We believe the best time to hike the LT is in the autumn. A winter thru-hike would require skis or snowshoes and would be very cold and challenging. Early spring through Memorial Day is out because portions of the trail are closed to hikers due to the infamous Vermont “mud season”. The late spring insect hatch makes the place uninhabitable for insect-averse wimps like us until mid July at the earliest. Late fall is hunting season.
Autumn is perfect as the rainfall isn’t any worse than other times of year, the bugs are gone, the daytime temperatures, mostly from the mid 40’s to the 60s, are perfect for hiking, the waves of north bound AT hikers have mostly passed through, and the days are still long enough to get some miles in. Most importantly, if you are there when the leaves are changing color, usually between late September to mid to late October, the forests are glorious.
In September and October it normally rains in Vermont about one day in three, so we expected at least some of our trip to be wet, perhaps very wet. After our particularly soggy spring trip to Scotland, we figured we would make 2013 the year of wet trips. However, the Vermont weather gods were exceptionally kind to us and we had a grand total of about 3 hours of rain, most of it late in the day after we had stopped in a shelter. Additionally, the temperatures were quite mild and we had no frosts. Our good weather streak, with multiple consecutive stunningly beautiful days was truly fortunate, as the Vermont natives we met on the trail pointed out.
The Green Mountain Club maintains over 50 shelters along the LT. These wooden structures come in both four sided and three sided versions and sleep between 8 and 24 people. Most are in surprisingly good condition considering both the age of the structures and that they are used by the public with rarely any official supervision. They are available for use by anyone on a first-come first-served basis and there are usually a few places nearby to pitch a tent if the shelter is full.
The shelters are always near a source of untested water and have separate privy structures over pit or composting toilets. Sometimes you sleep on the floor and sometimes on bunk platforms sleeping one to many. Most shelters are reported to be infested with mice and food should be hung, although we saw neither mice nor mouse scat. Boot-eating porcupines are also reported to be a problem, but we only crossed paths with one of these animals. Only one of the shelters we visited had any views.
The LT crosses the top end of more than a dozen ski lifts. At many of these lifts there were unlocked warming huts that apparently can be used as shelters as well.
During the summer and early fall months, some of the more popular shelters have resident GMC caretakers and a $5 per person fee is charged to use the shelter or camp in the vicinity. This fee helps raise money to maintain the shelter network. Otherwise use of the shelters is free.
We stayed in shelters on a number of occasions and as it was late in the hiking season, we often had them to ourselves. We avoided staying in or near shelters with weekend crowds as the social scene and commotion didn’t appeal to us. It is likely that the shelters will be much more heavily used during the summer, especially on the section of the LT that is contiguous with the AT.
When not using the shelters, we spent the night in our tent. Campsites along the LT can be relatively easy to find in the beech-maple forests, but more difficult in the spruce-fir. Since the terrain is steep in a lot of places, finding a flat and level site can take a bit of time, but by using a topographic map, we were able to predict where likely sites would be found. The ground was relatively dry during our walk, so we never had to deal with a badly soggy site.