Spring in New England brings beautiful relief from the endless below freezing temperatures of its lingering winter–there’s nothing quite like the first sixty degree day after so many cold months. However, New England’s spring brings something else, too: mud season.
An Unexpected Factor
I have always thought that the melting of snow and frequent rain were to blame for the squishy ground and stained sneakers that color April and May in Vermont. While these two factors do play a role in the excess of spring mud, there is another element at play. Throughout the winter, the ground remains frozen due to persistent cold temperatures. When the temperature is consistently above freezing come March and April, the ground begins to thaw. This process takes a few weeks, and while the ground is still partially frozen, snow and ice melts aren’t absorbed by the ground, so the water has nowhere to drain. Soil gets even more waterlogged because trees don’t have their leaves yet and can’t absorb as much groundwater as they do later in spring and summer. Cue: mud.
Mud Season Considerations
There’s more to consider than footwear when mud season rolls around (although that is very important). Hiking and biking trails are greatly impacted by mud season, and staying off these trails does more than keep your shoes clean. Mud-ridden trails can be damaged by hikers and bikers through muddy use, so it’s best to choose more durable surfaces, like gravel or paved paths.
It is especially important to stay off muddy trails at high elevations (above 2,500’). This is crucial in protecting rare and fragile vegetation growing in alpine zones. Hiking and biking through the mud causes soil compaction and erosion, which makes it harder for vegetation to grow and thrive.
Don’t worry! There are plenty of ways to enjoy the outdoors while staying off the muddy trails. Biking or hiking on harder surfaces, paddling, and birdwatching are fun activities that also protect the environment.
Our Favorite Mud-Season-Safe Activities in Vermont
- Canoeing on the Leicester River
- Hiking dry regions of the TAM (Trail Around Middlebury)
- Plunging into Bristol Falls
- Running on hard-packed dirt roads
- Biking on gravel and paved surfaces
- Hiking Mt. Philo (Charlotte, VT) or Mt. Ascutney (Windsor, VT) while the access roads are still closed to cars
- Spending time on Lake Dunmore. Whether you’re playing spikeball on the shoreline or kayaking on the water, Lake Dunmore is a beautiful Addison County spring destination.
Stay up to date with trail conditions and closures using resources like trailfinder.info, Green Mountain Club Visitor Center (802-244-7037), VMBA Trail Conditions, or Trailforks.com.