WHY VISIT VERMONT
Big-city life takes a backseat in the ‘Green Mountain State,’ which certainly lives up to its nickname. But it’s not all verdant peaks: Vermont boasts shimmering lakes, scenic road trips, and action aplenty.
Yes, it’s the only New England state without a coastline, but Lake Champlain certainly makes up for it. On its shore sits Burlington, Vermont’s largest city, which is more of a town really. It’s one of those places everyone wants to move to, humming with creative entrepreneurs who take their dogs to work and clock off early to kayak, bike or catch the last chairlift.
Part of the fun of Vermont is hitting the road and seeing where you end up. The state is famous for its vivid autumn foliage, white clapboard villages, and rickety wooden bridges. Alternatively, leave the car behind and hike a section of the Appalachian Trail or trek the 438km (272mile) Long Trail, the USA’s oldest long-distance hiking trail, which links Massachusetts with the Canadian border.
In winter, ski a terrific line-up of downhill and cross-country areas in the Green Mountains. World-class resort Killington switches to mountain biking when the snow melts, while Stowe is home to the Trapp Family Lodge. Yes, as in the von Trapp family. As in ‘the hills are alive’. The lodge is still run by Maria’s youngest son.
All that activity surely justifies foodie indulgence. Vermont produces more than 40% of the country’s maple syrup, so pour copious amounts on a pile of pancakes, along with an oversized dollop of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, a Vermont staple.
WHAT TO SEE IN VERMONT
- Stowe: one can easily argue that Stowe is the quintessential Vermont ski village. Since the ski hill is a few miles out of town, this place has its own identity apart from the slopes. The historic downtown center is postcard cute, with a lovely church on the green and the main street lined with alluring shops and cafés. Stowe attracts a more affluent crowd than other ski towns in the region and has plenty going on besides skiing. Vermont’s highest mountain, Mansfield, is nearby and there always seems to be something cultural happening in town during summer, fall, and winter.
- Burlington: in Vermont, the vibrant university town of Burlington is what passes for a big city (it has 40,000 permanent residents). It is a refreshingly calm place, sitting on the shore of Lake Champlain with the Green Mountains at its back. Burlington has long been associated with counter culture and urban escapism. Star names like Ben and Jerry’s and Phish both hail from here, and its pedestrian mall on Church Street exemplifies what this town is about. Walking or biking is preferred to driving. There’s a healthy dose of folk culture in the Shelburne Museum and fun leisure cruises on the lake between Vermont and New York.
- Northeast Kingdom: to really step back in time, take a few days and drive around the remote, insulated region of Vermont known as the Northeast Kingdom. It’s an absolutely gorgeous place, where rolling meadows crash into dense hardwood forests and little inns sprout up every now and then offering shelter. St Johnsbury is the big town here, with a handful of worthy attractions like the Fairbanks Museum. The mix of uncrowded outdoor recreation in spits like Jay Peak and Mount Pigsah is the perfect complement to bucolic villages like Craftsbury Common. Few other parts of New England are so well-designed for road tripping.
- Mad River Valley: one of best little secrets in Vermont is Mad River Valley, a collection of farms, ski resorts, and historic villages that have managed to develop themselves into lovely tourist destinations without losing their original charm. Waitsfield and Warren are the two towns in this valley, looking much as they did during the Revolutionary War era. Two of Vermont’s best ski resorts are in the area: Sugarbush and Mad River Glen. The development around these ski hills is where the charm starts to deteriorate a bit, but it hardly affects the overall beauty of this timeless farming valley.
- Middlebury: one of the real gems of Vermont is Middlebury. It manages to combine the sophistication of a fine college with small-town charm and convenient access to superb outdoor recreation. More than 300 of the buildings downtown enjoy heritage status and Otter Creek tumbles right through the heart of Middlebury with a jovial waterfall. Breach the edge of the compact historic core and the scene reverts immediately back to empty rolling farmland and the towering Green Mountains. Several excellent historic inns are here to ensure your weekend layover is as perfect as possible.
- Bennington: southwest Vermont is where the heaviest dose of Americana is concentrated. Home to names like Ethan Allen, Norman Rockwell, and Robert Frost, the landscape is a continual series of large, gentle valleys cut by the inevitable river or stream. Bennington is the main town around here (and Vermont’s third-largest) and home to a respected liberal arts college as well as the site of the 1777 Battle of Bennington. Downtown is the modern face of the town, with unremarkable but inviting amenities, while the historic district feels like a neighborhood plucked from colonial times. Often overlooked as a travel destination, Bennington makes a fine base for exploring this corner of Vermont.
- Woodstock: there were no rock festivals here – that was in New York. Vermont’s Woodstock defines the genteel side of this state’s many villages thanks in part to the attention lavished on it by the Rockefeller family. The 1765 village green, surrounded by 19th-century homes and peppered with the kind of homey businesses you’d expect to find, is simply magical. Quiet walks through the woods are just minutes from the town center, and when fall hits, this place explodes into a riot of color. Most of Woodstock is listed on the historic register, with the gentle Ottaquechee River flowing through and Mount Tom rising on the fringe.
WHEN TO GO TO VERMONT
The best period to visit Vermont is from May to September.
The climate in Vermont is not one of its selling points. The weather here is all over the map, with an overall leaning toward extremes in all seasons. The average annual temperature is 46°F if that offers any indication of what to expect in Vermont. Winters are very cold, while summers can get surprisingly warm and humid in August. Spring is a brief, muddy mess, but fall stands out as a winner thanks to the turning leaves.
