Mt. Mansfield may be Vermont's highest summit, but Camel's Hump is surely its most distinctive. In fact, it's one of the most distinctive sights in New England, and it belongs near the top of the "Must Hike" list for any hiker on a summer tour of the region.
Exactly how closely the mountain's silhouette resembles that of a desert dromedary is a matter of opinion, but hikers universally agree that the mountain's National Natural Landmark status is well deserved. In the late 1600s, the mountain looked more like the king of beasts to Samuel de Champlain and his fellow French explorers, who called it Le Lion Couchant, the sleeping lion. In later years, as the story goes, rough-hewn Vermonters referred to it as the Camel's Rump before Victorian-era map makers applied a more refined name.
Vermont's third-highest peak (4,083 feet) is unsullied by chairlifts, highways or toll roads.
A hike up the hump has much to offer. A handsome forest of beech, birch and maple cloaks the lower slopes. Balsam fir covers the upper mountain, and a 10-acre tundra top, an Ice Age holdover, crowns the summit.
The Long Trail is one of several paths that lead through Camel's Hump State Forest to the peak. Vistas from the summit include Mt. Mansfield, the Adirondacks and both the Presidential and Franconia ranges of New Hampshire's White Mountains.
If there's such a thing as a typical Green Mountains hike, this is it: a climb through hardwood forest past a pond or bog, then a ridge-top junction with the famed Long Trail as well as some grand, pastoral panoramas.
Sampling the Long Trail ("one of the world's 10 best hiking trails," raves Backpacker magazine) is another highlight of the hike over the hump. The 265-mile-long, pride-of-Vermont path extends the length of the Green Mountains ridgeline and spans the state from Massachusetts to Canada.
Forestry Trail ascends through hardwood forest 1.25 miles to junction Long Trail, where you bear left a mile to Wind Gap, a divide between Mt. Ethan Allen and Camel's Hump. Long Trail begins a no-nonsense ascent from spruce-fir forest to the south end of the Camel's Hump ridgeline.
Access: From Interstate 89 in Waterbury, Vt., take Exit 10 and head south, then east on Vermont 100, which continues with U.S. 2 east. When the highways separate, turn right on Vermont 100, then turn right again in a quarter mile on Main Street.
In another quarter mile, Main Street curves sharply, but you continue straight onto River Road and follow this part-asphalt, part-gravel road five miles to Camel's Hump Road. Turn left and drive almost four more miles to road's end and trail head parking.
For the record: Recently I received a call from an Ojai Ranger District official about a hike I took 2 1/2 months ago, and which ran in last week's travel section ("Something Special Awaits Along the Wild Sespe River," June 27). The ranger said the last two miles of the road leading to Lion Campground has been closed to vehicle traffic in order to protect the endangered arroyo toad. Trail users must walk or bike the now-gated road (two miles) to the trail head. Overnight camping at Lion Campground also is prohibited.
Forestry, Dean, Long Trails
WHERE: Camel's Hump State Park.
DISTANCE: 7.4-mile loop with 2,600-foot elevation gain.
HIGHLIGHTS: Vermont's highest pristine peak, a National Natural Landmark.
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Strenuous.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation, 111 West St., Essex Junction, VT 05452; tel. (802) 879-6565. Or call, Green Mountain Club, 4711 Waterbury-Stowe Road., Waterbury Center, VT 05677; tel. (802) 244-7037.