Conde Nast Traveler
By: Cassie Shortsleeve
September 16, 2017
Year after year, autumn creeps in at Vermont’s northern border, painting the state a fall foliage storybook of reds, oranges, and yellows. It’s the type of stuff that beckons travelers from across the globe, and rightfully so: Three-quarters of Vermont is covered in forest, and the state has the highest concentration of maple trees in the country (these are the ones that erupt in color).
But where—and when—should you go? Up in the northern reaches of the state, leaves usually begin to turn the second and third weeks of September. (The Vermont Department of Tourism’s foliage tracker details peak foliage times in different areas of the state.) But a trip anywhere across state lines from mid-September through October practically guarantees awe; so does a car ride; or entry to one of the many fall festivals speckled across the state. Here’s what to see on your fall trip to Vermont.
Early leaf peepers, follow ‘NEK’ bumper stickers north. Colors in what’s known as Vermont’s “Northeast Kingdom”—a remote region of hilly farm towns and family ski resorts comprising three northern counties stretching from the New Hampshire border to the U.S.-Canadian border—pop early. Stop in towns like Burke, where you can walk uncrowded country lanes, ride in a hot air balloon, or canoe quiet ponds; or, farther north, ride the Jay Peak Aerial Tramway to the 4,000-foot summit of Jay Peak. The views of four states and Canada are fiery-hued. Other photo opportunities can be found driving through nearby Montgomery, with its six covered bridges—the most in any town in the country.
About an hour south of Montgomery, lakefront Burlington, with its bustling Church Street Market, is not to be missed, either. Stay at Hotel Vermont, where a beer concierge guide at the hotel takes guests through some of the state’s most sought-after brews, including Hill Farmstead and Heady Topper.
Vermont has no shortage of remarkable hikes. In Woodstock, one of the most beautiful towns in the U.S., you can be up and down the town’s 1,250-foot Mount Tom in about 90 minutes. Stay at The Woodstock Inn & Resort, and you’ll be greeted with a roaring oversized fire upon your return.
Hikers at Mount Philo, in Vermont’s oldest state park (about 40 minutes south of Burlington) aren’t only rewarded with bright views of Lake Champlain, the Adirondacks, and the Green Mountains, but carbs and beer, too: Folino’s Wood Fired Pizza and Fiddlehead Brewing Company, just minutes from the base, don’t disappoint.
For those seeking heights, Mount Mansfield, in the Stowe area, serves up sights of Lake Champlain surrounded by a color-flooded forest, plus the ride there—up scenic Route 100 and country roads with views of streams and covered bridges—is a romantic one. (A pit stop at the Cold Hollow Cider Mill for warm cider doughnuts is a must, too.)
Don’t want to hike? Many of Vermont’s ski mountains transform into stages for foliage every fall. Killington, Stowe, and Stratton all offer gondola rides from their respective mountains up and over changing leaves.
One of the best ways to see the sights is to watch them whiz by your windows—and change as you travel. Pick your route: Vermont’s Route 2 cuts the state East to West from Lake Champlain to Maine. Along the way, you’ll not only find a path of blazing colors but the Great Vermont Corn Maze in Danville and, eventually, the lake islands. Route 7 from the Massachusetts border to Burlington is also just as rich in views as it is pit stops (charming small towns like serene Dorset, dotted with art galleries). But most notable is “The Skiers’ Highway,” Route 100—Vermont’s scenic 146-mile byway that hugs the edge the Green Mountains, colors ablaze. Along the way, you’ll pass vast farm fields, waterfalls, and be able to take your pick of mountain passes.
Didn’t bring a car? Twin Farms—an 18th-century farmhouse turned hotel and spa—gives guests access to a BMW 750.
Vermonters will tell you to continue driving North on Route 100 toward the Mad River Valley, the region of Sugarbush Resort. The colors are there, of course, but so is the newly-opened Mad River Taste Place, an artisanal market of Vermont food and drinks, charming country stores (The Warren Store), and some of the best tacos around in Waitsfield (we’re looking at you, Mad Taco).
If soaking in fall screams craft beers and artisan markets, Vermont’s many festivals offer something for everyone. Stowe’s Oktoberfest—which turns the town into a festivity full of Vermont-brewed beers and Oompah bands from September 29 to October 1—is a popular choice. But for something a little different, in the eastern part of the state, Tunbridge’s Vermont Sheep & Wool Festival is complete with more than 70 vendors selling fleece, yarn, and hand-spun fabrics; there’s also a cashmere exhibit and fiber arts classes. The annual Vermont Wine & Harvest Festival (September 21 to 24) in the Mount Snow area also curates local food and beverage experiences (soup strolls, wine dinners, and the chance to taste sips from 20 Vermont wineries and distilleries) in the most scenic of backdrops.