A Dry Run of the Green Mountain Gravel Grinder

Welcome to Vermont, where quaint but lively little hamlets dollop the landscape, and the day-to-day is centered around agriculture and the great outdoors. With a culture fit for recreationalists and a topography friendly to pedal-power, one might think it’d be the perfect place to stage a multi-day bikepacking adventure, and they would be right.

These aren’t original thoughts. Some time ago, the ‘Green Gountain Gravel Grinder’ made it’s debut on bikepacking.com. There are 240 miles and 11,000 ft of climbing that wind through northern Vermont’s scenic countryside, and manage to drop-in on sixteen craft breweries along the way.

Now, it’s called the green mountain state, but that’s really putting it in a box. Green is in the minority among foliage come late September, which is precisely when you should be out there riding this loop. It is a visual trip. The undulating terrain positions you perfectly to appreciate the bold colors of fall.

Fresh donuts and hot apple cider en-route. It’s okay to start salivating now.

Favourite Sections and Stops

East Warren community market. Overheard the most preverse conversation between kitchen staff that almost made me eject lunch out my nostrils. Come for the laughs, leave with full-ish belly and snacks fo the road. Don’t stuff yourself though… the Lincoln gap is just around the bend.

Bristol Cliffs Cafe, just a few hours from Burlington. The best tempeh burrito con homemade salsa one could wish for.

With bike paths like this ushering you into town, Burlington doesen’t feel like big city

Zabby & Elf’s Stone Soup. Fantastic buffet-style Jewish food in downtown Burlington. Get a slice of raspberry pie to go.

Just past the city limits of Burlington appears stellar single track

More singletrack following the Winooski river upstream from Burlington

Rolling up on a backwoods barbecue; VT style

The final hours; following ridge line towards Montpelier

The final, flowing descent into Vermonts’ capital

The Harder Bits

Soggy farm track while descending the Waitsfield gap. Not pictured: bridge-less creek crossing traversed five minutes before. Prepare to pucker.

North of Stowe felt pretty ‘out there’. This is the only section of riding where I didn’t have strong cell service (verizon). There was some uncertainty where my next water refill was coming from. Fortunately, you’ll emerge from the boonies to Highland St. Cafe for some great eats.

Stowe – take it all in. Including a few extra sandwiches.

North of Stowe. Lots of this!

Where to begin?

Burlington is the easy choice if travelling by plane, and you probably wouldn’t be the first to assemble a bike in the arrivals lobby. Driving in from New England, Montpelier was my jumping off point. Local police suggested the park and ride for undisturbed overnight parking, contrary to what the signs at the lot say. The small capital city of 8,000 people also hosts a superb co-op grocery store complete with a delicious hot buffet. Keep those calories front of mind.

Classic, colourful architecture to be ogled

Clockwise is the suggested loop, but aside from two sections, the direction of travel isn’t important. The Lincoln gap is a steep no matter the approach. The more concerning bit is the section considered ‘unrideabe’ called the Waitsfield gap; Clockwise it is a slow, rough, and brakey descent on jeep track, ascending from the other side would not be pedalable.

Cold, misty mornings.

Crossing one of Vermont’s many covered bridges. Fun fact, an uncovered bridge would rot out within 10-15 years of construction, where covered bridges could last up to 50.

Running Dry

Since there’s no scarcity of water on this route, I’m hinting at the booze. Mixing a physical endeavour with alcohol isn’t appealing to me, so this was a sober ride. This enabled cutting off some of the elective, out-of-the-way brewery stops, and ultimately compressed the suggested 5 days into 3 days of riding.

On the straight and narrow

What to pack

As a chronic over-preparer, my bike was on the heavier side. Three days of freeze dried dinners, plus oatmeal for breakfast, and 1000 cal/day of snacks was overkill. I ate less than half the food I brought. There is no shortage of little markets, cafes, brewpubs, to fill up on en route. Please send me a note if you’d like to see the packing list.

Being self-sufficient for some meals allows you to get further out to the prized camping spots.

Where to stay

Plenty of options for wild camping or leave the tent at home and BnB it. If you are camping, planning ahead isn’t really necessary as good spots will tend to present themselves along the route. Respect private property, leave no trace.

A quiet forested nook along the route

When to go

The month of September is prime time for the foliage and lack of bugs, but watch the forecast for rain and temperature swings. I began the ride on Sept 28 when the nights just touched freezing. On the second morning, I wore every layer of clothing that I’d brought and still had ice blocks for feet. Brrrrrrrr.

Rolling fast through the hills near Stowe.

Riding Conditions

The terrain is 95% hardpack dirt road. Highway gravel, they call it. Virtually no rolling resistance even with fairly knobby tires (WTB Ranger). The balance is a blend of city pathway (Burlington), and then some fun ATV/Jeep track that will serve as a nice change of pace during the trip. The 3″ tires on my Fargo were overkill, but I’d still recommend a bike with 35-40 cc tires at minimum.

Remember, you don’t need the fanciest bike, bags or gear to make this trip happen. The GMGG is a great starting-off point for anyone looking to adventure on two wheels.

Other Details

Here’s the GPS track showing how the route was staged. I’d do it again!

Day 1 – Day 2 – Day 3

Thinking about this trip, or looking for more details? I’d be happy to hear from you. Get in touch via the comments below.