Words & Photographs by Brian Mohr and Emily Johnson
Stowe has countless magnificent hiking trails, but if you’re feeling adventurous, consider veering off the beaten path during your next outdoor exploration.
Instead of sticking to an established route, follow a creek bed. Stream corridors are the natural trail networks of our mountains and valleys, having guided human travelers long before modern day hiking trails were established. And while they can be riddled with precarious ledges and slippery rocks, they also offer a unique perspective on the landscape they wind through. You’ll discover magical havens few others have stumbled upon.
You can walk along the bank, lulled by the tranquil sound of flowing water; hop from rock to rock down the center of the stream; or wade through the creek itself, the bracing cold swirling between your toes, offering relief from summer heat. Let the creek’s twists, turns, and undulations guide you past sparkling cascades, clear pools, mossy caverns, and one potential fairy house after another for the kids.
Streams are as varied as the terrain they traverse. Some drop precipitously, slicing through layers of ancient bedrock. They can be technically very challenging to navigate, requiring significant detours around steep descents and narrow chasms. Others flow gently away from the mountains, especially at lower elevations, offering solid footing mid-stream and plenty of space to meander along their banks.
Brian Aust, a naturalist at Little River State Park just south of Stowe and an avid stream walker, describes being hooked on what he calls “the tantalizing lure of what’s around the bend.” During his forays into Vermont creeks, he has unearthed a treasure trove of Green Mountains gems: enchanted glades, refreshing swimming holes, and rare views. “Time dissolves and even the setting sun is obscured by the dense foliage and ravine walls,” Aust says.
Finding a stream is part of the adventure itself. Keep your eyes peeled for easy-to-access waterways located off the side of the road or intersecting an established hiking trail. Once you spot a creek with potential, slide on snug-fitting sandals or water shoes and a backpack with extra layers and plenty of snacks. Since this is true backcountry hiking, play it safe by going with friends.
Whether you get your feet wet or not, make it a quick outing or follow your stream to its source high up in the mountains, one thing is certain: “At the end of the day, your body will be sore and tired in places that you didn’t even know existed,” Aust says. Happy trails!