— STOWE, VERMONT — Nestled in the foothills of Vermont’s tallest mountain is the charming town of Stowe. Known mainly as a premier east coast ski town, Stowe also attracts visitors year-round. Thanks to its walkability with numerous shops and restaurants, Stowe has the iconic New England small-town charm. At the same time, it showcases some of the most stunning mountain views in northern Vermont.
Whether you are craving a week-long outdoor adventure or searching for a cozy weekend getaway, you will almost surely find what you are looking for here. Let me introduce you to a few of my favorite things to do in Stowe.
1. Ski and Snowboard Museum
Located in the oldest public building in Stowe (circa 1818), the Vermont Ski Museum is on a mission to collect, preserve, and celebrate Vermont’s Ski and Snowboarding history. Through a collection of memorabilia, photographs, and artwork – over 8000 pieces in all – the museum tells the story of Vermont’s rich history in the sport.
Stroll through, and gaze at everything from boots, to poles, to mechanized equipment reminiscent of the earliest days of competitive skiing, including what is thought to be the first-ever electronic eye used for those age-old photo finishes.
You’ll even find large items on display here – old-time ski lifts, parts of snow-making machines, and some early communication equipment used by area ski resorts. When you plan to visit, check the website for current hours.
2. Stowe Gondola Skyride
There’s no need to be a skier or snowboarder to take in the views from the top of Mount Mansfield. During summer and autumn, when the skiers are long gone, the gondola ride continues to operate, taking visitors on a spectacularly scenic glide roundtrip up and down the mountain.
Take a leisurely ride to the top, where you’ll disembark, all the while observing the expansive views overlooking three states. The 15-minute enclosed ride slowly guides you to the peak of Vermont’s tallest mountain and culminates at the Cliff House Restaurant. Trust me, you’ll want to grab a beer from the bar and step out on the deck or call ahead to reserve a window-front table.
3. Horse-drawn Sleigh Ride
Looking for a romantic way to spend a winter afternoon? Look no further than the Gentle Giants Sleigh and Carriage Rides. One of the best ways to enjoy the beauty of Stowe while traveling through some of Vermont’s most scenic landscapes is from a horse-drawn sleigh. Snuggle into your own “one-horse open sleigh” pulled by a stout Percheron or Belgium draft horse. A skilled guide escorts you on the journey that begins with crossing a covered bridge, then saunters streamside, just before gliding onto the winding trails.
If you visit during the warmer months, sleighs are replaced with wheeled carriages. Carriage rides can accommodate up to 12 passengers, making it the perfect family-friendly activity. Rumor has it; you can even learn a bit of “Vermontese” from your guide along the way. Be sure to call ahead to secure a reservation.
4. Stay in the Heart of Stowe
One of the best ways to explore all that Stowe offers is to stay right in the heart of town, where walkability becomes front and center. This award-winning hotel’s location makes it the perfect home base for exploration. Stretching across a sprawling 50-acres with mountain views, Stoweflake Mountain Resort is surrounded by over 30 shops, restaurants, and attractions.
What’s more, the renowned Stowe recreational path is just outside your door here. Extending out from the front of the hotel, the rec path leads you straight to the mountains, where you’ll find ample hiking and mountain biking trails. Extending from the rear of the hotel, the path takes you directly into Stowe Village, where charming shops, restaurants, and the ski museum await.
With hotel amenities like indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a year-round jacuzzi with heated decking, a world-class spa, a sports club including tennis, racquetball, and squash, along with a well-appointed fitness center, staying at Stoweflake should easily please any traveler. All guest rooms have a cozy gas fireplace, wet bar with mini-fridge, and large updated bathrooms, some with jacuzzi soaking tubs.
5. R&R with a Massage
No need to be a guest at the hotel to luxuriate at the Stoweflake Spa. Visitors can enjoy spa amenities such as massage, facials, and ayurvedic treatments after a long day on the ski slopes or before venturing out for sightseeing. Whether you want an entire day of luxury or a few hours of relaxation, the spa has something on the menu to fit your needs.
While you’re there, don’t forget to check out the spa’s unique aqua solarium. A manmade 12′ high rock wall modeled after the real Bingham Falls in the region will lure you into the warm water mineral pool where you can sit under the waterfalls and luxuriate in your surroundings.
Afterward, slip into your plush robe and enjoy the private women’s or men’s area, where you’ll find a relaxing jacuzzi, steam room, sauna, and shower areas complete with all the needed accessories. There is no wonder readers of Spa Finder Magazine ranked the Stoweflake Spa their top spa choice 4-years in a row. Complete serenity.
