For my first post, I am sharing one of my all time favorite runs. This one has it all – hills (800-900 vertical feet of climbing and descent, but hey – who is counting!), cool shady trails, and lots of water for swimming and drinking. It is about 5.5 miles, but takes longer than you would think due to the pretty substantial climb.
This one does require a short drive from Middlebury, however. Head south of town on Rt. 7 (about 7 or 8 miles) until you get to Rt. 53, also known as Lake Dunmore Rd. Take a left here, and stay on this road until you come to a fork, where you take the left fork, which will take you along the east shore of Lake Dunmore. You will know you are going the right way, when you pass the legendary Kampersville Squirrel. I haven’t decided yet if she is cute or creepy. Also note the ice cream stand on your right for after the run.
The Kampersville Squirrel
Drive around the lake for a few more miles, bypassing Branbury State Park, until you get to a large, paved parking lot on your left about a quarter mile past the park entrance. This parking lot has a bit of a reputation for car break-ins, but if you are there on a warm summer day, it will be busy enough to keep the thieves at bay. I have been doing this run for years, and have never had any problems in that regard. Now the fun starts!
You will notice a rough path heading into the woods from this parking lot, and you can start on that, or alternatively run about 50 yards back towards Branbury and see a dirt road on your right, heading up the hill. The two starts merge very quickly on a dirt road which begins with a few steep switchbacks to get your heart pounding pretty quickly. In a few minutes, the dirt road levels off, and you run under a conduit which pipes runoff from Silver Lake, still far above you, down to a small hydroelectric plant below. As you re-enter the woods, you will see Sucker Brook, which plummets down the cliffs to your left to form The Falls of Lana. You don’t get a great view of the falls from above, but they are worth checking out from below after your run. The trail hugs the side of the hill following the course of Sucker Brook for a short while, lulling you into complacency until the obvious hairpin turn to the right gets the serious climbing started again. There is a maintained outhouse at this hairpin, in case you are bashful about such things. For the next mile or so, the trail twists and turns up the hillside with only a few breaks for the next mile, reaching the Silver Lake Dam at about 1.5 miles. Since this is a busy trail, you will probably pass walkers, who inevitably make comments about how hard core you must be to be doing this to yourself. At this point, you can stay on the dirt road or take side paths along the side of the lake for a short while. Silver Lake is a true gem – a gorgeous undeveloped lake with a modest number of hike-in campsites, and a small sandy beach.
Staying on the dirt road, the climbing kicks in again up a few steep sections, before a sharp right turn, at which point you have completed most of the climbing. The dirt road has a few ups and downs over the next half mile, until you come to a gate across the road, and another parking lot on the other side. Take a right here, through the parking lot, where you will see the trail heading back down to the lake. Descend about a half mile, watching your footing so you don’t trip over roots until you join the Leicester Hollow trail, where you take a right, bringing you quickly back to the Silver Lake campsites. If you look to your left, you will see a hand-pump well which supplies fresh, safe drinking water to campers and thirsty runners! This trail eventually rejoins the same dirt road which you grunted up a few minutes earlier, and you can descend back to the lot where your now hot car awaits you for the drive home.
Although this may sound perverse, this is a run which is one of my favorites when I feel the need to work out, and the day is on the hot side. Most of the run is very shady, and the sections near Sucker Brook and Silver Lake always feel cooler somehow. If you feel like you are getting overheated, both Silver Lake and Dunmore are there to cool off in.
Jeff Byers is a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Middlebury College. He also writes the Middlebury Trailrunner blog. We'll be periodically highlighting posts from his blog, but for more recommendations for trailrunning in the county, head to his Web site.