If you enjoy the snicking noises proffered by Juncos, narrow, rocky trails and an inkling of a new place to hike in the winter, I'd... more » suggest this set of mountains. Nestled behind the Sterling ridge and Spruce if you're looking from Stowe, Whiteface, Morse and Madonna each offer a unique take on the area. Whiteface offers a staid, treed summit, Morse offers an in-your-face view of Beaver Meadow, Mansfield and everything in between. Madonna makes no bones about it, you're no longer in the backcountry; not with a ski lift and buildings to boot.
The first two and a quarter miles just fly by though the trail is pretty wet in some places and in need of some planks. Be sure to wear waterproof shoes and to keep off the berms. After passing the first turnoff to Beaver Meadow Lodge, the trail tightens up and by the second turnoff, it changes completely. Gone is the gentle, rolling singletrack road: in its place lies a pretty chunky challenge up to the Whiteface shelter, to the tune of 1,000 vertical ft per mile.
The Whiteface Shelter is a lean-to maintained by the Green Mountain Club (GMC) and offers commanding views to the southwest (Madonna). If you plan on starting on the trail early in the morning, this is a good place to eat. Drop packs if you like and head up the four tenths of a mile up Whiteface, but be careful. The climb is even more rocky in places than what you have encountered so far. Expect Hell Brook Trail-like levels of scrambling and wet rocks.
Whiteface summit is treed and has many social paths leading to views and three to other trails. Be sure you know which way you came once you get up, it can be confusing on the way back down.
Grab your pack at the shelter and head over to Morse. There is a bit of a climb out and a false summit, but when you have a clear view of Beaver Meadow facing ESE, you have arrived. Head on over to the Chilcoot Trail intersection and then to Madonna, eight tenths of a mile after. Once you pop out onto the ski trail, you have a choice of taking that up or stay straight and you will find a ladder on the other side of the ski trail, indicating where the Long Trail goes. After summiting Madonna, turn around and come back to the Chilcoot Trail and prepare yourself for a steep, rocky descent to the plane of Beaver Meadow.
Once you've gotten yourself down here, check out or use the Beaver Meadow Lodge, also a GMC property. Hang a right over the stream and you will eventually find yourself back at the first cutoff for the Beaver Meadow Lodge and the Chilcoot trail. Turn right here and head back to the car.
It's a lovely way to spend the day and if you like, spend the weekend by staying in either the lodge or the shelter. less «