Mt. Pisgah via South Trail and North Trail

Mountain:  Mt. Pisgah (2751')
Trails:  South Trail, North Trail, Route 5A
Region:  VT - Northeast  
Willoughby State Forest
Location:  Westmore, VT
Rating:  Moderate/Difficult  
Features:  Summit, views, cliffs, pond, brooks, loop hike
Distance:  6.9 miles  
Elevation Gain:  1520 feet (cumulative)  
Hiking Time:  Actual: 4:10   Typical: 4:15  
Outing Duration:  Typical: 6:30  
Season:  Spring
Hike Date:  06/05/2004 (Saturday)  
Last Updated:  05/19/2009  
Weather:  70 degrees, sunny, clear
Author:  Webmaster

Route Summary   

This is a loop hike over the summit of Mount Pisgah via South Trail, North Trail, and Route 5A. There are views from the summit ledges and also from several outlooks on the far side of the summit. You will see mountains in New Hampshire, Vermont, and Quebec, as well as a bird's eye view of Lake Willoughby below you.

  • Ascend South Trail for 0.5 mile then start looking to the left for three outlooks over the next 0.4 mile.
  • After 0.9 mile on South Trail, you will reach Pulpit Rock on the left, which offers views from about 500 feet directly above Lake Willoughby
  • Keep hiking up South Trail for another 0.8 mile which will bring you through an open ledgy area and then just beyond that to the summit of Mount Pisgah. From the ledges are views south encompassing both the White Mountains and the Green Mountains.

Descent and Return:
  • Start the descent via North Trail which starts from the summit where South Trail ends.
  • After less than 0.1 mile, look for a short spur to the left, signed "East Outlook", leading to an easterly vista.
  • After about another 0.2 mile on North Trail, look to the left for a 75-foot spur path, signed "Outlook", leading to West Outlook.
  • After returning to North Trail, continue for only 150 feet, then turn left again on another spur, this one signed as "North Outlook", that leads to another viewpoint after 350 feet.
  • Return to North Trail and continue the descent. After 0.4 mile you will reach a junction with East Trail on the right; keep going straight on North Trail.
  • Descend for another 1.5 miles via North Trail which will bring you to its end at Route 5A.
  • Turn left onto the road and walk 3.0 miles along Route 5A to return to your vehicle at South Trailhead.

Place         Split
South Trailhead (1315') 0.0 0.0 0:00 0:00
Pulpit Rock (1740') 0.9 0.9 0:40 0:40
Mt. Pisgah summit (2751') 0.8 1.7 0:50 1:30
East Outlook 0.1 1.8 0:05 1:35
West Outlook 0.2 2.0 0:05 1:40
North Outlook 0.0 2.0 0:05 1:45
North Trailhead (1245') 1.9 3.9 1:15 3:00
South Trailhead (1315') 3.0 6.9 1:10 4:10



Trail map of hike route to Mount Pisgah in Vermont (map by Webmaster)

Trail Guide   

Overall this was a moderate hike with both easy and steep sections. The trails were easy to follow. There were quite a few people on the trails but not enough to make it seem over-crowded.

Mount Pisgah overlooks scenic Lake Willoughby. Lake Willoughby is a long narrow lake with steep cliffs on much of two of its long sides. Other than the highway that runs along one side, and several residences at one end, the lake is largely undeveloped.

Since this is a long trip report, I've divided it into sections:

Ascent    |    Descent and Return

Lake Willoughby from Pisgah ledges (photo by Webmaster) Ascent   

I started out on South Trail and shortly came to Swampy's Pond which is crossed by a nice, long, wooden bridge. There were lots of dead snags in the water to the right-hand side of the bridge; and the water to the left was mostly open. Just after crossing the wet area, I came upon some pink lady's slippers (Cypripedium acaule).

The trail climbs, at times steeply, through pretty woods with lots of interesting boulders ranging in size from small rocks to those the size of a small cabin.

I spotted a couple Jack-in-the-pulpits (Arisaema triphyllum) . This is an unusual plant where the bloom sits under the shade of the plant's large leaves. The bloom itself is very unique: it is long and tubular with part of the tube arcing up over the opening and curving down the other side, leaving an opening for "Jack", the club or spadix which protrudes from the tube, to preach from his "pulpit". The color of the bloom is green and purple striped.

There was also lots of trillium along the trail. Although most were past their blooms, I saw a few vestiges of red trillium flowers. In bloom were starflowers (Trientalis borealis), bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), a plant that may have been false Solomon's seal, and another plant that may have been baneberry – all of which have white or whitish-colored flowers. Yellow clintonia was also blooming with fairly large yellow flowers – they seemed to be much bigger here than the ones I've seen in New Hampshire. Not in bloom were goldthread (Coptis groenlandica) which is an early bloomer, and common wood-sorrel (Oxalis montana), which had a couple buds, and partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) – a creeping plant with very small dark green leaves. I saw the evergreen, Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), along with many more plants.

The trail, for much of its ascent, paralleled the edge of the steep cliff that constitutes the western flank of Mount Pisgah. The ledges are largely wooded but still views could be glimpsed between the trees and reduced the feeling of vertigo that one would otherwise likely have walking this trail if it was wide open. After some steep climbing, I reached Pulpit Rock which is a small outlook. Knowing that the cliff below me plunged down about 500 feet, I didn't get too close to the edge. The outlook provided a lovely view of Lake Willoughby, along with Mount Hor rising sharply above the water on the opposite shore.

