When should one hike the Long Trail?
New England weather takes a toll on a trail. Long stretches of rain can wreak havoc with a trail, making it a muddy slew. Late winter/spring snowfalls can do the same. Black flies and mosquitoes can be bothersome as well. All that said, a few bug bites and wet feet should not keep us from a great walk in the woods.
Most of a season’s thru-hikes of the Long Trail are between the 3rd week in May and the 3rd week in October. The bulk of the thru-hikers are doing the trail between mid July and mid September.
My 2013 hike of the LT was in early June (started June 4th). Early June is typically considered the beginning of hiking season for a thru-hike of the LT. Reading the shelter journals and trail registers, it was pretty clear that not too many people had already been out on the trail..really just a handful of hikers.
Weather on the trail for the first two weeks of June was typical – a mix of cold/rain and sunny days. Several days at the beginning were quite cold, especially at the higher altitudes. My time on Mt Mansfield was very cold, blustery and without a view. On my ascent, water was coming down the trail as if it were a small stream. But this is not atypical of Northern New England for June. Nearing mid June at the end of the hike, I experienced days in the high 70s and walked in what many would consider ideal hiking weather. The trail at this time of the year had sections that were very muddy. Some stretches for well over 50 feet had water 6″ + deep.
In 2011, when I hiked the southern 100 miles of the Long Trail while on the Appalachian Trail, it was the first week of August. Had a bit of rain at the begin and end of the week….but not much really. I had heard many folks comment on Vermont as being ‘Vermud’, but in reality, the trail was in quite good condition. Once into the heart of summer, it really depends on the previous weeks precipitation. One day’s rain can be soaked up by a day of sunshine, but a few days can make for standing water.
Black flies and mosquitoes can be burdensome in New England, but by early June when I started the trail (2013), they really weren’t too bad. May and June are really their season. Summer can bring the mosquitoes out for sure, but each summer is different. Generally, I’d prefer to carry a very light headnet and a small bottle of deet, and get out whenever the schedule allows.
Looking to the future, I look forward to thru-hiking the LT during the fall colors at the end of September/early October, as well as in the winter. Snowshoeing is quite enjoyable in New England, and descending in the white fluff (if one is lucky enough to have it) is a wonderful thing.