The state of Vermont is best known for its mountainous landscape, glorious autumn colors that attract leaf-peepers from all over the United States and Canada, and its hefty production of maple syrup. Located in New England, Vermont is the second-least-populated state in the U.S. with only 600,000 residents, and the only one of the New England states that does not border the Atlantic Ocean.
Nicknamed the Green Mountain State, Vermont outlawed highway billboards back in 1968 so that travelers had nothing to impede their views of the picturesque scenery. There is no shortage of things to see and do in Vermont, and here are a dozen of my favorites:
1. Hike to a Mountaintop
With almost 500,000 acres of public land in Vermont, it is easy to find a trail that suits any hiking style. In for the long haul? Take the Long Trail, a 272-mile footpath with endless hiking views that stretches from the border with Massachusetts to the border of Quebec, Canada.
Not up for such an endeavor? No problem! Try one of the more than 166 miles of side trails that are perfect for the day- or weekend-hiker. If it is a mountaintop view you’re craving, take the 3.7-mile Stowe Pinnacle Trail to the summit for the most breathtaking panoramic views imaginable.
2. Stay at a Charming Historic Inn
Part of the quaint charm throughout all of New England is the extensive number of bed-and-breakfast-style inns to choose from. Each with its own unique character, history, lodging style, and location, staying at an inn rather than a traditional hotel will enhance your Vermont experience. Most innkeepers live on-site and take tremendous pride in their job.
In southern Vermont, the Inn at Manchester, located at the foothills of the Green Mountains, is sure to please. Boasting 22 guest rooms, a living-room-style pub, and made-to-order daily breakfasts with fresh local ingredients, you’ll want to relax in the forest-green rocking chair on the wrap-around porch before you venture into downtown Manchester.
Staying further north? Check into the Inn at Mountain View Farm in East Burke for easy access to miles of mountain biking trails, skiing, and snowmobiling paths. The animal lovers in the family will be thrilled to learn there is also an animal sanctuary on-site. Tours and meet-and-greets with the animals are available.
3. Go Sight-Seeing Along State Route 100
Known as Vermont’s Main Street, the scenic Route 100 Byway runs along the eastern edge of the Green Mountains in south-central Vermont. Spanning a whopping 146-miles, the byway is one of the best ways to explore Vermont’s history and culture. You will find great dining, one-of-a-kind shopping, and ample lodging along the way.
Touted by Yankee Magazine as one of “the most scenic drives in New England”, any time of the year is a great time to explore. For an educational and entertaining commentary along the way, download the Vermont Route 100 Byway Gypsy Guide at the App Store or Google Play.
4. Watch the Sun Set over Lake Champlain
What Vermont lacks in ocean coastline it more than makes up for along the shores of Lake Champlain. A natural freshwater lake, Lake Champlain divides upstate New York and Vermont but also spans across the U.S.-Canada border into Quebec. One of the most refreshing things outside of the lake itself is the lack of development. Flanked on the west by the Adirondack Mountains, sunsets here are stunning and largely unobstructed.
There are plenty of daytime activities available too, like golfing, camping, and riverboat cruises. Ferryboats shuttle automobiles as well as walk-on passengers between New York and Vermont multiple times a day, making it easy to explore both areas if you choose.
5. Go Leaf-Peeping During Autumn
No doubt about it, autumn in New England is a feast for the eyes, with sweeping mountain views all through Vermont leading the way. Each year thousands of travelers flock to see the mountains ablaze in shades of crimson, amber, and tangerine amid the pine and fir trees.
Vermont’s autumn foliage peak comes early, typically from the last week of September into the first weeks of October. If you plan to go during peak season, plan ahead to secure lodging as rooms generally fill up months in advance.
6. Visit Shelburne Farms
Shelburne Farms is a 1400-acre working farm, forest, and National Landmark. For decades people of all ages have been coming here to learn about sustainable farming, building diverse and resilient communities, and care for natural, agricultural, and human resources.
In addition to visiting the farm, guests can stay overnight at the inn or one of multiple guest houses. On-site dining, walking paths, and even a children’s farmyard (where kids of all ages can meet goats, horses, dairy cows, and donkeys) rounds out the property. For more information on planning your visit, see shelburnefarms.org/.