After leaving Pulpit Rock, the trail veers away from the cliffs to climb to an opening on a rock slab, where there are good views to the south of the White Mountains, Victory Basin, Newark Pond, Burke Mountain, and some of the Green Mountains.

Shortly beyond this open slab is the summit of Mount Pisgah, where there is a sign that indicates the elevation is 2,751 feet. The summit is the dividing point between South Trail and North Trail.

Descent and Return   

I continued downhill for a bit until I reached a sign directing me to the first of three spur trails that provide outlooks to the lake and the surrounding peaks. All of the outlooks were fairly small, with the first two providing the best views. My favorite was the middle one. I could see Lake Willoughby of course, but also Lake Memphremagog from a standing position (or by getting quite close to the cliff edge). Also in sight where peaks in New Hampshire, Vermont, and Quebec: Mount Moosilauke (NH); Jay Peak south to Camel's Hump (VT); and Owl's Head and Bear Mountain (Quebec). It was wonderful to see such a seemingly endless stretch of wilderness and mountain peaks.

Lake Willoughby and Mount Hor from Pisgah ledges (photo by Webmaster) Unfortunately the black flies were out so I didn't stay at the outlooks as long as I would have liked. They really weren't too bothersome as long as I was in motion but became worse whenever I stopped.

The first spur path was signed "East Outlook", then simply "Outlook" for the second one, and the final one was signed "North Outlook". Along the spur for the North outlook, I saw some rose twisted stalk (Streptopus roseus) which has delicate pink flowers hanging from the underside of its leaves so that they are barely noticeable.

Back on North Trail, continuing downhill, I encountered a patch of painted trillium (Trillium undulatum). The first bloom I saw was absolutely perfect but the others looked like they were on their way to wilting. Near these was an old, brown, stalk of Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora) left over from last year. North Trail was also steep so I took my time descending.

After a while, I reached a series of stream crossings. All of the crossings were on railroad ties – some of which were rotted and/or wobbly but I managed to cross them without mishap. The main brook was beautiful and the trail follows along its edge for a short while. After the last crossing, the trail descends at a comfortable slope through lovely woods. The brook would be a good place to come up to from the North Trailhead and hang out and have a picnic (provided it's a day without black flies). The brook crossings are about a mile from the road.

Upon reaching the road, I headed south to return to my car. I walked along the road, which has a good shoulder, with the cliffs on my left and the lake on my right. Traffic was fairly light and did not take away from the beautiful scenery.

There were a few places along the road with wonderful cascades falling down the steep cliffs in big steps. One of the cascades had a pull-off area for cars at its base and there also seemed to be a spring there: I saw someone filling up bottles from a fountain-like structure.

Getting closer to the south end of the lake were some residences built on the very narrow strip of land between the road and lake. And at the south end is a public beach from which boats can be launched. The signboard indicated that the water was infested with Eurasian milfoil, which would require thorough washing of your boat before entering another water body, so as not to spread the infestation.

Most of the road walk was easy and flat, but after leaving the lakeshore, there was a short uphill to traverse before once again reaching the South Trailhead.


VT - Northeast

  Driving Directions   

Both the South and North trailheads are located in Westmore, Vermont on Route 5A.

The South Trailhead is 5.7 miles north of the junction of Routes 5 and 5A. There are parking areas on both sides of the road. Heading north on Rt. 5A, the trailhead is on the right. The parking area on the right is obvious; the bigger parking area on the left is less obvious because trees screen it. There is a small trailhead sign that may not be visible from the road due to cars parked in front of it.

The North trailhead is an additional 3 miles up the road, on the right. There is room for roadside parking here but no actual parking lot. There is a small trailhead sign.

Other Notes   

There was some mention in guidebooks that this trail may sometimes be closed during the summer due to peregrine falcon nesting.

About Willoughby State Forest   

Willoughby State Forest consists of 7,300 acres in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, spanning the towns of Westmore and Sutton. Within the park is the Willoughby Cliffs Natural Area which includes Mount Pisgah and Mount Hor.

One of the forest's most striking features is the cliffs of Pisgah and Hor that rise sharply from either side of the 1,653-acre Lake Willoughby. Driving up Route 5A gives you a dramatic prospect of this narrow U-shaped valley. Hiking up to either mountain offers a bird's eye view of the lake and sweeping mountain vistas of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Canada.

Lake Willoughby is about 300 feet deep and is a popular fishing post for rainbow trout, lake trout, brown trout, landlocked salmon and yellow perch.

Other natural features of this area include the remote Dolloff, Marl and Duck ponds. About 12 miles of hiking trails lead to the summits of Mount Hor, Mount Pisgah, Moose Mountain, and Wheeler Mountain. There are many more hiking trails just outside of the forest.

District V - NE Kingdom
1229 Portland St. Suite 201
St. Johnsbury, VT 05819-2099

About Willoughby Cliffs Natural Area   

The 950-acre Willoughby Cliffs Natural Area is part of the Willoughby State Forest. The area includes the cliffs of Mount Pisgah and Mount Hor, as well as the forested buffer zone.

At their high point, the cliffs rise vertically approximately 1,300 feet above Lake Willoughby. The cliffs are known as a spring nesting site for peregrine falcons and also harbor many examples of endangered species of arctic and cliff-alpine plants.

More Mt. Pisgah Trail Reports   


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