Mt. Philo State Park
Location: Up a mountain via Mt. Philo Road in Charlotte, Vt.
Type: Overnight camping and day-use area
Camping: 10 tent sites and three lean-tos plus a day-use area at the very top of the mountain.
Things to do: Climb the mountain! Hiking trails lead from the base to the campground and to the summit.
Amenities: Running water, compost toilets (not as scary as that sounds), ice and firewood for sale, 60-person indoor pavilion for rent.
The sun was already setting as we made our way up the winding access road to the top of Mt. Philo. It was late summer on a Friday night and we didn’t know what to expect for our first camping experience on top of a mountain.
One of the other travelers on that road that evening was a solitary hiker, his head hung low, dragging a thick rubber tire by some chains behind him. Who was this guy? Why was he pulling the tire with some Sisyphus-style determination? We hoped this strange sight was not indicative of the Mt. Philo’s mountaintop campground (it turns out this is a popular new exercise fad).
Mt. Philo’s campground is tiny -13 total sites near the peak of a medium-sized Vermont mountain –and feels quiet and remote. A handful of fires flickered around us, as we set up camp in a declining sun under a canopy of trees. The camp was full for the weekend, but there were zero sounds of society. The rest of the world felt hundreds of miles away. This is Vermont’s oldest State Park and it felt like it.
Morning came and that’s when the people showed up – hikers making their winding way up to the summit and families driving their fat cars up the narrow road to the summit parking lot. Mt. Philo is very popular during the day as locals and visitors flock to see the 968-foot mountaintop view of the Adirondacks, the Green Mountains, and a stretch of Lake Champlain. There are several ideal spots for viewing at the summit and several comfortable Adirondack chairs set up movie theater-style for those who get there early.
Driving the summit parking lot may sound tempting, but I would encourage every able-bodied visitor to climb the mountain. Not only is the effort worth the final view, but the uphill, three-quarters of a mile trail passes through some of the state’s best exposed bedrock, the result of glaciers scratching and soaking the landscape 12,000 years ago.
Don’t miss the Devil’s Chair on the trail by the same name. Located in a shaded enclave down a slope in the trail, the chair certainly looks like a good place for demons and monsters to take breaks and ponder their station in life.
The campground at Mt. Philo is just off of the main trail and is a 15-minute hike from the summit. All the sites are relatively private, very shaded, and just far away from the daytime activities to continue the sense of solitude. Workers with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built the campground, access road, summit picnic area, and ranger quarters back in the 1930s. In many ways, the campground retains the same charm from that era.
Our camping trip coincided with the first full moon of August. After dark, once all the day-trippers had gone home and the ranger already made his rounds, we ascended the last part of the mountain to the empty, moonlit summit. We were surprised that none of the other campers made the trip too – the full moon was booming in the sky as large, rain-less clouds, crept across the landscape. Still, there was no competition for those Adirondack chairs.