We all deserve greener pastures after our lives have been completely turned upside down by a global pandemic, by ongoing tensions of social and political division, and by never-ending stresses of divisive news and social media cycles. And it’s not just pastures that we deserve, either. Throw in some rolling farmland, winding rivers, lazy towns with covered bridges, scenic roadways, country stores, rugged mountain paths and restful lakes, too.
What we need now more than ever is Vermont.
While a temporary escape into the paradise of the Green Mountain State certainly will not solve the nation’s problems while we’re there, such an adventure will bring some peace and tranquility back into our lives, will recharge our internal batteries and give us perspective on how our human experience on earth ought to be. When the time is right again to explore the best of Vermont, consider a trip to the following.
COVID-19: Before diving into any of the state’s favorite destinations, be sure to check on guidance regarding social distancing restrictions and possible mandatory quarantines. While restrictions continue to loosen leading into the summer months, many popular tourist destinations may be closed or limited in scope for the foreseeable future. Stay up to date by visiting the website https://fpr.vermont.gov/recreation/outdoor-recreation-and-covid-19.
Conveniently located along Route 4 between Woodstock and White River Junction, Quechee often is just a blur outside the windows of countless families plodding their way to Killington for ski weekends. But slow the car down for a little stop in this unincorporated village and you’ll find plenty of reward.
Vermont’s “Little Grand Canyon,” Quechee Gorge is the village’s most popular tourist stop. The 165-foot-deep gorge formed 13,000 years ago when the Laurentide Ice Sheet retreated across the region and the Ottauquechee River carved out its awe-inspiring place deep within Vermont’s geological landscape.
Former home to the A.G. Dewey Company (est. 1836), the wool processor that once produced materials for the baseball uniforms of the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, and blankets for the U.S. Army and Navy, the land now makes up Quechee State Park. The park encompasses a welcome center, lean-tos, tent and trailer sites, hiking trails and more. It can serve as the perfect jumping-off point to nearby attractions, including the Village Antique Mall, Simon Pearce Mill, Quechee Bridge, as well as short day trips to historic Woodstock and Killington Resort.
For golfing enthusiasts, the Lakeland or Highland courses at The Quechee Club offer grade-A experiences. Originally designed by the noted golf architect Geoffrey Cornish, both Lakeland and Highland were restored by Brian Silva in 2012 following extensive damage in the region brought about by Tropical Storm Irene. Lakeland offers panoramic views from along the Ottauquechee River’s edge. Highland elevates the challenge with rolling, angled and lofted hillside fairways and greens. Quechee Club membership is required to play, but some guests are allowed to try out the course.
Lake Champlain (Burlington)
At 120 miles in length and 12 miles at its widest point, storied Lake Champlain boasts abundant options for exploration along its 587-mile shoreline perimeter. We suggest setting up camp from the lake’s — and Vermont’s — largest city, Burlington.
Church Street Marketplace is the hub of the city, a four-block pedestrian mall featuring stores, boutiques, restaurants and bars that spill out into the streets during the summer months. Beer lovers will want to take time to explore some of the local breweries, including Magic Hat, Citizen Cider, Foam Brewers, Zero Gravity, Fiddlehead and Vermont Pub & Brewery.
Burlington Waterfront Park is your gateway to lakeside activities, located at the bottom of College Street (the city is home to the University of Vermont and Champlain College). You’ll find access to ferries and scenic cruises of Lake Champlain that depart directly from the waterfront, including the Spirit of Ethan Allen. Stake out your patch of sand at North Beach, Leddy Beach or beaches in Oakledge Park.
Perhaps the best way to experience the lake is via bicycle along the Island Line Rail Trail stretching from Burlington out to the Hero Islands. At a little more than 13 miles one way, families can pedal on the paved and crushed path that lead onto the Causeway connecting the mainland to South Hero via the South Hero Bike Ferry. It’s hard to get a better view of the Green Mountains and New York’s Adirondacks. Also along the rail trail is the ECHO Leahy Center (Ecology, Culture, History and Opportunities).
Kingdom Trails/Cross Vermont Trail
Exploring Vermont by bicycle has never been more welcoming as the state’s network of trails continues to add mile after mile to its already impressive adventure map. Two of the most comprehensive networks are the Kingdom Trails and the emergent Cross Vermont Trail.
