To call this 23-mile loop through the Lye Brook Wilderness inspirational barely gets at the truth. Sure, you can find taller peaks and less-traveled trails, but the stunning view from the high point–a fire tower atop 3,940-foot Mt. Stratton–is the spark that caused the creators of both the Appalachian Trail and the Long Trail to get to work. The Bourn Pond-Stratton Pond loop takes you through the heart of this 17,841-acre wilderness in Green Mountain National Forest near Manchester, Vermont. Most dayhikers turn back at Prospect Rock, a popular perch you’ll pass en route to grander rewards. Plan to stay at shelters, and you can travel light, leaving your tent at home.
Begin on Friday afternoon by climbing steep and gravelly Old Rootville Road, also called Prospect Rock Trail, a mile east of Manchester. You’ll immediately ascend an unrelenting 1,000 feet in 1.8 miles. Prospect Rock Trail ends at the spur to its namesake rock and the junction with the Appalachian Trail and Long Trail (which overlap for a 95-mile stretch). After enjoying the view of the verdant Otter Creek Valley and 3,816-foot Mt. Equinox (the tallest peak in the Taconic Range), continue south on the AT/LT.
You’ll cross a tributary of sleepy Bourn Brook at 2.7 miles, then come to the junction with the Branch Pond Trail at the boundary of the Lye Brook Wilderness (you’ll close the loop here on the way out). The change as you enter the designated wilderness area is immediate. First, you’ll cross several bog bridges (called “puncheons” by Long Trailers) as you pass through a lush hardwood cathedral. Colorful jewelweed blooms crowd against the foot-worn boards.
At 3.2 miles, you’ll reach Douglas Shelter, a classic eight-person lean-to nestled in a small clearing. Plan to spend your first night here.