BARTON, Vt. -- Follow the dirt road to the edge of a small Northeast Kingdom pond where stand two rustic cabins with no keys, no running water, no electricity, and no mattresses. No indoor open flames are allowed, no outdoor fires either, and there is definitely no cell phone coverage.
The stillness is broken only by a beaver outside its mud and stick lodge slapping its tail before diving into the pond to search for a sunset snack. Occasionally, hikers pass near the screened-in front porches that overlook the pond.
There is nothing to do but wait for the breeze to blow by or watch as the morning sun rises from behind rounded Moose Mountain. Later, armed with your $20, three-day, nonresident fishing license, you can paddle out on Wheeler Pond and cast a dry fly near the lily pads in hopes of hooking a brook trout.
Welcome to Wheeler Pond Camps, which consists of two backwoods cabins -- with a shared outhouse -- sandwiched in the woods not far from the shores of Lake Willoughby.
Nearby trails lead up Mount Pisgah, Bald Mountain, and Mount Hor. Road cyclists can ride around the lake while mountain bikers take on the Kingdom Trails network. Come winter, snowshoeing, ice climbing, cross-country skiing, and downhill skiing are close at hand.
The nonprofit Green Mountain Club owns the camps, which it purchased from the Boston-based Appalachian Mountain Club in 2004. Built in the early 1970s, the cabins are the definition of basic. Think camping, but leave the tent behind and bring everything else -- including water, light sources, food, and a portable camp stove.
Both cabins -- named Beaver Dam and Hadsel/Mares -- are in the woods and at the water's edge. Hadsel/Mares is the bigger of the two at 650 square feet and actually has a sink. Beaver Dam offers 540 square feet of woodsy, dark space. The wood stove takes up a corner. The bunks sleep four and four more guests could fit upstairs in the loft. In the hot summer months, the front porch can serve as a bedroom .
In theory, a visitor could occupy Beaver Dam and remain there quite comfortably, except for the occasional trip to the one-holer up the hill behind the wood shed. Read, knit, write, play cribbage, listen to the frogs, knosh, and sip. Mission to relax -- accomplished.
But that would mean missing out on everything else that is Wheeler, like the Wheeler Mountain Trail that passes the cabins and the nearby beaver dam. The half-mile-long trail skirts the eastern edge of the pond through Willoughby State Forest. The highlight of a trip to Wheeler Pond Camps is the trek up to the smooth, open ledges of Wheeler Mountain and on to the summit and the spectacular view from Eagle Cliff. The trailhead is about a mile from the cabins.
From there, hikers can look across the Northeast Kingdom and down on the pond, which appears tiny and isolated from on high .