Have a Nice Stay: Inspiration for Your Vermont Staycation
Words and photos courtesy of Seven Days
Have a Nice Stay: Inspiration for Your Vermont Staycation
By Carolyn Fox
Due to a global pandemic, Vermont is in a season of many unknowns. We're sure of one thing, though: Our summer is short and sweet, and we ought to make the best of it before cooler days and a potential second wave of COVID-19.
Seven Days created Staytripper to guide you to in-state recreation during this era of limited travel and heightened safety concerns. Your summer vacation plans may have been canceled, but you can stay and play right here; safer, socially distanced options abound in our rural landscape. This issue will point you in the right direction for picnicking, river swimming, alpaca petting and island biking adventures. Looking to truly get away from the crowds? It doesn't get much more remote than sailing on Lake Champlain or camping on a Northeast Kingdom lavender farm.
So, staytrip and stay safe. And remember that spending your "vacation" dollars at Vermont's struggling tourism businesses — from lodging to guided tours to attractions — helps them to survive this season and beyond.
Sail Lake Champlain With Whistling Man Schooner Company
By Ken Picard
Capt. Hannah "Diddy" Langsdale has a favorite moment on every cruise she pilots on Lake Champlain. When her sloop reaches the open water and the sails are raised, she'll switch off the "iron jib" — aka the motor — and let her passengers take in the peaceful and majestic beauty of hauling across the water powered by the wind.
"It doesn't seem like a lot, but ... if you're going 3 knots, it feels like 30 miles per hour," she said. "This is the most fun you'll have going 4 miles per hour."
Langsdale is the owner of Whistling Man Schooner Company. For more than four years, the company's two-hour sailing excursions have been ranked the No. 1 tour in Burlington on the online travel site Tripadvisor.
And with good reason. Whistling Man offers unique but affordable daytime, sunset and moonlit cruises that leave from the Burlington waterfront. In years past, most of its customers were out-of-state visitors. This year, however, Whistling Man is seeing an uptick in local bookings, as Vermonters seek safe and socially distanced outings that are close to home and can be done in small groups.
"My goal is to get people to realize what a gem they have in their own backyard in Lake Champlain," Langsdale said. "There's so much history and beauty here, and I just want people to appreciate that even more."
Langsdale, 26, started working for Whistling Man in 2016 as a deckhand, with little prior sailing experience. Two years later, she had earned her captain's license and bought the company from her mentor, Mathias Dubilier, who still works for her as a captain one day a week.
Whistling Man owns two sister vessels — the Friend Ship and the Wild Rose — both replicas of the 19th-century, wooden-rigged cod and lobster fishing vessels that were traditionally used in Maine. Each is 48 feet long, but, due to slightly varying configurations, the crafts hold different numbers of passengers. Their designs cut through the waves easily and are smooth and comfortable to sail, even in choppy conditions.
Both boats are designed with their lines "led aft," meaning all the ropes to raise and lower the sails run back to the helm so they can be piloted by just one person. However, Langsdale always has a captain and deckhand aboard, both to crew the vessel and to attend to passengers' needs, whether that's opening a bottle of wine, spreading a cheese plate or taking photos.
Assuming conditions are safe, Langsdale added, passengers are invited to take the wheel and raise and trim the sails. That said, passengers aren't expected to do anything at all. They can simply kick back, dip their feet in the water and enjoy the ride.
The Friend Ship and the Wild Rose on Lake Champlain, courtesy of Hannah Langsdale/Whistling Man Schooner Company
Along the way, Langsdale and her crew recount aspects of the history of this part of Lake Champlain and share stories and facts about the features they pass, such as the Champlain Thrust, Dunder Rock, Juniper Island and various Burlington-area shipwrecks. Cruises generally last two hours but have no set course or destination.
"We kind of go where the wind takes us," Langsdale said. "It's just a great way to see Lake Champlain and get a different perspective of Burlington."
Due to COVID-19 and social-distancing requirements, Whistling Man is limiting its tours to six passengers on public (mixed-group) cruises. On private cruises, the Wild Rose can carry up to six passengers and the Friend Ship up to 10. Although most people book their tickets in advance, Whistling Man also accepts walk-ups as available. Cruises start at $50 per adult and $35 for children over 5, or $300 to $500 for the entire vessel.
