In the past 6 years I’ve been fortunate enough to travel and ride a lot of big name destinations. Moab, Fruita, Marin, NorCal, Crested Butte, Durango, Gunnison, Ashland, Telluride, Asheville, Tahoe. From Oakland to Sactown, the Bay Area and back down. I get around.
Surprisingly not present on this respectable resume of rides is Vermont’s Kingdom Trails. I’d simply never been there, despite the pithy five hour drive deep into the Green Mountain State. It HAS been on the bucket list, so when Sean suggested we go, I had no objections.
We left around 4pm on Friday and arrived at our Darling Hill Road campsite around 9pm. Coincidentally it was NEMBAFest, so we were surrounded by dozens of other riders in tents, RVs and an assortment of makeshift structures.
Quick bit about NEMBAFest: We didn’t go. Why not? We were primarily there to ride, and once you’ve been to Sea Otter, most other mountain bike festivals lose their pizzazz. Nevertheless, it seemed like an excellent event and had we driven up on Thursday we might have spent some time at the festival. We DID manage to hang out at the Grade A bonfire each night, which combined with cold beer, really hit the spot. But anyway, about the trails…
East Burke Trails
Kingdom is really divided into two areas separated by Darling Hill Road – we got started on the trails closer to town, which are situated between said road on the west and the Passumpsic River’s East Branch on the east.
$30 for two days of access to the Kingdom.
Entering singletrack mecca, via Vast.
We rode into town Saturday morning, purchased our trail passes at the Kingdom Trail Center and then began the ascent up East Darling Hill Road before ducking left onto Vast. Not unlike other systems, Kingdom is largely comprised of long sections of doubletrack with miles of singletrack branching off throughout. It makes it exceptionally easy to connect a bunch of different trails and ride whatever you want, buffet-style.
In Vermont, the grass is green on both sides of the fence.
Obligatory macro shot.
Rolling fields of green are abundant.
We hopped on Riverwood, Leatherwood, Worth It, Mansion View, East Branch, Rim and Beat Bog all before lunch. These trails are very fluid and flowy which means you can really get moving. They’re also characterized by lots of quick ups & downs, which results in a thorough workout as you try to carry speed into the punchy, lung-busting climbs. Because of how easily speed is attained, you really need to be on your toes, otherwise you’ll end up punching a branch or kissing a tree.
Sean Seary traversing East Branch.
Sean navigating one of East Branch’s many wooden TTFs.
Ferns & loam: the Vermont trail recipe.
My personal favorite was East Branch. It was littered with wooden bridges surrounded by ferns on either side. Hugging the water, you can hear the Passumpsic River as it trundles towards Lyndonville. While I’ve never been there, I’d imagine this is how PNW trails feel. Lots of loam, roots and towering pines looming overhead.
All roads lead to awesome.
The Burke Welcome Center.
Around 12:30pm we’re starving and turn back to town via Vast. After carving down Kitchel, we pedal back to the Burke Welcome Center, which is unlike any welcome center I’ve ever been to, in that it’s really a full fledged sandwich shop/bakery/cafe/bar. I don’t even know what to call it, but it’s safe to say that “Welcome Center” is a drastic understatement by almost anyone’s standards.
I had a hard time deciding what to get, mostly because I wanted one of everything. Eventually I decided on a steak & cheese sandwich with sauteed peppers & onions, which I wolfed down in mere minutes. If this is how Vermont does welcome centers, everywhere else has a lot to learn. I felt really welcome. Great job, Vermont.
Darling Hill Trails
The classic colors and beauty we’ve come to expect from Vermont.
Rejuvenated by a hearty lunch, we again climbed East Darling Hill Road and ducked right onto the Loop trail over to Bemis. The Darling Hill Trails are best described as being divided into three sections. The middle section contains Tap & Die, Tody’s Tour, Troll Stroll and Burrington Bench. The first three of these are more downhill-style flow trails that have a big net elevation loss as you ride down from Bemis and end up on River Run. From there you can take Burrington Bench or River Walk back up and ride down again. These trails were used as marked loops for the NEMBAFest bike demos, so we mostly avoided them during the busiest part of the day.
Swooping singletrack on Fox Run
One of Sidewinder’s obscenely steep berms.
Another angle depicting Sidewinder’s almost ludicrous turns.
Another option is to head south on Bemis (as we did), turn right onto Fox Run and ride Darling Hill’s lower maze of trails. This is where you’ll find Sidewinder, which is one of Kingdom’s flagship trails and almost unparalleled in how unique it is. Characterized by enormous sweeping berms, this is not for the faint of heart, as you need to carry full momentum from one berm into the next, or else you won’t make it. Ride the brakes and you’ll end up hiking, or riding straight down the valley between them, which really drops the fun factor.
The author climbing up Old Web’s.
Underneath the evergreen canopy at Kingdom.
Sean descending beneath the evergreens on Old Web’s.
All hot & bothered after Sidewinder (so good you’ll feel like a cigarette and a cold shower immediately after) we tooled over to Old Web’s which is a brilliant piece of trail that winds back and forth between evergreens at the lower border of the trail system. We climbed up and stopped at the top to breathe deeply and inhale the delightful scents presented by the trail-side flora, before carving our way back down to the bottom, tires digging for traction in the sandy, loamy trail tread.
To end our ride, we negotiated our way back up to the top of Troll Stroll (cue It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia references) which in the late afternoon was mostly clear of test rides and demo bikes. After one high speed run, we took Burrington Bench back up and called it a day after some 31 miles of riding.
After Riding: Checking out the Local Culture
We dropped the bikes at the tent, grabbed some clean clothes and drove into town where we took advantage of the wooden shower shacks behind the Trail Center office. For a measly buck, you get access to a hot (or cold, your choice) shower that actually lasts long enough to get clean. While they could easily charge $3 or $5 for this same service, it only costs four quarters*. Rock on Vermont!
*You do need quarters though. Fortunately, either the Tiki Bar or nearby food trucks can make change.
Post-shower we drove into Lyndonville and stopped at The Pizza Man, a restaurant we were eyeballing on the drive in. I was mildly skeptical, but turns out they serve a full menu that goes far beyond pizza and almost anything can be ordered with maple syrup on it. I ordered a lavish quesadilla (no maple syrup on that) and Sean opted for a medium pizza which featured Vermont bacon and – you guessed it – local maple syrup. I had some. As expected, it was incredible.
NEMBA Fest’s all-too-welcoming fire pit.
Later that night, we again enjoyed the Kingdom Trails fire pit while knocking back a few Long Trail ales. Around 1am it started pouring and didn’t let up until noon the following day. We got out and rode a few of the local trails immediately closest to the campsite, but quit after 8 miles, deciding to save the trails and our bikes from imminent destruction. Worth noting: all of North Atlantic Dirt’s contributors have spent time in the woods building trails and we always advocate for responsible trail use, whether we built them or not.
In the end, we closed the weekend with ~40 miles of Vermont-y goodness. I eagerly look forward for the first chance to come back and ride more, particularly the Burke Mountain trails (and bike park) that we didn’t ride at all.