is a walk-in site? It means you park, and hike your gear 100 ft-300 ft into the woods, taking you away from the road for better privacy—you get to pretend you long-trail hiked but didn’t actually have to). And roughly a third of Smuggler’s Notch State Parks sites also have lean-to shelters. We don’t have either walk-ins or lean-to’s in our Ontario Provincial Parks. Or our National Parks. Canadians—you MUST see these lean-to’s!!! They elevate tent-camping to a whole new level! So it was that I learned that camping in Canada and camping in the US are two colossally different things. This particular State Park is this very woodsy, a very natural campground, tiny as possible, but with perfect sites, flush toilets, showers, and NOTHING ELSE. There are dozens of very well-known, very challenging trails all AROUND the State Park, but no resources IN the park. No matter. We came to climb the Notch, and we did not. Weather and time did not cooperate.
Would I return here? Totally! For several days this time. With a tent. And I’d get a lean-to site.
On the way out, we did pause long enough to hike Bingham Falls. Awesome falls. Well worth the detour. In warmer and drier weather, we would have taken a swim in the current at the bottom of the falls.
And on our route out, we got to drive through the cute little town of Stowe. And just totally drool. It’s just the most perfect, quaint all-American town with a ridiculous amount of kitschy shops. But alas, short on time and with a dog in tow, it was just not meant to be.
Smuggler’s Notch, thanks for the adventures, and you will surely see me again, sigh….. Until then… We were off to Acadia National Park, Mt Desert Island, Maine.