6. Take a Brewery Tour
Across the street and within walking distance of your home base at Stoweflake Mountain Inn is Stowe’s Idletyme Brewing. Get an up-close look at the state-of-the-art copper brew tanks and learn the art and science behind each batch of unique New England-style beer. Even though Idletyme is considered a small, artisanal brewery, they pride themselves on diverse beer offerings made with three types of yeast strains housed on-site.
After your tour, cozy up in the pub or grab a table in the restaurant to enjoy something from Idletyme’s distinctive menu. Everything from great pub-food grabs like fried pickles to the more unexpected, sumptuous dishes like Chicken Cacciatore and Butternut Squash Ravioli is offered, thanks to their unique partnership and support of local farms. Brewery tours are by reservation only, so call ahead. Restaurant reservations are preferred but not required.
7. Stroll Through the General Store
Forget your expectations of what a general store should look like and take a stroll through Shaw’s in historic Stowe Village. Howard Shaw founded this store in 1895, and five generations later, the Shaw family still runs this eclectic little shop. Shaw’s General Store still boasts the original wood floors and center-of-the-store checkout counter where Howard stood each day, all those years ago.
From clothing, footwear, ski accessories, and children’s toys, Shaw’s General Store aspires to be as original as the Vermonter’s, who make up the state. Awash with history and a love of community, this little shop will whisk you back to days gone by where Main Street shopping was once a treasured way of life.
8. Hit the Stowe Swimming Hole
Far from a traditional creek-side spot to cool off in the summer, Stowe’s Swimming Hole is a premier community pool and fitness center. As the founders like to say, “Vermonter’s know how to fit a lot inside a barn,” and boy did they ever. With a competition-size swimming pool, a fully-equipped fitness center, and even swim lessons for adults and kids, this small-town gem is one impressive facility.
Purchase a day pass, non-members can enjoy all the facility benefits as well. Book a lap lane, request a private swimming lesson (both adults and kids) or attend a fitness class or two. Whatever your workout style, you don’t need to skip your routine during a visit to Stowe.
9. Have a Beer Flight in Stowe
In 1939, Maria and the Baron von Trappe, whose story was made famous in The Sound of Music, emigrated to the United States. Shortly after, in 1942, the von Trappe family purchased land in Stowe, Vermont, where their youngest child, Johannes, still lives today. Over the years and many trips back to Austria, Johannes acquired an appreciation of the crisp Austrian lagers. When the craft beer movement took off in the United States in the early 1990s, Johannes noticed a severe lack of Austrian-style lagers in the marketplace.
For more than two decades, Johannes dreamt of building an Austrian-style brewery in Stowe, and in 2010 he made his dream come true. Perched high on a mountain with stunning outdoor views, this brewery gives visitors a glimpse of Austrian-style bier hall dining, where a little bit of Austria meets a lot of Vermont.
Grab a flight or a pint from the bar, or order from a table under the massive wood beams. If the weather allows, meander outside, you can enjoy the mountain views from the first-come, first-served picnic tables.
10. Visit Smuggler’s
Outdoor enthusiasts might claim they have found their Nirvana when visiting Smuggler’s Notch State Park, and they may just be right. Smuggler’s Notch is a narrow winding pass through the Green Mountains, named for what once was only a footpath and horse trail that allowed illegal trade with Canada during the 1807 embargo act. Years later, the Notch was used by fugitive slaves escaping to Canada. During the prohibition years, liquor was smuggled between Vermont and Canada.
Though the Notch has quite the storied past, through the efforts of conservationists, this area is now used for all sorts of outdoor recreation. Lined with 1000-foot-tall cliffs, the paved Notch Road winds its way north from Stowe. Pull-off parking areas allow hikers, mountain bikers, and rock climbers easy access to trailheads. At the same time, overnight tent campers can park and walk to their sites.
Insiders Tip: The Notch Road is only open May 21st-October 17th and is for passenger cars/trucks only. The tight twisting scenic drive cannot accommodate trailers of any length, so there is no RV camping here.
Traveling through Vermont is something everyone should experience. Whether you are an outdoor adventure seeker or a traveler who delights in splendid views, making a stop in the town of Stowe should be on your to-do list. The great thing about this stretch of New England is its beauty no matter the time of year. From the snow-capped peaks in the winter to the crimson and amber display of autumn, every season is a great time to visit Stowe.
*Opening Photo – © Colleen O’Neill Mulvihill
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