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We couldn’t write two sentences about Vermont in fall without addressing the obvious: leaf peeping. A seasonal explosion of scarlet and ochre, butter-yellow and tangerine leaves brings hordes of tourists to the state from September through November. Every inch of forest and every bit of leaf become a panoply of color worth peeping.
You can simply hop in the car, pack some snacks and drive your way around Vermont, no particular destination in mind. But if you need more specific spots on your journey, here are some favorites. (You may want to subscribe to the Vermont Tourism Board’s Fall Foliage Report for up-to-the-minute insights on the best color.)
The Montgomery-Jay Peak area in the Northeast Kingdom is one of the state’s most popular sites for leaf peeping simply because its northern locale means that colors change first and last longest at such high elevations.
Drive around the Upper Connecticut River Valley Loop, a 115-mile-long journey that takes you through the Killington ski area (famed in later months for its snowfall and winter sports) and ends in the picturesque town of Woodstock.
Head to Stowe and take a gondola ride through the colors to the mountaintop, where classic wide-angle views of Vermont’s Green Mountains await. (There are also several waterfalls and picnic spots nearby.)
Feeling adventurous? Get a bird’s-eye view of rural Vermont on a fall-themed hot-air balloon ride with Above Reality. Sip Champagne or cider, and nibble on Vermont cheese and local fudge as you soar above the canopy.
Vermont’s rich soil and cool, crisp fall weather make it a top apple-growing region. Take a break from peeping leaves to pick some of the season’s gloriously fresh produce at one of the state’s many PYO farms. If being surrounded by all those apple trees starts to feel a little too healthy, end the day with hot, pillowy cider donuts fresh from the fryer. Insider tip: Shelburne Orchards offers 6,000 trees of gloriously perfect apples plus an on-site distillery (plus this writer’s favorite cider donuts).
Once you’ve polished off a half-dozen of the cider-rich specimens straight from their greasy paper sack, you could maybe use some exercise after all. Autumn is perfect weather for a moderate trek up one of Vermont’s old trails. The Long Trail in the heart of Vermont follows the Green Mountains for roughly 270 miles, crossing Stratton Mountain and Jay Peak. Along the way, find easy side trails, campsites, picnic spots, and the occasional moose. A hike up Mt. Hunger nets you absurdly open views of Stowe and the Green Mountains, while the Stowe Pinnacle trail is a family-friendly jaunt close to town. Another favorite is the easy trail loop around Knight Point State Park. (It’s a good fit for families and the more leisurely walkers among us.) Finally, advanced hikers and mountaineers can take on the six-mile Camel’s Hump near Waterbury, a difficult hike that rewards intrepid hikers with a waterfall view.
Vermont plays host to a packed calendar of events every autumn. Throughout the state, find pumpkin festivals, county fairs and art exhibitions. Ask your innkeepers for their local picks, or scan through these fall festivals and events worth traveling for:
Every year, the Annual Stowe Oktoberfest transforms, fairytale-like, into a Bavarian village, combining oompah bands, German eats and, of course, the freshly brewed craft beers for which Vermont is so well known.
Billings Farm & Museum hosts a Harvest Weekend replete with an old-fashioned barn dance, cider pressing, and of course spiced cider and homemade donuts (more on those below). Take a tour of the operating dairy farm and experience 19th-century Vermont life, freshly fried cider donut in hand!
The Burke Foliage Festival kicks off the calendar at the end of September and celebrates the colors of the season with kid-friendly attractions like horse-drawn carriage rides, plus craft shows and a silent auction for grownups.
The Peru Fair in Vermont is the place for a taste of small-town life and old-fashioned country-fair fun. With a pig roast and pony rides, live music and art exhibits, this picturesque little village comes alive at the end of September. It’s a perfect pitstop during a leaf-peeping drive along Route 11.
Eat and Drink
Go beyond the pumpkin spice latte. Vermont’s orchards burst with autumn fruits and its farms produce some world-famous cheeses, so any food-focused tourist will be well-fed here. Have breakfast at your B&B before heading out to discover the region’s best eats.
