Mud season is rough because the weather is nice but the trails are a mess (or closed).  I would love to get out on the trails and stay overnight in a shelter at these lovely temperatures (high 50s-60, low 40s) before the bugs come out.  However, that’s not been an option.  Enter: Merck Forest and Farmland Center.  I found out about it because a friend stayed in a cabin there this winter.  In my desperate search for somewhere, anywhere, to get outside during mud season, I discovered that they also have shelters and some trails open (basically all the trails that are actually dirt roads, but I’ll take it!).

We booked Stone Lot for one night and headed down to southern Vermont.  It was a bluebird day and it didn’t take long to walk the one mile from the visitor center down to the shelter.  On the way, we passed farm animals, fields, and baby chestnut trees before coming to the shelter by itself in the woods.

It didn’t take long to set up our gear, check out the nearby stream, and collect downed branches and sticks for a fire.  We leisurely cooked dinner and started the campfire before dark.  It was a beautifully clear night to enjoy the fire and moonlight before turning in early to enjoy the coziness of sleeping bags in the chilly spring night air.

Then a woodpecker woke me up at 5am by pecking on the shelter.  He would occasionally move to a nearby tree, only to come back to the shelter.  I eventually gave up trying to sleep and started reading instead.

Eventually we got breakfast going, then packed up and headed out for a hike.  It would have been easy to drop our full packs back off at the truck and hike with daypacks instead, but we decided to keep the full packs for training.

It was easy to piece together the dirt roads throughout the property to make a long loop hike with some elevation gain.  After walking back up Stone Lot Road to the Barn, we made a left onto Old Town Road and then Lodge Road, seeing lots of spring ephemerals and evidence of a working forest along the way.  It was nice to be able to check out some of the cabins on the hike too, to pick out favorites for later.

We turned left off Lodge Road to go up to the Viewpoint Cabin, a very tiny, cozy place with amazing views.  The picnic table was a nice spot to sit and snack, but with the clouds blocking the sun and the wind blowing through up there, we had to put our jackets on to stay warm.  We ended up keeping them on most of the day as it seemed to get cooler as the day progressed.

We went back down to Lodge Road, turned left, and then right on Kouwenhoven Road, passing by sugar lines in a few places.  We somehow got off that road onto another similar trail that was either old or unmarked and came out on Old Town Road again.  We were above The Glen, instead of below it, but we were soon back on track.  We continued down Old Town Road all the way to Lookout Road, doing some climbing before taking a side trail out to a view for lunch.

Then it was back to Lookout Road and left on Antone Mountain Road to get to Antone Mountain at 2600′.  The summit had a small view, but we kept going a little farther to a bench with a nice, wide view.

Then it was back out to Antone Road the way we came, and north again to Old Town Road, the Barn, and the parking lot.  We managed a 10.5-mile loop on the open trails there, and it could have been longer!  This is definitely a place I will be returning to for mud season backpacking and for winter cabins too.  I think I might even be able to handle skiing in to a few of the cabins.