St. Johnsbury Municipal Forest's Moose River

Area:  St. Johnsbury Municipal Forest
Trails:  Blue Trail, Green Trail, Logging Road
Region:  VT - Northeast  
Location:  St. Johnsbury, VT
Rating:  Easy/Moderate  
Features:  Views, river, waterfalls, cascades, loop hike
Distance:  Approximately 1.3 miles  
Elevation Gain:  300 feet (cumulative)  
Hiking Time:  Actual: 0:40   Typical: 0:40  
Outing Duration:  Actual: 2:00   Typical: 1:30  
Season:  Spring
Hike Date:  04/15/2008 (Tuesday)  
Weather:  55 degrees, sunny, clear
Author:  Webmaster

Route Summary   

Walk along the Moose River and loop back using an alternate route:

  • From Alms House Road, climb the hill (towards the pavilion) to the sign showing a trail map.
  • Looking upstream from the first bench (photo by Webmaster)
  • At the sign, turn right and walk less than a quarter mile until reaching the Blue Trail on the right (you will first pass the Red Connector Trail on the left, marked by orange ribbons and red paint blazes). The Blue Trail is marked with a dark blue paint blaze but the more obvious indication is a 5-step rock stairway leading down the hillside. This turn also occurs just after the last town garage building, visible downhill through the trees.
  • Turn right and descend on the Blue Trail.
  • Follow the Blue Trail to its end. It will basically end when you reach the third bench. After this point the trail is a bit overgrown and leads in just a short ways to someone's yard on a dead-end street.
  • Turn around and retrace your steps on the Blue Trail back past all three benches. Shortly after the third bench, turn right to follow the signed Green Trail uphill.
  • When you reach the logging road (a wide trail), turn left to get on the logging road while the Green Trail continues straight ahead.
  • Follow the logging road easily downhill until returning to the pavilion and map sign area.
  • Turn left and follow the roadway back down to where you parked.

When there's not snow on the ground, parking is also available in the area near the picnic pavilion and trail map sign.

At each of the three benches along the Blue Trail, there's an opportunity to take rough paths steeply downhill to the river's edge. If you choose to ignore these spurs, then the overall hike becomes much easier consisting of just one main uphill.


Green Trail blaze (photo by Webmaster)


Trail map of hike route at St. Johnsbury Municipal Forest (map by Webmaster)

Trail Guide   

With all the warm weather and heavy snowmelt this spring, I decided this would be an ideal time to check out a riverside trail. Rivers are always interesting spots to explore but I find them especially appealing when they are running faster and higher than normal, giving them a totally different character from their drier-season permutations.

I went to the St. Johnsbury Municipal Forest and parked by the ball field. I walked up the hill to a sign where there's a trail map, trail register, and brochures. If you don't see any paper sticking out of the brochure box, don't assume it's empty. I had to stick my hand in and pull one out by feel; the box is taller than the informational sheet. The pamphlet includes a map, photos, a history of the forest, and a brief description of the trails.

The first bench (photo by Webmaster) Don't forget to look around from this hilltop perch and enjoy the local views of the Passumpsic River, the town of St. Johnsbury, and the surrounding hills.

From the trail map sign I turned to the right and followed the logging road for less than a quarter mile. There was a little snow and mud here but otherwise all the trails I covered today were snow-free. Considering it was mud season, the trails were in remarkable shape with no mud other than a little in this one spot.

I turned right to descend on the Blue Trail. This path leaves the logging road via a short stone stairway. Note that there was one (obviously) loose step so take care when descending. The trail cut across the hillside at a gentle decline with good footing and I could hear the roar of Moose River even before it came into sight.

After reaching the bottom of the hill, the Blue Trail was flat, passing through mostly deciduous woods while paralleling the river which was visible through the bare branches. To the left, the Green Trail (marked by a sign as well as green paint blazes) leads up to the logging road and ultimately to a junction with the Red Trail.

I continued on the Blue Trail reaching a bench in an open area which provided nice views to the river; although in the summer with the trees leafing out, this view would be more restricted. The bench was an Eagle Scout project and was well constructed. I suspect the other benches as well as the many well-done wood walkways were also Scout projects.

At this point it looked like a fairly easy descent down to the shoreline of Moose River so I went down and found a great rocky outcrop to sit on right next to the raging river. From here I had an incredible view of the swollen waterway. Just upstream were a whole host of cascades with the water crashing down into holes and then sending spray flying as it bounced back up. The white water rushed downstream towards the Passumpsic River forming a wide expanse of little wavelets. Farther upstream a small island split the river.

Cascades on the Moose River below the first bench (photo by Webmaster)

Returning to the trail, I soon entered a lovely grove of cedars. I love their lacy needles and their unique vertically-oriented, stringy bark in shades of beige and auburn. This seems to be a popular place with the deer, indicated by several piles of scat that I walked past. I came upon another bench and another rough trail leading down to the river. The bench had limited views to the river but was still a pleasant place to spend time... perhaps with quiet patience, one could spot a deer while relaxing here.

I headed down the hill to get a better view of the river. Since the slope was steep and covered with slippery pine and cedar needles with nothing to hold onto, I sort of crab walked down the steepest part. An advantage of hiking alone is that I don't have to worry about how inelegant I look!

