If your New Year’s resolution is to exercise more, then try breathing in the fragrance of pines while you take a long walk outside. Don’t let snow deter you. Simply strap on a pair of snowshoes and make your way through forests, along rivers, and up mountain trails. The sport’s recent surge in popularity stems from the ease of learning. Attach the snowshoes to your feet and chart your own course. Try any of these seven locales, all of them personal favorites.
WOODFORD STATE PARK
Ten miles east of Bennington on Route 9, Woodford is one of those parks that locals would prefer to keep a secret. Head beyond the gate and you’ll be treated to a loop through majestic winter scenery along the shores of a frosted pond and under dense evergreens. Head down a short hill before reaching Adams Reservoir. Sunlight glistens off branches heavy with snow and the only sound you’ll hear is the rapid patter of a woodpecker overhead. Walk on the main hiking trail up and down short hills and over rushing brooks before returning back to the gate. www.vtstateparks.com
MERCK FOREST & FARMLAND
CENTER, Rupert, Vt.
Located northwest of Manchester, near the New York border, this forest features 26 miles of trails through rolling farmland and stands of sugar maples. A former home of George Merck, president of Merck Pharmaceuticals, the 3,160-acre farm is now run by a nonprofit organization dedicated to education and preservation. Park at the visitors center, grab a map, and walk through the gate onto Old Town Road. You’ll pass a red barn and grazing horses. Bearing right and heading uphill, Old Town Road eventually reaches Spruce Lodge, a picnic spot overlooking Mount Antone and the other mountains of the Taconic Range (trails continue up both Antone and Spruce Peak, offering grand pastoral vistas). If you choose to skirt Birch Pond, you’ll find numerous yellow sugar ties in the woods, signaling your arrival at the sugarhouse. During early spring, the sugarhouse is in full operation, and manufactures over 200 gallons of syrup a year. The syrup can be purchased at the visitors center. Guided Saturday family snowshoe walks are offered through February.
ROBERT FROST INTERPRETIVE
TRAIL, Ripton, Vt.
When there’s snow on the ground in Ripton, Middlebury walkers head to the nearby Robert Frost Interpretive Trail. In 1920, the 44-year-old poet moved from New Hampshire to Vermont. For the next 39 years, he would summer in a log cabin standing on the crest of a hillside in Ripton. The state adopted Frost as a native son, designating him official poet laureate in 1961, and in 1983 bestowing the name “Robert Frost Country” to this section of the Green Mountain National Forest. The mile-long level path weaves through a setting where seven Frost poems are posted at regular intervals. The trail is particularly well suited for a winter stroll since many of the mounted poems like “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and “A Winter Eden” are set in the season. Their words perfectly complement the scenery. www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/greenmountain
STOWE RECREATION PATH, Stowe, Vt.
This path is popular with walkers year-round. A little over 5 miles, the paved trail starts behind the Stowe Community Church on Main Street and weaves back and forth over the Little River to the foothills of Mount Mansfield. Gradually, the trail becomes more rural, venturing over rolling pasture where cows graze. Never far from the restaurants on Mountain Road, you can have lunch and then make your way back to town.
FRANCONIA NOTCH STATE PARK RECREATION TRAIL
Crowded in the summer and fall, this 9-mile trail will be practically all yours in the winter. The trail starts at the Flume, an 800-foot-long gorge with steep walls. Next stop is the Basin, a granite pool 30 feet wide and 15 feet deep. Called a pothole by geologists, this strange cavity was formed by a melting ice sheet 15,000 years ago. When Henry David Thoreau saw the Basin in 1839 he said, “[T]his pothole is perhaps the most remarkable curiosity of its kind in New England.” Stroll uphill and you’ll find the large sign for the 2.5-mile Basin-Cascades Trail, a relaxing snowshoe walk along a rolling brook. Or stay on the Recreation Trail for a view of Profile Lake and the state’s official symbol, the dearly departed Old Man of the Mountain. The final stop is Echo Lake, whose iced-over waters stand at the base of Mount Lafayette and Cannon Mountain.
ACADIA NATIONAL PARK
Bar Harbor, Maine
Carriage path trails here offer an unparalleled snowshoeing thrill: the chance to smell the heavy brine of the Atlantic while walking on snow. Forty-three miles of trail head deep into the piney interior, continuing all the way to Northeast Harbor and the ocean. One of the best loops is around Eagle Lake, steadily climbing, only to head downhill when Cadillac Mountain dramatically comes into view. This will whet your appetite to hike to the top of this 1,532-foot peak, the highest point on the Atlantic coast north of Brazil. The popular 27-mile Park Loop is closed in winter so you’ll have the summit of Cadillac to yourself. On a clear day, you’ll see Frenchman Bay’s numerous small islands and, closer to shore, yellow and orange lobster buoys bobbing near the town of Bar Harbor. www.nps.gov
BEARTOWN STATE FOREST
This 12,000-acre forest on the outskirts of Great Barrington and Stockbridge in the Berkshires offers one of the best winter strolls in the region, a 1.7-mile loop around Benedict Pond. Park at the entrance and you’ll immediately understand the allure, with 1,863-foot Livermore Peak and 2,155-foot Mount Wilcox towering above the pond. Walk through the pine forest and you’ll have wondrous vistas around every bend of the loop.
Stephen Jermanok can be reached at www.activetravels.com.