A short hike with a great view
Coon Mountain is a beloved hiking destination in the town of Westport, in the Champlain Valley. The summit offers panoramic views of Lake Champlain, the Adirondacks and Vermont’s Green Mountains.
Coon Mountain's south-facing slopes are hospitable to trees usually found farther south, such as red and white oak and shagbark hickory. The trail winds through a craggy interior with rocky outcrops and dark hemlock forests.
Acquired through a land swap
Coon Mountain Preserve was made possible via an innovative land swap in 1991. A generous landowner donated 275 acres of productive forestland in the Town of Chesterfield to the Adirondack Land Trust. The Land Trust then exchanged that land for 246 acres on Coon Mountain—land that was ecologically rich but marginal from a forest-products perspective.
After the swap, the new owner of the Chesterfield land donated a conservation easement to the Land Trust on that property and land adjoining Coon Mountain Preserve. Under the terms of the easement, forestry is allowed and open space preserved on those lands.
People have farmed and logged in the Champlain Valley for centuries. William Gilliland, the area's earliest settler and namesake of the Town of Willsboro, died on Coon Mountain. Gilliland had purchased huge lakeside tracts to establish a baronial estate. However, the Revolutionary War thwarted his dream as British and Native American allies sacked his early settlements. In February 1796, he became lost on the broken summit of Coon Mountain and succumbed to exposure.
According to legend, the Coon Mountain panther would cry out to lure victims into the deep woods before springing onto its prey. Many good dogs were lost to the panther in attempts to hunt it — until, finally, the panther was shot mid-leap. It crashed down a cliff, sinking into one of the mysterious tarns that dot the summit ridge. The big cat's body was never found, but its legend is intact, and some say you can still hear the panther's cries.
If You Go
The Summit Trail is about one mile long with an ascent of 500 feet. It is steep and rocky in places and is maintained for hiking only. The Hidden Valley Trail, which branches off from the Summit Trail and later rejoins it, provides a less steep alternative. To avoid getting lost on the mountain or wandering onto adjoining private lands, we request that you stay on marked trail. Please remember: leave only footprints, take only pictures.
A few steps in from the trailhead, young successional woods are evidence of past forest management. Skid roads used for hauling logs out of the forest are still visible.
The hiking trail soon leaves the woods road, traverses a stand of hemlock and enters a forest of beech, maple and oak. American beech, sugar maple and yellow birch are climax species of the northern hardwood forest. If you look closely at the old trees you may see barbed wire grown into the trunk, a sign that the property was once used for pasture. While walking through a large section of beech, look for bear claw marks on the smooth gray bark. Beechnuts are a mast crop for bears and other wildlife.
At the base of the ravine you may notice a subtle change. In the richer, moister soils here we find different plants, such as blue cohosh, Dutchman's breeches, and — watch out — stinging nettles. The wildflowers are abundant in spring before tree leaves shade the forest floor. On this south-facing slope we find white ash with its compound leaves, each with seven leaflets, and basswood with its large, heart-shaped leaves.
On the climb up through the ravine please stay on the rocks to limit soil erosion. You may want to stop at the lookout partway up to enjoy a glimpse of Lake Champlain. As you continue climbing, keep an eye out for porcupines that sometimes den in the rock crevices.
Leaving the top of the ravine, the trail takes you through pockets where vernal pools form in the spring. These pools dry up later in the season, but they are essential breeding grounds for frogs and salamanders.
Near the top, the trail winds around the summit, allowing views of the Champlain Valley and its patchwork of farm and forest. The trail ends on a rocky summit with vistas of Vermont, Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains. The summit is also a good place to view migrating raptors as they fly through the Champlain Valley in spring and early fall.