Twenty-five years after a passionate grassroots community project began to develop cycling trails in East Burke, the Kingdom Trails today are a world-class destination featuring more than 100 miles of rideable terrain. Thanks to its partnerships with about 90 private landowners, the Kingdom Trails Association draws 100,000 visitors annually to explore the dirt and gravel roads, single- and doubletrack trails and open fields that meander through the region’s forest canopies, farmland switchbacks, berms and bridges.
The network offers riding for all ages and skill levels, from the skills development area known as Chutes and Ladders, to the tight, fast-flowing single-track trails like Tap n’ Die, Sidewinder, Troll Stroll, Kitchel, Tody’s Tour, Coronary Bypass, Pines and Webs.
Development of the east-to-west Cross Vermont Trail eventually will connect 90 miles of rail trails, back roads, dirt roads and paved roadways from Lake Champlain in Burlington to the Connecticut River town of Wells River — a stone’s throw to Woodsville, N.H. Managed by the nonprofit Cross Vermont Trail Association, the multi-use, four-season network will tie together communities and their surrounding natural environment, providing cyclists with unequaled access to the best of Vermont.
Be sure to download Cross Vermont Trail Association’s maps with cue sheets, which break down the network into 12 separate sections, to help guide you along the way.
Popularly known as a premium destination during ski season, the true depth of the picturesque beauty that is Stowe truly opens up during the summer months. This is when all its outdoor adventures become accessible, from hiking and biking to restaurant and bar hopping, to swimming and paddling to shopping or simply lounging around in the solitude of it all.
Home to Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak, the initial infrastructure to support visitors to Stowe was put in place more than a century and a half ago. The first resort hotel was built on top of Mount Mansfield in 1850, followed less than a decade later by the construction of an auto road to the top of the mountain and another through Smugglers’ Notch.
When visiting, check out the Stowe Recreation Path, a 5.5-mile paved public greenway that casually connects Stowe Village and along the path of the Little River before reaching its end point at a vintage Vermont covered bridge near Topnotch Resort. Suitable for walkers, cyclists and baby strollers, the path leads past many Stowe restaurants, shops, parks and playing fields.
The Notch along Route 108 between Stowe and Smugglers’ Notch ski resorts offers some of New England’s most popular natural features that attract rock climbers from all over the world. And there is always the auto toll road, the easiest way to reach the 4,393-foot summit of Mount Mansfield. The 4.5-mile drive up the twisting gravel road opens up panoramic views of the White Mountains, the Adirondacks, Lake Champlain and the Green Mountains.
There is a proud and distinct local charm that exists in southern Vermont that is not to be missed, and Brattleboro — just 10 miles from the Massachusetts border — captures it with flare and style.
Situated in the Connecticut River Valley, the lowest elevation point in the state, the town soars to great heights when it comes to community spirit and support. Did you know Brattleboro in 2007 became the second town in the nation to be certified as a Fair Trade community? A stroll down Main Street shows you why, with locally owned shops one after another featuring locally produced crafts, clothing, foods and specialty products.
If shopping isn’t your thing, check out the historic Retreat Farm, a nonprofit that focuses on conservation, education, recreation and sustainable community enterprise. The authentic working farm shows rural Vermont at its finest and welcomes families to participate in hands-on activities, including interaction with animals. It is also a trailhead to the 9-mile Retreat Trails recreation network that winds through the forested and hilly area just north of the Massachusetts border. Trails can lead you to the top of Brattleboro’s Harris Hill Ski Jump, which provides spectacular views of the surrounding countryside, or to the historic Retreat Tower, built in 1834 to serve as the first insane asylum in Vermont.
Is there a better way explore Vermont’s Green Mountains than by hiking the extraordinary Long Trail? Built by the Green Mountain Club between 1910 and 1930, the trail stretches 272 miles along the spine of the Green Mountains from the Massachusetts-Vermont line to the Canadian border. It is the oldest long-distance hiking trail in the United States, giving hikers access to Vermont’s highest peaks along the way.
Perfect for families out for a few hours, for a weekend or for extended adventures, be sure to get the latest trail information and map downloads from the Green Mountain Club website prior to your trip. An “end to ender” hike along the entire length of the trail typically takes between 20 and 30 days.
While you can access the Long Trail from numerous locations in the state (there are 160 miles of side trails that branch off of it), perhaps the best starting point for those not familiar is at the GMC’s Visitor Center in Waterbury Center.