Dual Sport Ride to The Natural Turnpike
Estimated Mileage: Approximately 104 miles round trip Estimated Time: 2 hours, 10 mins to Ripton; 40 minutes Ripton to Lincoln; Allow 4 plus for round trip
Vermont has just over 14,000 miles of roads. Approximately 8,000 miles are gravel or dirt and only 6,000 are paved. Obviously, the Vermont motorcyclist who dismisses all dirt roads is missing something.
With the help of a rental from Moto Vermont in Williston, I set out on a KLX 250 to find some of what I was missing. This 64-mile ride on mostly class 3 and class 4 town roads spends as much time as possible on dirt and gravel roads, eschewing the pavement where possible. On the way, you will see few vehicles and many mountains, and travel on historic roads through real rural Vermont.
I headed into the dirt almost immediately after picking up the bike by riding down Governor Chittenden Road in Williston: a woodsy run past the Catamount Outdoors Center, ending on U.S. Route 2. To follow my route, take a left at the end of Governor Chittenden Road. Travel 1.2 miles east and turn right, just before the Winooski River bridge, onto Kenyon Road.
Kenyon Road is a class 3 road that includes technical, twisty bits and steep sections. Use caution, since this road is a local shortcut and sometimes has fast moving traffic traveling the middle of the road. Look for nice views to the east as the road opens up on the Richmond end.
At the end of Kenyon road, take a left, onto the pavement (Hinesburg Road). Follow the Hinesburg road toward Richmond. At the Round Church in Richmond, the main road curves left; you should continue straight onto Cochran Rd.
Ride Cochran Road past the Cochran's ski area - home of the Olympic ski racing Cochran family. Mickey and Ginny Cochran built the ski area built in 1961 so their four children - Bob, Barbara Ann, Marilyn and Lindy - could train on the hill. Train they did -- all four reached the Olympic level and Barbara Ann won the gold medal in slalom in 1972.
When you reach the Jonesville village of Richmond, turn right onto Wes White Hill road. The road climbs approximately 600 feet in a mile and a half. Local bicycle clubs use the steep climb as climbing time trial race. Travel 3 miles on Wes White Hill, past Gillette Pond. The pond has nice views of Bolton Mountain to the north.
Wes White Hill Road (a.k.a. Gillette Pond Road in Huntington) ends in Huntington Center. You can find food and gas at Beaudry's Store, a short distance on Main Rd to your right. To follow our route, take a left onto the Huntington Main road and travel to its end at Route 17.
Take a right onto Route 17. Travel south 3.7 miles until you see the Jerusalem Store on your left. The store has food, gas and port-a-potties restrooms. Take a left at the store onto Jerusalem road. Follow Jerusalem road (it becomes Downingville Road) to it's end in Lincoln on Quaker Street.
Take a left onto Quaker Street towards Lincoln. In Lincoln you can find a store with food, but no gas. Follow East River road to South Lincoln Road on your right. If you begin to travel up Lincoln Gap, you have gone too far.
South Lincoln road is a class three gravel road through Lincoln. At the intersection with Grimes Road and Geary Road, continue on South Lincoln road straight into the Green Mountain National Forest.
Off-road riding is prohibited in the National Forest, except on designated roads. Stay on the Forest Service roads.
South Lincoln road becomes the Natural Turnpike somewhere in South Lincoln. There isn't a sign or other landmark to tell where the transition occurs. The Natural Turnpike is also a section of the Northeast Backcountry Discovery Route (NEBDR).
The road also changes from a class 3 to a class 4 road. The change means the roads is not maintain during the winter and receives only minimal summer maintenance. This section is part of the VAST snowmobile trail network and closed to motorcycles until May 1. Check with the local Forest Service Ranges for additional restrictions and closures.
The "Natural Turnpike" is the best name ever for a dirt road through the woods. In the early 1900's the Natural Turnpike was a stagecoach route connecting Lincoln and Ripton.
The road has a remote feel to it. There aren't any expansive views. Immersed yourself in the woods on the shady path. Choose a quite spots to stop and enjoy wildflowers with your lunch.
The road condition is generally good, but this varies with the weather. Heavy rains can create loose gravel or muddy conditions that increase the technical level. There is no cell phone coverage here and little traffic. An accident or breakdown will require a long walk to get help.
Follow the Natural Turnpike until you reach VT-125 in Ripton. Turn right onto VT-125 and follow it for approximately .3 miles. If you need fuel or food, the Ripton store sells both. If the store is close, your closest option is in East Middlebury at the intersection of VT-125 and VT-116. Turn right onto Lincoln Road (paved) and head up a steep hill. Several miles up the road, the pavement ends and the road returns to gravel.
Follow the Lincoln Road all the way back to Lincoln. Along the route, you will pass views of the western side Green Mountains, looking down into the valleys of Ripton and south Lincoln.
After approximately a mile, you come to an intersection. North Branch Rd is left and Pearl Lee Road is right. The Lincoln road continues on straight, after making a slight, right-left jog.
Ride another 2 miles until you come to a fork intersection with West Hill Road leading left and Ripton Road leading right. Ripton Road returns you to South Lincoln and the South Lincoln Road. Continue onto West Hill Road.
When you reach the Lincoln store - which you passed earlier in your travels - you have completed the loop.
To return to Moto Vermont, allow approximately one and a half hours to retrace your route. If you take all pavement roads allow approximately an hour.