Find Outdoor Recreation and Picnic Dinners at Goshen's Blueberry Hill Inn
By Kristen Ravin
For Vermonters planning summer vacations, social distancing may be a top priority. In their quest to avoid crowded spaces, more and more folks are focused on finding fun outside. With access to miles of trails, an open field and al fresco food service, a stay at Goshen's Blueberry Hill Inn is all about the great outdoors.
Innkeeper Tony Clark purchased the picturesque property in 1969 and opened Blueberry Hill in 1972; he still operates the inn with his ex-wife, Shari Brown. In keeping with tradition for the family-run business, their adult children, Britta and Oliver, are also on the property for the summer to lend a hand.
Brown described the inn's usual vibe as "very communal." Before the coronavirus pandemic, guests who stayed in its 12 rooms would gather at a farmhouse table for a one-seating four-course dinner, help themselves to food in the refrigerator and congregate in common spaces.
"Our whole setup was, we felt, pretty unique in that people who didn't know one another sat with one another, and they got to know one another," Brown said. "It's interesting changing that whole energy, and it's not quite the same, but we are making the best of it."
The exterior of Blueberry Hill Inn, photo courtesy of Caleb Kenna
In the coronavirus era, making the best of it means, in part, foregoing deposits and limiting occupancy. While current state regulations allow Brown to book all of the inn's rooms, she's chosen to keep the guest count to about six or eight individuals.
In June, the inn began offering picnic dinners in place of the usual sit-down supper. Guests and nonguests alike can preorder a plated meal featuring local fare and eat outside at picnic tables or in Adirondack chairs by the pond.
"We give folks a tablecloth, and we roll napkins, and we give them mason jars, and we give them a candle and a little vase of flowers," Brown said. Picnic service will continue as long as the weather allows.
With less socializing taking place in the bed-and-breakfast itself, vacationers may be drawn to the myriad open-air activities available on or near its grounds. As Brown tells it, her ex-husband started one of the state's first Nordic ski businesses, the Blueberry Hill Outdoor Center. Located in the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area within the Green Mountain National Forest, the center is a four-season destination with trails for running, hiking, biking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Outdoor adventurers can access the Blueberry Hill trail network, the Long Trail and the Catamount Trail.
For those who truly want to embrace nature, Blueberry Hill offers camping. "We're getting more campers than inn guests," noted Brown. Visitors who schedule their stays through the booking app Hipcamp, which Brown called "the Airbnb of camping," can set up in Blueberry Hill's field, which has three outdoor showers and "great sunsets," she noted.
"There's really no other place to stay," wrote one camper in a Hipcamp review last year. "The meadow at Blueberry Hill is perfect, just a wide, green expanse of pure Green Mountain beauty."
Brown remarked that the inn's business is down by 80 to 85 percent. Still, as the innkeepers have made adjustments, they've found comfort in new interactions with Vermonters showing their support.
"We've been doing rocking business with the cookies," said Brown of Blueberry Hill's famous chocolate chip cookies. Folks can purchase the sweet treats, along with granola, trail lunches and other goodies, through the inn's online general store.
The picnic dinners, too, have opened the doors to locals. "Now it feels much more welcoming to the local community, and they seem to be appreciating it," Brown reflected. The inn even hosted a bluegrass picnic dinner on July 5, with a live band and 32 attendees.
Typically, the inn's guest list is mostly filled with out-of-staters looking for outdoor recreation. "More and more, even before [the pandemic], we're getting interest from local folks just wanting to explore their backyard," said Brown.
Vermonters seeking sanctuary could certainly find it on the picturesque Goshen grounds. "We sometimes forget when there are no guests that there's a pandemic," mused Brown, who lives on the property, "because there's just so much space here."
Embrace Agritourism During Open Farm Week
By Jordan Barry
Vermont's farms have been busy this year. They've adapted to an incredible increase in demand for their CSAs, stocked farmstands for customers hoping to avoid the grocery store, and built online stores to offer local delivery.
Much of that work takes place behind closed barn doors. For one week in August, though, those doors will swing wide open as Vermonters experience Open Farm Week.
Like the farms themselves, this sixth annual event has adjusted its approach this year due to the pandemic. Some farms will go virtual, offering online workshops, guided tastings and behind-the-scenes stories on social media. Others will spread out across expansive pastures for tours, picnics and pick-your-own.
"Food and farms are such a wonderful way to explore Vermont," said Tara Pereira, executive director of the Vermont Fresh Network and Open Farm Week committee member. "It's about celebrating local farms, getting outside and learning where your food comes from."