Downstream from the first bench (photo by Webmaster) I ended up on a rocky promontory overlooking the river at a point opposite the small island. The island was cute and sort of keyhole-shaped and only about fifty feet long. One section consisted of a rocky outcrop topped by trees while the downstream end was low and more open; unfortunately that part was marred by an ugly blue tarp hanging from the trees.

There were also waterfalls, cascades and rapids at this point. And to the left in a little cove area was a deep-looking pool that seemed like a little piece of paradise and I imagined it would make a perfect swimming hole in the summer... if only there was a way to descend the tall rocky walls to get down to it.

I eventually climbed back up the hill to the bench to continue my walk along the Blue Trail. The path contoured a ravine area on narrow wood walkways. Shortly beyond this point was another bench. Again this seat provided decent views of the river through the trees but once they leaf out the water would be pretty much obstructed. At this point, I headed down a fairly easy route to a small sand beach.

This third bench pretty much marks the end of the Blue Trail. The path does continue a short ways, although not as well maintained, to someone's yard at the dead-end of Assisqua Avenue.

So turn around at the third bench and retrace your steps past the other two benches, then turn right on the Green Trail. This path proceeds steadily uphill through hardwoods with obstructed views back to the river and surrounding hills. I walked past a patch of Christmas ferns and spinulose woodferns.

Sori on spinulose woodfern leaflets (photo by Webmaster) Fern identification at this time of year is easy because there are only three species of evergreen ferns in New England. The Christmas fern has the simplest leaflets with each one sort of resembling a stocking or a mitten with a short thumb and long hand. Its leaflets are somewhat shiny and thick in comparison to other ferns.

There are two types of evergreen ferns with lacier fronds: the marginal woodfern, and the spinulose woodfern. The marginal woodfern is twice-cut while the spinulose is thrice-cut. These terms refer to the degree of laciness. All ferns are at least once-cut. A frond is actually a single leaf, and then imagine cutting out part of that leaf to produce a bunch of leaflets emanating from a central stem; this is once-cut. If each leaflet is cut out once again, that's twice cut; and a third degree of laciness makes it thrice-cut.

Until you get used to the different degrees of cutting, you can also tell ferns apart by looking at their sori - or spore cases. Ferns use spores to reproduce rather than seeds (and they can also reproduce vegetatively). The sori are usually located on the underside of a leaflet and look like small cinnamon-colored dots. On the marginal woodfern, the sori are located on the very edges of the leaflets; on the spinulose woodfern, they are located more towards the middle.

After only about four minutes on the Green Trail, I reached the logging road. Here I turned left and followed the wide trail gently downhill back to the pavilion and trail sign area. And then I turned left and descended the roadway back to my vehicle.

Although this hike was rather short in mileage, it left me well satisfied with the amazing scenery of the river, the pleasant woods, and the well-maintained trails. To make this outing longer, you can combine this hike with the trail network hike, also in St. Johnsbury Municipal Forest.

Waterfalls on Moose River at the second bench (photo by Webmaster)

Cedar tree (photo by Webmaster)

Cedar trunk (photo by Webmaster)

Deer scat (photo by Webmaster)

Logging Road (photo by Webmaster)
Christmas fern leaflets (photo by Webmaster)

VT - Northeast

  Driving Directions   

St. Johnsbury Municipal Forest is located not far from I-91, I-93, Rt. 5 and Rt. 2.

  • Take exit 20 (Rt. 5) off of I-91 and head north on Rt. 5 for about a mile.
  • At the junction of Rt. 5 and Rt. 2 in downtown St. Johnsbury (where Rt. 5 is locally named Railroad Street), proceed east (a right-hand turn when coming from I-91) on Rt. 2 for about a half mile.
  • At the traffic light, turn left onto Concord Avenue.
  • Travel for 0.3 mile and then turn right onto Alms House Road. There was no street sign when I was there but the turnoff is located just after crossing a bridge over Moose River.
  • Proceed down Alms House Road where there will be a playing field on the left. Park on the side of this wide road before it veers towards the right where the town garages are located.
  • Optionally, when there's not snow on the ground, you can proceed uphill by car to the picnic pavilion and trail map sign where there is a parking area.
  About St. Johnsbury Municipal Forest   

St. Johnsbury Municipal Forest consists of 110 acres located on a hillside ranging from about 575 feet elevation at the parking area to 920 feet at its high point. The Moose River forms one of its borders and a brook flows through the interior.

Its trails pass through several different forest types: Norway spruce, white pine, cedar, and hemlock. Deciduous trees are scattered throughout the woods. The paths are a mixture of flat terrain and short hills - some gradual and some on the steep side.

Seventy-two acres of this area used to be the Almshouse town farm which enabled the poor to work on the farm in exchange for room and board. In 1922, the St. Johnsbury Women's Club started up a reforestation project on this land that was no longer farmed. The first year white pines were planted. In successive years 20,000 trees were planted each spring. These early efforts have resulted in the trees that now populate the forest, many of them close to 100 years old.

Property Use Guidelines   

  • No bikes, motorized vehicles, camping, or fires.
  • Pack out your trash.
  • Stay on the trails.
  • Note that the parking areas and some of the trails come in close proximity to the town garages. Please respect the "No Trespassing" signs.

Evergreens near pavilion area (photo by Webmaster) Picnic pavilion (photo by Webmaster)

  Forest sign (photo by Webmaster)
  More St. Johnsbury Municipal Forest Trail Reports   


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