The Inn at Long Trail in Killington, Vermont where the Long and Appalachian hiking trails merge.
The Inn at Long Trail in Killington, Vermont where the Long and Appalachian hiking trails merge.

Vermont's Long Trail is the oldest long-distance hiking trail in the country.

It follows the spine of the Green Mountains more than 400 kilometers from one end of the northeastern state to the other and inspired the much longer Appalachian Trail, which stretches 3,500 kilometers from Maine to Georgia.

The two trails merge in Killington, Vermont, where an historic inn has drawn hikers for almost 90 years.

Welcome stop

If you ask a hiker what they like most about hiking, chances are they'll tell you it's taking their boots off at the end of the day.

This is especially true for a hiker who's been on the trail for weeks or even months. In Vermont, many of these so-called through hikers will stop at a historic hotel called the Inn at Long Trail.

Owner Murray McGrath tends bar McGrath's Irish Pub
Owner Murray McGrath tends bar McGrath's Irish Pub at the Inn at Long Trail.

"We've had a lodge here since 1923 catering to hikers," says innkeeper Oke O'Brien. "You don't hike the Long Trail or the Appalachian Trail without stopping here."

Green Mountain Club, which oversees the Long Trail, built the lodge as a summer retreat. It burned down in the 1960s and its ruins are still visible across the street from the inn, which the club built as a winter annex in 1939.

Innkeeper O'Brien says even if hikers don't spend the night , most will at least stop in to have a beer and sign the guest book - typically with their trail names - the nicknames they pick up on their journey.

O'Brien says hearing all the back-stories is one of the best parts of his job.

"There was a hiker in here last year and his trail name was Not Yet. He was doing the Long Trail last year and the year before he'd done the Appalachian Trail and he said his first day on the trail, someone asked him if he had a trail name and he said Not Yet, and that became his trail name."

O'Brien introduces a hiker named Sunshine, who's making use of the coin operated washer and dryer.

"I've been averaging about 18 miles [29 kilometers] a day and I finally got here at the inn and I'm really excited for my first shower and some clean clothes," she says.

After a week on the trail, Sunshine says taking a zero day - that's what hikers call a day they don't do any walking - is priceless.

"Taking your hiking boots off is probably the best feeling in the whole entire world. If you've ever been on a long hike you know, it's like instant relief you put up your feet and the blood is flowing. It's like being born. I don't know, it's awesome."

Room at the inn

Murray and Patty McGrath, whose family bought the inn in the late 1970s, say the hotel hasn't changed much in 70 years.

Aside from a few additions, there's the same rustic stone fireplace in the living room, plenty of bentwood furniture to plunk down on and the original beamed ceiling.

The McGraths did add the Irish pub, which Murray says has been a big hit with the hikers.

"When the trail used to run right through our parking lot we were the only draft beer restaurant on the trail for them and that was perfect for them," says Murray McGrath.

According to Patty McGrath, their non-hiking guests are sometimes a bit put off by the hikers. But because most of the rooms don't have TVs, she says, everyone usually ends up in the pub, laughing and sharing stories.

"First impressions with hikers - that can be challenging. They're a bit of a ragtag looking bunch. They smell to high heaven," she says. "But they are the funniest, most diverse group. The variety of age, in social strata, the whole thing is just absolutely amazing."

And some have a hard time moving on from the inn.

Murray McGrath remembers a hiker named Port-a-Can Dan.

"He was a riot. He packed his pack probably five times to head out and would meet another hiker whom he hadn't seen since Virginia  and the next day he'd be back at his barstool. He was hilarious.I said, 'Dan, we're going to have to call you Backspin because he just never left.' It was great."

Port-a-Can Dan did finish his hike, eventually. The McGraths say he sent them a grinning photo of himself at the end of the Appalachian Trail later that fall.