Combing a Highland cow at Greenfield Highland Beef, courtesy of Open Farm Week
In addition to scheduled events at farms around the state, this year's lineup includes activities you can get out and do on your own time. Farms open for picnicking and walks will be listed along with traditional tours and educational events, kicking off Vermont Fresh Network's monthlong Great Vermont Picnic and new ongoing Farm Walks initiative.
Read on for five farm-focused experiences to explore during Open Farm Week, August 10 through 16. Find the full list of events at diginvt.com.
Don't Be Sheepish
Cloverworks Farm, 4558 Creek Rd., Irasburg, 324-2039
Cloverworks Farm raises Bluefaced Leicester and Border Leicester sheep in the Northeast Kingdom, selling wool, yarns and lamb.
Daily tours — conducted at a six-foot distance — will take visitors on a walk around the farm. (Be sure to wear closed-toe shoes!) Learn about sheep farming in New England while you meet the flock. Back at the farmstand, browse the vibrant yarns and take a skein or two home for your next knitting project.
Aspiring shepherd? On August 15, farmer Katie Sullivan will lead a free workshop for those thinking of starting a sheep venture of their own.
Greenfield Highland Beef, 487 Gray Rd., Plainfield, 454-7384
Looking for a good view? Pack a picnic and head to Greenfield Highland Beef on August 16, where you'll find majestic cattle grazing on hillsides, with the mountains of the Worcester Range and the Adirondacks standing tall in the distance.
The farm's heritage cattle belong to the oldest registered herd of Highlands in the United States; post-picnic, you can get up close and personal with the gentle, shaggy, long-horned animals. Taking turns to practice proper social distancing, family units will be able to pet or comb a Highland calf. Beef will also be for sale on-site.
Life in Miniature
The Miniature Farm, 247 Mears Rd., Milton, 238-8883
Say hello to miniature and full-size horses, mini donkeys, ewes, goats, ducks, chickens, and pheasants at the Miniature Farm on August 11 and 13. For the second year, the farm leads walking tours through its animal habitats and barns for Open Farm Week — petting encouraged.
Spending time with animals can be incredibly therapeutic, and these little guys are ready to snuggle. Bring a brown-bag lunch to eat at the farm's picnic tables while you enjoy the fresh air and animal antics.
Morse Brook Farm, 226 Kurkul Rd., Westminster, 518-2155
Established in 2019 when two friends combined their farming ventures, Morse Brook Farm raises Cheviot Cross sheep, Boer goats and cattle on picturesque pastures in southeastern Vermont.
During Open Farm Week, Morse Brook will offer a glimpse into the life of a shepherd with daily herding demonstrations. Contact the farm to reserve a time, and be sure to stock up on meat, maple syrup and yarn from the farm's sheep in the farmstand while you're there.
Keeping Your Distance
Last Resort Farm, 2246 Tyler Bridge Rd., Monkton, 453-2847
Garlic is the original social-distancing food, right? If you've been stocking up to keep people six feet away, Last Resort Farm will teach you how to weave it into a beautiful, storable braid.
Farmer Eugenie Doyle has been offering an on-farm version of this garlic-braiding class during Open Farm Week for years, and it always sells out. This year, it will be aired via YouTube for what Pereira called "weather- and virus-proof learning."
Pick up a garlic bundle at the farm — available for preorder online starting in late July — and follow the video tutorial from the comfort of your home; it will be accessible anytime during Open Farm Week.
Enthusiastic Camper Hannah Vickery Shares Her Tips
By Margaret Grayson
On Hannah Vickery's first camping trip, she didn't make it through the night. She was 11, sleeping in her parents' Virginia backyard, and she got spooked.
"We heard a coyote," Vickery said. "By the next morning, it had turned into a story where we saw, like, a grizzly bear."
Vickery, now 25 and living in St. Albans, has come a long way since that first attempt. Last August, she completed Vermont's section of the Long Trail. The coronavirus pandemic has forced her to explore new, less-traveled trails, especially because the Long Trail shelters and facilities were closed in the early summer. Vickery is an essential worker at a crisis shelter, so being able to socially distance on the trails is important to her.
Camping by the Canadian border, Nathanael Asaro
She spoke to Staytripper about her can't-live-without-it camping gear and how she handles misadventures.
