Words by Nina Griffin, Photos by Dylan Griffin
Affectionately called “the Kingdom” by locals, or otherwise referred to on bumper stickers as NEK, the Northeast Kingdom is the northeasternmost region of the Green Mountain State. It includes the counties of Essex, Orleans, and Caledonia and is characterized by its bucolic vistas and raw natural beauty. I know, I know . . . isn’t all of Vermont known for such things? True, but the Kingdom is a bit different
Our family makes the drive every summer and though it’s only two hours from our Champlain Valley home, it feels light-years away. Sure, the cell service is spotty and there are far fewer dining options but we don’t go for the modern convenience. We go for the experience of being in a remote and breathtaking place.
That said, there are some fantastic things to do in the Northeast Kingdom in every season. Here’s our NEK to-do list for summer 2018 …
1. Bread & Puppet.
Who knew that the longest-running, self-sustaining nonprofit theatre company in the United States is located in Glover? Artistic Director Peter Schumann has been creating his political puppetry since 1963. It’s a spectacle of cheap art, freedom of speech, and political activism that’s a fantastic experience for old and young alike. Go for the summer pageant and the museum tour every Sunday afternoon from late June through the end of August. Or show up on a Saturday for rehearsal and be in the show the next day. And, yes, they do serve bread, homemade and slathered in the zangiest garlic aioli you’ve ever tasted.
2. Parker Pie
If you’re not already satiated with carbs after your Bread and Puppet show, you’ll want to head over to West Glover’s happening pizza joint, Parker Pie. Tucked in the hills, this gem of an establishment serves up amazing pizza with inventive toppings. We’re partial to the Green Mountain Special and the Bangkok Disco. But honestly, they’re all bangin’.
3. Maidstone State Park
Like any good Vermonter, State14 contributor and NEK native Nathanael Asaro likes to keep his favorite camping spots under wraps. However, he’s willing to spread the love about one, Maidstone, the most remote of Vermont’s state parks. Visitors have access to the glacial Maidstone lake, a 796-acre body of water with pristine clarity twenty-five feet down.
4. Hill Farmstead Brewery
What would a visit to the Northeast Kingdom be without a stop at the Best Brewery in the World … for four years in a row? Located on a quiet dirt road in Greensboro, Vermont, Hill Farmstead is a destination for beer fans worldwide. Go for a flight tasting and savor sips of the Edward, the Society & Solitude, the Arthur, and more.
5. Hardwick, VT
Hardwick has arguably done more for the locavore movement than any other American town. Author and State14 contributor Ben Hewitt wrote an illuminating book called “The Town that Food Saved” about the role Hardwick has played in shining a light on the importance and viability of localized food systems. Visit downtown Hardwick, eat at some ofthe locally infused restaurants, or visit the Buffalo Mountain Food Co-op to stock up on healthy snacks for your drive through the NEK.
6. Pick a lake, any lake…
Caspian Lake, Crystal Lake, Shadow Lake, Maidstone Lake. You really can’t go wrong with any lake in the Kingdom. We are partial to Lake Willoughby. It may be chilly due to its glacial nature but the pass between Mount Pisgah and Mount Hor is spectacular. The waters and the view will take your breath away, quite literally.
7. Mount Pisgah
If you want to see Lake Willoughby and an astounding sweeping view of the region, take a hike up Mount Pisgah. (P.S. There are steep drop-offs, so don’t bring the kids.)
8. Karmê Chölin Shambhala Meditation Center
The bucolic landscape of the NEK isn’t Zen enough for you? Pay the Karmê Chölin Center in Barnet a visit. This world-renowned meditation center is located on 700 pristine acres and has six meditation halls. Visit for a day, a week, a month! Practice meditation, contemplative disciplines like kyudo— the art of Japanese archery—or simply share a meal with retreatants in the dining hall. . . . These are just some of the offerings happening all summer.
9. Red Sky Trading Post
Need a little retail therapy a la NEK? Red Sky Trading Post in Glover is an experience like none other. Its mix of kitschy vintage wares invitingly pour out of a quaint little barn in downtown Glover. They have, hands down, some of the most scrumptious baked goods, pickles, and local treats in the state. And get this—it’s self-serve. Yep, bring cash or a check and leave it in the mason jar because nobody is on duty. We’re on the honor system here in the Kingdom.
10. East Burke
East Burke is small-town Vermont at its most picturesque: the charming homes, the postcard- perfect general store (a dying breed), the views of Burke Mountain. It’s also a great homebase for folks who are ready to hike, bike, swim, boat, fish, frolic, or just relax.
11. Kingdom Trails
And while you’re in East Burke, make use of Kingdom Trails. This nonprofit’s mission is “to provide recreation and education opportunities for local residents and visitors while working to conserve natural resources and create economic stimulation.” Can’t knock that. Kingdom Trails is a valued asset for some serious outdoor fun.
12. Circus Smirkus Camp
Magic awaits under the big top in Greensboro at the Circus Smirkus Campus, where circus professionals teach kids the arts of acrobatics, aerial, juggling, balance, performance, and more. Kiddos can attend Smirkus Camp for one day or up to two weeks, and, yes, there’s even a session for adults! And if you can’t go to camp, catch one of the Smirkus shows in the Big Top Tour!
13. The Museum of Everyday Life
This unique no-frills museum is located in a barn on Route 16 just south of Glover. The museum explores and celebrates everyday objects and rejects a “commodity-based model of collection and display” by sourcing material and stories from the general public. Past exhibits include: Toothbrush from Twig to Bristle in All Its Expedient Beauty, The Pencil in the 21st Century, The Incredible Story of the Safety Pin , andA Celebration of the Match. Last year the exhibit was simply called DUST and in 2018 the barn will be slightly less dusty with a show all about Bells and Whistles. The museum is self-serve (it’s a thing, in the NEK), so if you arrive and no one’s around, just follow the directions at the door: “Turn on the lights when you enter, and don’t forget to turn off the lights when you depart!” Finally and maybe the best thing to do on your visit to the Northeast Kingdom this summer is . . .
Because really, part of the beauty about being in the Kingdom is the chance to slow down and do less. It’s about taking in the natural world and spending time reconnecting with any friends and family you’re traveling with. It’s about getting back to basics, getting back to yourself. So log off, bring a book, and leave the fancy shoes at home.
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