Much like a friend who comes to visit but once a year, fall is finally upon us. Cooler weather, changing leaves, harvest and, of course, the looming holiday season make it my favorite time of year. I suffer sudden cravings for pears and apples and anything involving pumpkin, and, for some reason, I feel an inexplicable longing to be in New England.
Perhaps it stems from a childhood filled with Peanuts specials and holiday shows that always involved hayride sing-alongs or sleigh rides through the fields. Perhaps it’s a rebellion against spending most of my life in the desert southwest, the polar opposite of New England. Either way, the longing became plans for a fall jaunt to experience farmers markets, autumn foliage and the quintessential New England.
Not living in New England, I needed someplace to start, a little advice on where to go and what to see, as well as a literal starting point. Traveler extraordinaire Samantha Brown suggested the Green Mountains of Vermont and, after a little research, an itinerary was set for a long weekend with three principle goals:
- The internationally famous fall colors New England is known for
- Quaint New England towns and villages
- Farmers markets
The research all pointed to Route 100, which runs north-south almost the entire length of the state and right through the Green Mountains. With easy access from the airport in Burlington, Waterbury makes a great base for a few days of short trips throughout the region.
Day One: Waterbury
You couldn’t ask for a more idyllic New England town or a better “base camp”. For one thing, it’s home to two of my favorite things: Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream and Green Mountain Coffee. Right away, I’ve lost leaf peeping time to factory tours, gift shops, cafes and parlors, but Waterbury hosts a farmers market (Thursdays, mid-May through mid-October), so that gets checked on my list. You also should not resist the urge to stop in the Cold Hollow Cider Mill (Cider Donuts – ‘nuff said). Along with Green Mountain Coffee and Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Plant, they offer tours (some self-guided), have wonderful gift shops and, best of all, samples.
If you’re a beer nut, plan a stop at The Alchemist Brewery as well; they also offer self-guided tours and tasting of their flagship Double IPA, Heady Topper. Two other personal favorites, cheese and chocolate, nearly cohabitate in Waterbury. Cabot Creamery and Lake Champlain Chocolates share a building – and offer samples! Cabot is a living piece of Vermont history, started in 1919 as a cooperative of 100 Vermont farmers and continuing today producing two million tons of cheese and butter a day. Next door, Lake Champlain Chocolates is home to Vogue magazine’s “ultimate chocolate bar,” the 5 Star Bar, in a variety of sinful flavors. With such a collection of boutiques and attractions in the area, it’s easy to see why this section of Route 100 is known as “Enticement Highway”.
The café at the Green Mountain Coffee Visitor’s Center, in the historic train station, is a wonderful place to start the day with a shot of caffeine to get you going. Even in the fall, temperatures are warm enough that you can walk comfortably around town before venturing up Route 100 (Waterbury-Stowe Road) to see (heading north) The Alchemist Brewery, Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Plant and Scoop Shop, Cabots and Lake Champlain Chocolates, and Cold Hollow Cider in Waterbury Center.
There are many lodging options, from motels to resorts and a host of B&Bs. The Old Stagecoach Inn is both convenient and classic. The restored 1826 building has been a private residence, a tavern and, yes, a stagecoach stop, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, it’s a beautiful bed and breakfast that seems the very essence of New England with what could be the best location in town! There are plenty of rooms but not all have private baths, which can work in your favor if you’re traveling as a family and want to save a few dollars. You can also save a bit if you’re traveling off-season; Fall Foliage rates last through 10/21 and Holiday rates start on Christmas Eve. The bountiful breakfast is very highly rated – and not over rated!
If you’re just passing through Waterbury, I would plan this stop late in your trip because you will most likely be stocking up on gifts and tasty souvenirs here. It’s easy to make a full day of Waterbury but, if you’re pressed for time, you can also squeeze in Day Two’s agenda.
Day Two: The Green Mountain Byway, Waterbury to Stowe
Dubbed the Heart of the Green Mountains, this stretch of Route 100 is a short but pretty drive. At the foot of Mt. Mansfield, the highest peak in Vermont, many visitors equate Stowe with classic European mountain resort villages. Route 100 turns into Main Street here, a pleasant avenue with shops, restaurants and homes that almost instantly make you wonder about moving here. That’s especially true for skiers, since Stowe is home to world class ski resorts and the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum, celebrating their 10th anniversary in 2012. Fans of The Sound of Music will feel a kinship here as well. After fleeing Austria, the famed von Trapp family settled in Stowe and has been welcoming visitors to their home since 1950. Situated off of Route 108, the stunning Trapp Family Lodge is a large, Austrian-style resort which makes it easy to imagine you’ve left Vermont far behind, transported to the Alps and a simple but luxurious lifestyle. With its own restaurant and brewery (Yes, beer fans should stop here, too!), the lodge is another fine choice for your Green Mountain base camp.
Quaint New England Village? Check. Farmer’s Market? Every Sunday, May through October. Fiery fall finery? To see the best of it, you have to get up into the mountains. Literally. Back to Route 108 heading northwest through more beautiful scenery to the area’s major attractions: Stowe Mountain and Smuggler’s Notch Resorts. Known for world class winter sports, they offer great hiking the rest of the year. History buffs will appreciate Smuggler’s Notch, a narrow pass through which goods were smuggled northward during President Thomas Jefferson’s ban on trade with Canada as part of the Embargo Act of 1807. For a truly unique leaf peeping experience, Smugg’s has a year round zip line and canopy tour which made Travel + Leisure magazine’s list of the World’s Coolest Zip Lines in April 2012. While it’s not overly strenuous, a decent level of fitness is required. There are very specific limitations you need to know before you go. Learn more at ArborTek Canopy Adventures.
Day Three: South to Killington
It doesn’t take long to learn there are a dozen names for the highways and byways in the region. Route 100 is also known as the Skiers Highway thanks to the resorts dotting the mountain range. This is snow country – Killington gets 250 inches a year and it can start in October – but the mountainsides put on one heck of a show in the fall, a reminder that sometimes the journey truly is the destination. It’s only about 60 miles from Waterbury to the charming shops and restaurants in Killington, but frequent stops to wonder at the natural beauty and snap a few photos can easily stretch the scenic drive into a few hours. That’s okay, though. That is, after all, why we’re here.
Students of history may note that Calvin Coolidge was born nearby. Just south of Killington is the President Calvin Coolidge State Historical Site in Plymouth Notch. It was here that, while vacationing at his boyhood home, then Vice President Coolidge received news of President Warren Harding’s sudden death, and was sworn into office by his father, a local notary public. Woodstock is not far away, and this region of New England is filled with historic sites and museums, working farms, artists and craftsmen, and small towns seemingly unchanged since the days of Coolidge’s childhood.
If you decide to venture into Vermont for your own fall adventures, bookmark the Fall Foliage Report at Vermont.com. You’ll find weekly reports from the Vermont Department of Tourism, Vermont State Foresters, and fellow leaf peepers. If you still need to be convinced that a visit to Vermont is just what you need, browsing through their photo gallery should do the trick.