Ever wonder how Benton McKaye got the idea to create a footpath from Georgia to Maine? Or what spurred James P. Taylor to map out a trail up the spine of Vermont?

Inspiration for both can be traced to the summit of southern Vermont’s highest peak where today the storied Long and Appalachian trails share a route.

You don’t have to tell those thru-hikers you meet at the firetower that you got there via a gentle .75 mile path from the top of Stratton instead of covering the 1,640 miles from Springer Mountain. You’ll share the same spectacular view, one that stretches clear across four states and mountain ranges with the Whites and Greens in a blaze of color as we get into September and October, which is the best time to hike, in my opinion.

My favorite route to the firetower, manned until 1979 and one of just a handful left in Vermont, starts with a stop at Stratton Mountain Deli in the Village for provisions, followed by a gondola ride to the peak and a picnic outside Hubert Haus before hitting the firetower trail. If there is a hiking equivalent of “glamping” this is it.

While hiking might be more about the journey than the destination, this glass-walled firetower is an exception. Climb 61 winding steps, 65 feet in the air, and be rewarded with a truly breathtaking vista. Look south to Somerset Reservoir and Mount Pisgah, Glastenbury Mountain is southwest, the Taconics – including Mount Equinox – spread out to the west with New Hampshire’s Mount Monadnock to the southeast. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Mount Washington.

In addition to the last of this season’s Appalachian Trail hikers enroute to Maine, you are likely meet a couple of local legends. Hugh and Jeanne Joudry spent their first summer on the summit in 1968 as firetower lookouts, and are now Green Mountain Club caretakers who tend to eight miles of trail and serve as unofficial greeters, often sharing a guided tour of the surrounding peaks.

Stratton’s gondola runs Saturday and Sunday through Sept. 17 and daily from Sept. 23 – Oct. 9. Dogs are welcome. Check the schedule.

You may choose to start from the base, with a gentler ascent through the Meadows or straight up the black diamond Standard trail. For the mountain hiking map. It’s a great way to get ready for the ski season.

Before you start, stop by First Run in the Village for tips, route recommendations and just about anything you need for a great day on the trail.

  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen.
  • Hiking boots and wool socks.
  • Layers. You’ll want something dry if you hike the 3 mile trail to the top with its 2,000 foot elevation gain.
  • Hiking poles. They’re adjustable, provide balance especially on the downhill, and add an upper body dimension to your workout.
  • Camelbaks, water bottles, foldable dog bowls and the clever Portable Pet sport bottle and drinking trough. Fill them with cold, filtered water in the Base Lodge.
  • Hiking maps, including Green Mountain Club and Appalachian Trail versions.
  • Guidebooks to wildflowers and birds.
  • GoPro Hero5 because you are going to want the video.

The North Face Summit Shop, also in the Village, is another good bet for layers, socks, hiking boots – including the new Junior Winter Sneaker –  the sporty cooler backpack and Vermont made Darn Tough socks.

Are you ready to hit the trail? Hiking exercises just about every part of your body. Your mind. And your imagination.