Located near Stowe in northern Vermont is the beautiful Little River State Park. Though less than a thousand acres, this relatively small park packs in a lot, including a few trails to explore as well as some of the best camping in the state. You can also get terrific views of the local mountains.
Situated on the Waterbury Reservoir in Mount Mansfield State Forest, the park is known for allowing visitors to find seclusion in an otherwise touristy part of Vermont. The great thing about this park is that it also can be a quiet home-base to settle down and relax after you spend the day visiting the area’s local attractions, which can be teeming with people during the peak times of year.
Upon first look, this park may seem small, but if you are like us, you’ll leave wishing you had more time in the area to explore. We hope this guide helps you plan so you can be sure you get the most out of your visit!
LITTLE RIVER STATE PARK HISTORY
The Waterbury Reservoir is the water body that Little River State Park sits on, and it wasn’t always a reservoir. This area was used in the 1800’s for farming. However, in 1927, a famous flood of the Winooski River and Little River destroyed the farms nearby and took nearly 50 lives. The flooding happened again in 1934, which prompted the Civilian Conservation Corps to build the Waterbury Dam.
The Waterbury Dam construction started quickly (in 1935) and lasted for 3 years before opening. This Dam formed the Waterbury Reservoir. During the construction, a town of about 2,000 people was erected. The town left almost as quickly as it came, and now you can only find remnants of the buildings in the area.
Little River State Park was established in 1962, and sits on a small parcel of land that hugs up against the southwest side of Waterbury Reservoir.
Waterbury Dam, image courtesy of Mark Fickett
The Waterbury Dam created the reservoir that is over 850 acres, over 6 miles long and about 100 feet deep. The dam generates about 5.5 MW of electricity.
ACTIVITIES IN LITTLE RIVER STATE PARK
Little River State Park map, courtesy of Vermont State Parks
As mentioned earlier, Little River State Park is not a large expanse of space, like some of the other state parks in Vermont. However, there is plenty to do in the park and in the area surrounding the park.
The park is broken up into two areas, the “A” Area (to the south) and the “B” Area to the north. Both offer similar amenities for campers, but the activities differ slightly.
While here, our recommendations in Little River State Park include:
- Boating. Boating on the Waterbury Reservoir is very popular. For campers, there is a boat launch located in the “A” Area. From here you can access the entire reservoir easily.
- Fishing. Brown trout and smallmouth bass are popular fish to catch in the Waterbury Reservoir, though you can also find rainbow trout, rainbow smelt, bullhead and yellow perch. Be sure to get a fishing license if you do plan to cast a line while visiting. For more information on fishing in the area, check out this site on Waterbury Reservoir Fishing.
- Swimming. The swimming is great here, and is accessed by the “A” Area beach (where the beach is gravel) and the “B” Area beach, which has a bit more vegetation. Swimming is only open to campers, and while there are plenty of campsites at the park, it helps to control the number of people at the beach at any given time.
- Kayaking. The Waterbury Reservoir is a great spot for kayaking. There is a ton of shoreline to explore and even remote camping opportunities that are worth checking out if you really want to be away from the crowds. You can also rent boats at the park as well!
- Mountain Biking. There are about 7 miles of mountain biking trails in Little River State Park. Be sure to get a map ahead of time. The trails have a variety of difficulty and worth the time if you have a few hours!
THE BEST HIKES IN LITTLE RIVER STATE PARK
Hiking is a great activity to do when visiting the Green Mountains, and there are a few interesting hikes inside of Little River State Park that are worth checking out:
- The Stevenson Brook Trail is a moderate, 4.5-mile (round-trip) loop trail with about 750 feet of elevation gain. If you head clockwise (which is recommended), the trail followes the Stevenson Brook to the west as you head upstream. The trail is flat for the first mile with most of the elevation gain happening between mile 1 and 2.2. The trail returns on the Dalley Trail which ends near the “B” Area. Take the camp road back to the trailhead. The trail has plenty of interpretive signs to tell you about the area. The Stevenson Brook Trail is reached near the “A” camping area, on the east side of the campground road, about 0.25 miles north of the Park Office.
