Vermont’s scenic route 108, or Mountain Road, winds through Smugglers Notch. The notch has a vibrant history as a route for travelers on the Underground Railroad and Prohibition bootleggers. These days, Mountain Road is paved and the notch closes every winter, and during the warm months, tractor trailers following GPS instead of signs regularly get stuck on the narrow road. The notch is flanked by Vermont ski resorts—Stowe to the south, Smuggs to the north—and is bisected by the Long Trail. At the top of the notch you’ll find the trailhead for Sterling Pond Trail, one of Vermont’s great short hikes.
What Makes It Great
There are three reasons to hike the Sterling Pond Trail: exploring the historic and visually fascinating Smugglers Notch, the pond itself and the incredible views. The pond and lookout are at two separate locations at the top. This is nice because it thins out other hikers a bit. Sterling’s views have an extra cool factor in that it’s pretty fun to look out from the top of a chairlift over the Smuggs ski area.
At just about two miles, Sterling Pond Trail is short, accessible, scenic, and very close to the tourist-friendly town of Stowe and its many resorts. This makes it a popular hike. Start early or late and expect company. A brief, steep hike (about 900’ elevation gain) leads to an alpine pond and, just beyond, spectacular views over the Smugglers Notch ski area. A mile into the hike, Sterling Pond Trail meets the Long Trail. Stay to the left (Long Trail north) to reach the pond; continue bearing left around the pond for vistas over the Smuggs ski area.
The trail is well maintained to the point of manicured. In some sections, especially near the base and especially when the crowds are out, it can feel a little more like climbing a mall staircase than hiking. Don’t let this bother you. The trail rises steeply and traffic thins accordingly. Experienced hikers may be surprised by how quickly they reach the pond itself.
Sterling Pond is such an inviting swimming hole it’s a shame to not take advantage. In warm weather, do what 90% of other hikers will wish they did: pack a swimsuit, or hike in one. The pond is also open for trout fishing (permit required).
Who is Going to Love It
Moderate hikers, experienced hikers looking for a quick hike, trout fishers, photographers. It’s a fine hike for kids—steep but easy.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Leaving Smugglers’ Notch Resort, proceed south on Route 108 (uphill) towards Stowe for about three miles. Park at the top of the Notch in the parking area found on the right. The trail is located directly across the road from the information booth.