Snowshoeing at Smugglers’ Notch: Trek or On Your Own?

“I’m so glad that Glenn and Hannah didn’t come along,” was the refrain running through my head as I struggled to keep the pace of my guide on a Snowshoe Trek through the forest in Smugglers’ Notch, Vermont. Even though the trek is billed as “easy” and I had been told it was more of a
meander through the woods, either my recent lack of exercise was seriously catching up with me or that message hadn’t been communicated to my particular guide. Snowshoeing is a sport we’ve been wanting to try for a while, but since Hannah hadn’t been feeling well the day before, I was doing this one on my own, while Glenn and Hannah went at their own pace.

I knew I was in trouble as soon as I arrived at the Smugglers’ Notch Nordic Center. It was a balmy day, expected to reach in the mid-40s, but I was dressed for winter in my base layer, snow pants, jacket, hat and gloves. I felt a bit like a heroine of a romantic comedy who tries her best to impress but shows up totally overdressed — like Legally Blonde goes to Vermont. I was quickly given snowshoes and brought out to meet my guide and the two other people who would be taking part in the Sunday morning “Forest Heritage” trek.

More suitably dressed in their hiking pants and fleece, they took one look at me and commented to the guide how they hoped to “get a real workout” on the trek. “Oh crap,” was all I could think. “These people are going to hate me if I slow them down.”

I expected a bit of lesson how to use snowshoes, but within minutes, and without instruction, we were off on our 90-minute trek through the forest. Luckily it is pretty easy to figure out on your own…basically just walking, a bit awkwardly. We set off at a nice brisk pace and began to climb. Heart pounding and sweating profusely, I tried in vain to keep up the pace while also stashing my hat and ski gloves into my already full pockets, wondering if I fell behind how long it would take for anyone to notice.

Snowshoeing in Smugglers' Notch -- falling behind again on the Deer Loop

Falling behind again

Occasionally the guide did stop to give a quick note about the types of trees in the forest or point out some animal tracks. Honestly, I’m not sure exactly what he was saying because in the minute it took me to catch up to them, he was already finishing up and ready to move on. Eventually we paused long enough for me to take off my coat and tie it securely around my waist, which made a huge difference. Also by this time, we had reached flatter ground.

bear tracks in the woods at Smugglers' Notch in Vermont

Bear tracks??

I wish I had a chance to stop and take pictures, or even enjoy the scenery around me, but I was so focused on keeping up the pace and putting one foot in front of the other that I didn’t have a chance to enjoy my surroundings.

About 45 minutes in, we took a five minute break at a pavilion in the woods with picnic tables and benches. You can see how hot I was here, and I’d already taken my coat off.

Tamara snowshoeing

Cooling off during our break

The rest of the trek was pretty easy, mostly on flatter ground and downhill, as we made our way back to the Nordic Center. Altogether, we covered a bit of three of the intermediate and advanced terrain snowshoe trails — Fox Loop, Deer Loop, and Bobcat Loop. I don’t think I held the group back too much, or if I did they must usually run these trails. I know we had all hoped to see some wildlife, and our guide talked about moose, bear, bobcats, deer and more, but honestly with the noise it makes clomping through the woods with a group on snowshoes, I don’t think you should set high expectations on seeing wildlife.

I’d really like to try snowshoeing again, and may even invest in some for next winter, but I definitely think I’d prefer to go at my own pace. Even though I’d still want it to be a workout, I’d also like to take the time to enjoy the outdoors more and appreciate my surroundings. Some treks may be different, but I didn’t get anything out of the guided trek from a naturalist or coaching perspective.

Luckily, Glenn and Hannah had more luck on their own. They headed out on the Moose Loop, which is approximately 2.2 miles of beginner terrain. Moving at their own pace, they were able to enjoy the walk, even though they too were overdressed!

Creek in woods snowshoeing in Smugglers Notch in Vermont

Bottom line: If you a very fit and an experienced snowshoer, then you might enjoy a snowshoe trek. For a family of beginners — definitely try snowshoeing at Smugglers’ Notch but use the trails at your own pace!

Smugglers’ Notch has four easily-marked trails for snowshoeing and offers snowshoe rentals at the Nordic Center $20 per person. The Nordic Center is located on property, right next to the Smugglers’ Notch FunZone and skating rink, easily accessible using the free shuttle. They also offer various guided Treks, both beginner and intermediate, and those range from $25-48 per person. If you are going to take a trek, I strongly recommend speaking to someone first about your fitness level, the pace of the trek, and what type of guide will be leading the trek.

Snowshoeing Tips for First-Timers

  • Dress appropriately — water-resistant or quick dry hiking pants over a base layer would be more than sufficient on a warm day
  • Use a fitness tracking app to measure your speed and distance so you can always judge if you want to turn around or keep going on a particular loop — chances are, it will feel like you have gone farther than you have
  • You don’t need lessons or a guide as long as trails are clearly marked, just make sure there is someone that you sign in and out with who knows which trail you are using
  • Bring water!
  • You may want to bring a small cinch sack if you need to shed layers, carry water/snacks, etc.
  • Apply sunscreen, lip balm and Aquaphor or something to protect your cheeks from cold and wind on colder days
  • Take your time and enjoy the scenery!

PIN THIS FOR LATER

Snowshoeing at Smugglers' Notch in Vermont -- should you take an organized trek or set off on your own? Here is the answer.

Note: Our stay and activities were hosted by Smugglers’ Notch to facilitate this review. All writing and opinions are my own, based on my and my family’s experiences during our stay.

4 Comments on “Snowshoeing at Smugglers’ Notch: Trek or On Your Own?

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  1. Oh boy you don’t look happy in that picture but Hannah is totally having fun. I want to try snow shoeing but no wild life for me please:)

      Ha! Yes I was tired, sweaty, and regretting a few of my choices…mainly my attire and decision not to bring water with me.

    Sorry to hear you had this experience! I’ve heard similar stories from other people about snowshoeing. I’ve gone twice and both times were leisurely and relaxing. There should be some sort of standard so people know what to expect!

      I think I’d love it at my own pace. I hope that came through. I just didn’t get anything out of doing the trek except probably a better work out. But I’d definitely recommend renting snowshoes and doing the trails as a family.

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