Hit the Vermont Cheese Trail to find sharp-as-an-autumn-chill cheddar, butter-soft farmstead chevre, pillowy burrata and everything in between. It’s not all Cabot here: Independent producers at Consider Bardwell, Thistle Hill, Maplebrook and dozens more offer tastings at farmers’ markets or on-site. Three Shepherds even offers classes to aspiring cheesemongers.
Try one of Vermont’s many craft brews at Magic Hat Brewery in Burlington during a free tour. Purists may sniff that the indie darling has gone corporate, but one sip of their adventurous seasonal beers will put all doubt to rest. Check out The Alchemist, a small family-run brewery that brews one beer and brews it well—the cult favorite Heady Topper. (Show up early and prepare to wait in line.) Long Trail turns Vermont’s purest drinking water into delicious beer at its Green Mountains digs, where it nestles prettily among the hills; plan a fall visit to sample the brewery’s Harvest ale, made sweet with local maple syrup.
(Oh, about that maple syrup—Vermont produces half a million gallons of maple syrup each year. Take a detour to one of the state’s sugarhouses to pick up some of the amber-colored stuff firsthand, such as Morse Farm Sugarworks, pictured above.)
Still in the mood for something sweet? Pop in for a factory tour at Ben & Jerry’s Waterbury plant. There are samples on the tour, of course, but the on-site scoop shop serves up special items like the Vermonster, a shareable—we hope—twenty-scoop sundae piled with bananas, cookies, brownies, fudge, caramel and candy.
Vermont weather can vary in the fall, but it tends to cool quickly. Some northern regions of the state can even see some snow. You probably won’t need a parka, but you’d be wise to pack a light coat and boots. Think layers!
For many flyers, Boston Logan International Airport will be the most economical entry point to the region. You should also consider Albany, Burlington, or even Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport, depending on where you’re flying from and driving to.
About those leaf peepers! Weekends and holidays bring literally thousands of drivers to the roads and byways for some fall foliage action. Traffic can get maddening. Avoid the crowds and plan your explorations for midweek.
Where to Stay
There are countless bed and breakfast options in Vermont, but we picked a few options for their locations to the best fall color and fall events (or simply because we love them so).
Woodstocker Inn. A few quirky furnishings fill spaces painted in bright splashes of color, and bedroom suites come stocked with candy bars, rubber duckies and organic toiletries. Located in Woodstock; rates from $130.
Timberholm Inn. One of Stowe’s first ski lodges, the Timberholm Inn is a rustic guesthouse tucked in the Green Mountains. Chilly fall nights are best spent around the large fieldstone fireplace. Located in Stowe; rates from $95 per night.
Made INN Vermont. This self-described urban chic boutique B&B is a Diamond Collection winner for its hip interiors and tasty inclusions like a farm-to-table gourmet breakfast and freshly baked chocolate chip cookies (perhaps washed down with the hard-to-find Heady Topper?). Located in Burlington; rates from $229 per night.
Dorset Inn. In the tiny town of Dorset is the state’s oldest continuously operated inn, a cozy assemblage of 26 rooms with Jacuzzi bathtubs, steam showers and private fireplaces. Located in Dorset; rates from $150 per night.
The Swift House Inn. Middlebury’s Swift House Inn is spread across three historical buildings (a main house, a carriage house and a gate house), with unique rooms and suites in each. The B&B is conveniently located near the Middlebury campus. Rates from $129 per night.
1868 Crosby House. Aside from the romantic rooms found inside the buttercup-yellow Italianate manse, it’s the Victorian gardens that draw guests' eyes at this inn (not to mention the gourmet breakfast dishes, where local maple syrup plays a starring role). Located in Brattleboro; rates from $125 per night.
Inn at Round Barn Farm. A luxurious stay begins with breakfast sourced straight from the inn’s on-site organic gardens, continues with a leisurely swim in the indoor lap pool, and ends with a good book in front of the gas fireplace. Located in Waitsfield; rates from $205 per night.
—by Dara Continenza
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