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Make the Most of your Spruce Peak Stay by Planning Ahead.

By Berne Broudy

It’s mid-June when my husband and I park along the Stowe Rec Path, double-check our pockets for snacks and sunscreen, triple-check that our water bottles are topped off, and swing a leg over our gravel bikes. With the West Branch of the Little River gurgling next to us, we point our wheels towards the crisp white steeple of Stowe’s Community Church.

Then we go where whim and dirt roads take us. A jog to the left, then another, and pavement gives way to dirt, the car traffic peters out, and before we know it we’re pedaling through one of Vermont’s iconic covered bridges. Holsteins and Guernseys dot the Sound of Music hillsides. So do red barns and restored farmhouses.

We pull off the road and grab a drink in the shade of fluttering maple leaves. After conquering a string of meandering climbs, we break for a snack and dip our feet into a cool pool beneath a mossy waterfall, making a mental note to return later for a dip.

The roads are dirt, but they’re firm and well-maintained. The last traces of snow have finally melted from the craggy summit of Mt. Mansfield. Yet we  still feel like we could be pedaling through Switzerland.  

Gravel Mania

If you’re a person who loves to see the world from the seat of a bike, or if the idea of taking the road less traveled beckons, it’s time to try gravel biking. Simply put, gravel biking is the act of cycling on dirt roads. Some rides are a mix of dirt road and pavement, while others include a dash of trail. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Vermont has more dirt roads than any other state. With nearly 8000 unpaved miles, gravel biking is the perfect way to explore.

Cyclists have been riding on dirt roads since the bicycle was invented, but in the past five years the popularity of gravel biking has soared. “We saw a massive uptick in gravel sales starting in 2019,” says Noah Tautfest, owner of Bicycle Express in Waterbury. “Gravel continued to grow in 2020, and it’s still the strongest segment in our shop.”

A report from Strava found a 48 percent increase in participating athletes between 2022 and 2023. And according to Cognitive Market Research, it’s projected to continue climbing 13.5 percent annually. A faster rate than both mountain biking and road cycling.

It’s easy to see the appeal. You don’t need technical skills to grind gravel, making it more beginner-friendly than mountain biking. It’s a great low-impact workout. You’ll score plenty of jaw-dropping views–but with fewer cars than you’d encounter on pavement. And while there are specially-designed gravel bikes (see sidebar on page 21), it’s not necessary to shell out big bucks; pretty much any bike will do.

Gravel cycling is also one of the most welcoming sports. The friendly community of fellow riders and bike shops love to swap routes, packing tips, and more. “It doesn’t matter what equipment, clothing, or body type you have,” says Former Tour de France competitor and Vermont transplant Ted King, who fell in love with gravel once he was off the pro-road circuit. “Having spent a career riding on roads, moving away from cars gives me peace of mind. Although gravel biking can be about winning races, for most of us, it’s just about having fun.”

Cycling Stowe 

Adventures await in every direction, whether you’re hoping for an all-day amble, a couple of hours of views with scenic snack stops along the way, or a fast ride with local heroes. “There are organized rides, pre-mapped rides, brewery and artisanal cheese themed rides, and roads where you can get lost until you want to be found,” says Tautfest. “Literally, you can do any length or difficulty of ride from Stowe.” is a great place to find done-in-a-day dirt road rides in Stowe—or anywhere else for that matter. If you’re feeling adventurous and want to hit the trail for an overnight or longer, has multiple routes in Vermont.

But don’t feel constrained to stick to pre-recorded tracks. Hop onto Google Maps, or a cycling-specific app like MapMyRide or Komoot, and chart your own course. Part of the fun of gravel riding is exploring. Start small, and build your own go-to routes alone or with friends. You’ll build confidence and fitness at the same time.

So saddle up. You may not have a favorite loop now. But give gravel a try, and you just might to get hooked. 

trail 1 trail 2 trail 3 trail 4

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