7. Take the Craft Brewery Tour
At City Brew Tours in Burlington the motto is “You drink, we drive”. Granting exclusive access to the best local craft beer breweries, City Brew Tours takes you on a behind-the-scenes journey into the brewing process while you feast on delicious food and sample up to 15 different craft beers.
Vermont breweries have been making headlines both nationally and internationally for several years, courtesy of their outstanding libations. There are three public tours to choose from including the Sip of Burlington, the Sip of Stowe, and the Classic Brew Tour. Private tours can also be arranged for those special occasions like bachelor parties or corporate events. Tickets can be purchased online by visiting citybrewtours.com/burlington/.
8. Drive Through Smuggler’s Notch
If you’re looking for a glimpse of pristine America, it can be found here along Smuggler’s Notch, where the narrow pass takes you on a journey seemingly untouched by human hands. Once used as a route to help anything from alcohol to runaway slaves cross the border from the U.S. into Canada, the notch road is open only during fair weather months, and driving its hairpin turns is not for the faint of heart.
Due to the tapered, winding pass, only passenger cars and trucks are allowed, tractor-trailers and tour buses are prohibited. Several parking areas along the pass allow for easy access to trail heads for further exploration, while scenic overlooks hover above the rock-jetted basin below allowing unobstructed views you won’t soon forget.
9. Take a Covered Bridges Driving Tour
Vermont is home to more than 100 covered bridges, boasting more covered bridges per square mile than any other state in the U.S. Dating back to as early as 1820, most of these bridges were constructed in the early 19th century. The longest two-span covered bridge in the world can be found traversing the Connecticut River between Windsor, Vermont, and Cornish, New Hampshire. Coming in at 465 feet, it is also the longest wooden bridge in the United States.
Whether you want to explore them all or just a few, online interactive maps can help you plan your route. Be aware of height and weight restrictions, which vary widely.
For fans of covered bridge construction and history, walk across to explore the historic covered bridge at the Shelburne Museum. Be sure to look up to see the bridge’s distinguishing arch trusses, first patented in 1804!
10. Visit Vermont’s Little Grand Canyon, Quechee Gorge
Vermont’s most spectacular natural wonder is from receding glaciers some 13,000 years ago. Melting glacial waters cut away a bedrock ridge that today draws visitors from all across New England.
From a vista standing 168 feet above the Ottaqueechee River, a picnic area overlooks a spectacular waterfall. Stop by the visitor’s center for an information center, public restrooms, and maps of walking paths and hiking trails in the area.
11. Kayak on Lake Willoughby
At first sight, you might think you have caught a glimpse of a fjord in Norway. Lake Willoughby’s picturesque towering mountains and crystal-clear sparkling waters can be viewed from the small sandy beaches at either end of the lake, but to get an exceptional perspective take to the water in a kayak or canoe.
Don’t own your own kayak or canoe? No problem! Stop by Clyde River Recreation for all of your paddling rental needs. Enjoy a 5.5-mile paddle trip where Clyde’s folks will drop you off and help you set off. Then slowly paddle back to your vehicle, going with the current. For more experienced kayakers, Clyde also offers full-day adventures on the lake.
12. Take the Stowe Gondola Ride to the Top of Mount Mansfield
Long after the last flakes of snow have melted, the Stowe Gondola Skyride still operates daily (weather permitting) through summer and autumn, soaring to the top of Mount Mansfield. At 4,395 feet, Mansfield is Vermont’s highest mountain.
Views from the summit are spectacular, and riding the Gondola back down is included in a round-trip fare. The Gondola ride is dog-friendly should you choose to bring your 4-legged friend along.
At the top the Cliff House Restaurant welcomes hungry visitors both inside and out on the wrap-around deck. Reservations are highly recommended, and pets are not permitted in the restaurant. Hiking trails are available should you choose to hike back down instead of ride.
Whether you are an outdoors lover or a sightseeing junkie, Vermont should be on your bucket list. No matter the time of year, spectacular scenery awaits in every corner of the state. From winter skiing, summer evenings at the lake, or autumn foliage tours, there’s no shortage of activities. The perfect place to slow down, take in the fresh mountain air, and reconnect with nature, Vermont has you covered and then some.
Last Updated on September 30, 2020