Precipitation falls regularly and evenly throughout the year, with a peak during the summer months. Summer highs average around 80°F between June and August, with frequent spells of rain. This is a pleasant season in Vermont, mainly because it’s finally warm enough to enjoy the outdoors without bundling up. Fall starts early in Vermont, with lovely 70°F weather in September that sees drops into the upper 50s (°F) by October. The leaves usually peak around the middle of October, luring thousands of visitors who clog up the country roads.
Winters in Vermont are a serious matter. They are invariably cold, but can either be wonderfully white and snowy or painfully wet and icy. Between December and February, the mercury rarely makes it out of the 30s (°F), though this is also the season when the least amount of precipitation falls. In the Northeast Kingdom region, conditions are even colder and snowier. Spring in Vermont comes late and typically lasts just one or two weeks. The weather doesn’t really perk up until the end of May, with daytime highs in the 60s (°F). But the melting snow and ice create a muddy mess until things dry out in June.
WHAT TO DO IN VERMONT
Eat cheese on a farm
Cheese tasting in Vermont can be a little like wine tasting in California, as Vermont cheddar has achieved a place of origin effect up there with German chocolate and Cuban cigars. The state’s cheese trail brings you through pastoral farms nestled up against the green mountains for which the state is named. Some of the best allows you to get up close to the cheesemaking process. The Billings Farm & Museum in Woodstock lets you meet the cows who produce its cheese. Just outside Brattleboro, the Grafton Village Cheese’s dairy sits just behind its tasting room, so you can see every step of cheesemaking, from udder to wine-paired plate.
Following is a list of typical festivals and celebrations of Vermont.
- Brattleboro Winter Carnival: for 10 days every February, the town of Brattleboro shakes off the winter blues with a huge sporting and entertainment festival. Competitions involving snow sports and activities are a highlight, as are the entertaining performances and other fun events like a parade, a beauty pageant, and a fireworks show. It’s free to come and loads of fun!
- Stoweflake Hot Air Balloon Festival: Woodstock’s lovely Stoweflake Mountain Resort hosts Vermont’s top hot air balloon festival every July over a long weekend. More than 25 colorful balloons do mass ascensions in the morning and evening, tethering themselves to the lush green valley for folk to admire. Most balloons are available for rides during the day, while live music, a beer garden, food, and kids’ activities create a fun vibe on the mountain.
- Marlboro Music Festival: one of the musical highlights of Vermont’s summer is this six-week festival that runs from mid-July to mid-August. Talented musicians from all over the country converge on the little town of Marlboro, outside of Brattleboro, to perform a running series of classical music concerts. This prestigious event has been happening since 1951 and the performers are always well worth seeing.
- Southern Vermont Art & Craft Fair: one thing Vermont is good at is arts and crafts. The entire state seems to be populated with talented, crafty artisans and this major event in the village of Hildene near Manchester is a big deal. Around 200 artisans from around Vermont showcase (and sell) their work each August. Tasty local food and live music round off this fun, a cultural festival in southern Vermont.
- Vermont State Fair: Vermont’s annual state fair takes place in the town of Rutland over a couple of weeks in September. Unlike other states’ big, boisterous fairs, Vermont keeps things typically relaxed and homey. It’s a huge event on the calendar, featuring great concerts, fair food, carnival rides, and agricultural exhibits.
- Stowe Oktoberfest: every September, the charming resort town of Stowe transforms its Jackson Ice Arena into a little slice of Bavaria. This three-day weekend showcases Bavarian music, dancing, food, and loads of beer. The parade is a centerpiece of Stowe’s Oktoberfest, and loads of kids’ activities fill the day so that the adults can play.
HOW TO REACH AND TRAVEL THROUGH VERMONT
Vermont is one state where you will want to have a car, and preferably a fun, comfortable one because a huge attraction here is simply cruising around the countryside. Aesthetics aside, without a car you won’t be able to get anywhere or see anything. Vermont is a fairly isolated place and public transport between towns is lacking. Car rental is best arranged right at the airport so that you can begin saving on transport costs immediately.
Two Amtrak lines service Vermont, offering travelers with plenty of time a chance to enjoy some magnificent scenery during their journey. Fares are not particularly cheap, but the seats are spacious and comfortable, with loads of pretty countryside to soak in. The Vermonter line runs between Washington, DC, and Burlington. It stops at several Vermont towns, including Montpelier, Waterbury, Brattleboro, St Albans, and other smaller towns. The Ethan Allen Express runs twice a day from New York City’s Penn Station, with a single stop at Fairhaven, Vermont.
The Greyhound bus line has good service into Vermont from destinations all over the US. But transport within the state is fairly limited. Fares on Greyhound buses are cheap, making bus travel the cheapest option, but taking the bus is rarely convenient or comfortable. Vermont Transit Lines is a better choice for trips within the state, while the more luxurious Concord Coach Lines also has good service to small towns around Vermont.
The main airport is:
GENERAL INFORMATION ON VERMONT
health tips & vaccination: none
local currency: US Dollar
local time zone: GMT-5 (-4)
electricity: type A and type B (120V – 60 Hz)
WHAT TO DO IN VERMONT
Typical food in Vermont
- Maple Sugar on snow
- Mac & Cheese
- Maple Baked Beans
- Gravy Fries and/or Poutine
- Corn Fritters
- Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
- Apple Pie with cheddar cheese
- Grilled Cheese
- Cider Donuts
- Fried dough
- Maple creemee
- Bison burger
- Cheddar Cheese
Souvenirs from Vermont
Vermont is a very crafty place that is full of craftspeople and artisans. You will be presented with amazing pieces of original craftsmanship everywhere you go.
Vermont is also the best place in America to buy maple syrup right from the source. Every grocery in the state sells locally made syrup, but you can also drive right to the maple farms and see for yourself.