- The Nature Trail is a short, 0.5-mile (round-trip) loop trail with minimal elevation gain. There are signs reviewing the history of the area and information about the local geology. The Nature Trial is reached by parking on Campground Road just past Stevenson Brook.
WHAT IS THERE TO DO NEAR LITTLE RIVER STATE PARK?
Since Little River State Park is located near Stowe, VT and in the Green Mountains, there is a lot to do nearby, whether you are seeking natural beauty, want to visit some of the famous nearby attractions or a bit of both! Some ideas include:
- Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. At Ben & Jerry’s, you can take a factory tour and of course indulge yourself in the tasty treats. There are routinely flavors at the factory that you can’t find easily elsewhere. Ben & Jerry’s factory is located about 15 minutes away on Vermont Route 100, just north of Interstate 89.
- Shopping in Stowe, VT. There are a bunch of great boutique shops in Stowe that are worth visiting.
- Trapp Family Lodge. For fans of the Sound of Music, the Trapp Family Lodge is a must-see. The lodge is cool to check out, and there are also other activities, like golf, disc golf, hiking and biking. The Trapp Family Lodge is located about 30 minutes away.
- Camels Hump State Park. If you are looking for a more intense hike than what is available in the immediate area, then hiking up the famous Camels Hump is a great option. The hike up Camels Hump is a challenging 6.0-mile (round-trip) trail with about 2600 feet of elevation gain. The views from the top are astounding, though, so the hike is well worth the work. Camels Hump State Park is about 30 minutes away on the southern side of Interstate 89.
HOW TO GET TO LITTLE RIVER STATE PARK AND OTHER TRAVEL INFORMATION
Little River State Park is not hard to get to, and it’s located pretty close to the highway, making it convenient.
- Here are the directions from Burlington, VT to Little River State Park. This drive will take about 40 minutes total.
- If you are coming from the south, here are directions from Montpelier, VT to Little River State Park.
Wherever you are coming from, most of the way to the park is going to be on Interstate 89. You can also take Route 100 (which is a gorgeous road that traverses through the Green Mountains). We love driving Route 100, and this GyPSy Guide on Vermont’s Route 100 is fantastic for narrating the sites along the way.
ENTRANCE FEES AND REQUIRED PASSES FOR LITTLE RIVER STATE PARK
There is an entry fee for Little River State Park. You can also consider purchasing a punch card or annual pass when you arrive.
LITTLE RIVER STATE PARK CAMPING
The campground in Little River State Park is wonderful, as are all of Vermont’s State Park campgrounds. They are immaculately kept and have great services. The staff when we visited was friendly and we were extremely impressed with our stay!
Little River State Park Campground:
- Accessible via: Vehicle.
- Reservations: Offered mid-May through mid-October. Little River State Park Campground Reservations.
- Capacity: 81sites with 20 lean-tos and 5 cabins.
- Electricity / Water Hookups / Dump Station: No / No / YEs.
- Toilets / Showers: Flush toilets and showers.
- Additional details: The campground has wooden and mostly private sites. Some of the sites have long driveways, and offer a good amount of privacy. The campground was quiet, and it was well enforced by the staff.
BEST TIME TO VISIT LITTLE RIVER STATE PARK
Vermont can be beautiful in all seasons. However, Little River State Park shines once the winter leaves and camping is in season (between May and October). In May the black flies will be out, and they can be relentless. The fall is beautiful, but just be advised that the water can get quite cold and the nights downright frigid, even in September.
If you are wanting to spend time in the water, then July and August are best. If you want to see the leaves change, then show up around the 2nd week of October (but book early!).
VISITING LITTLE RIVER STATE PARK IN THE WINTER
The park is open during all times of year, but only via foot traffic in the winter. This is a great place to visit if you want to snowshoe or hike in the winter, just be ready for ice and snow on the trails.
ARE PETS ALLOWED IN LITTLE RIVER STATE PARK?
Pets are allowed, but they are not allowed in the swimming areas. You are allowed to bring your pet in the water at the boat launch (located in the “A” Area). Pets are allowed in the campground (but not in the cabins) and must be kept on a leash.