You hiked the Long Trail last year. Was there a learning curve to that kind of backpacking trip?
Yeah. My first night out — I'm kind of embarrassed, but usually when I backpack, I just pack in some granola bars or something and call it a day. This was my first time using a stove. I actually literally did not know how to use the Bic lighter. And I was struggling, trying to figure out how to light the lighter and stove. Thankfully, a guy at the shelter was like, "Can I offer some advice?" Then, by the time I was at the end of the trail, I was a practiced hand at lighting a lighter.
This is a good segue into camp food and your favorite trail snacks. It sounds like granola bars are a big one.
Yeah, so, granola bars were my favorite until after the Long Trail. I never want to eat another granola bar again.
Typically if I'm out hiking or camping, it's just really easy food that I can make, like ramen. There's this meal — it sounds disgusting — it's called a Ram Bomb. So it's ramen noodles and packaged instant potatoes. It's so good after you put in some hard miles and you get to camp. It's just the ultimate comfort food, like baby food for adults.
Let's talk about gear. Beyond the basics, what are the things you can't live without when you're camping?
When I first started out, I was using a yoga mat between the ground and myself. I had this idea in my head of, like, to be a true backpacker I only need the bare essentials, but I'm so over that. Now I have a nice inflatable sleeping pad. It makes so much of a difference, getting a good night's sleep.
For backpacking, I would definitely recommend a bear bag to hang food in. I have a really healthy respect for wild animals, and so I like keeping the campsite as free of smelly things as possible.
I also have a small first-aid kit that I usually bring with me, just really bare, essential things. It makes me feel safer.
My Darn Tough socks are literally the best hiking socks I have ever owned. Shout-out to Vermont-made socks!
As a woman in the woods who's often alone, do you take any precautions that other people might not?
Before I go out, I let someone know where I'm going to be, which I think everyone should be doing anyway. While I'm on a trail and I meet other hikers, I don't tell them where I'm going to be camping. I usually sleep with my hiking poles right beside me in the tent, so I would have a ready weapon if needed.
Honestly, I feel so much safer in the woods than I do in the Walmart parking lot. Which is kind of weird, right? Supposedly the wild has more dangers, like wild animals or the risk of injury or freak weather. But I definitely feel a lot safer the deeper I get into the woods.
What advice would you give people for when things don't go according to plan?
One of the first times I went camping by myself in a remote place, I made so many rookie mistakes. It was so dumb, but where I was camping was on this ledge above a cliff, and so I set my backpack down, and then I turned around to grab the backpack and I accidentally kicked it. It went rolling over this ledge. And the sun had already set. It had my keys in it, my phone, my extra blanket, all my food, all my important stuff other than my tent and my sleeping bag. I was wavering in between full-blown panic and just hysterical laughing. But it was OK. The next morning I was able to find it. It took, like, an hour of searching.
I kind of enjoy it, honestly, when things go wrong, because in the back of my head, I'm always like, Oh, this is going to be a really good story. Just keep a sense of humor, especially if you're alone, because what you really want to avoid is panicking.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
● YouTube backpacking advice channels: Darwin onthetrail, JupiterHikes
● Backpacking podcasts: "Backpacker Radio," "Mighty Blue on the Appalachian Trail"
● Spots for car camping: Austin Brook Road and other sites in the Green Mountain National Forest, or any Vermont state park
● Spots for backpacking: The Long Trail, especially hiking and camping the Monroe Skyline section
Hit the Road: Lavender Essentials of Vermont, Dog Mountain and Drive-In Movies
By Carolyn Fox, Matthew Roy & Margot Harrison
Lavender Essentials of Vermont
2103 Herrick Rd., Derby
Lavender is a known healer — the flowering plant has antiseptic, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. It also smells great and is used in aromatherapy to foster peace of mind, emotional balance and overall wellness.
Lavender Essentials of Vermont, courtesy of Lavender Essentials of Vermont
So a visit to a lavender farm just might be the breath of sweet-smelling air Vermonters need in a stressful, uncertain year. This is the fourth year Michele and Pierre Capron have been harvesting lavender and selling aromatherapy products — and the second year they've opened their Derby farm to the public.
The 50-acre farm lost a lot of its lavender crop in the spring. "Mother Nature isn't always kind. It's not always predictable," Michele said. But she replanted, and the new crop is expected to bloom in late August. Meantime, there's plenty to do and see during a visit.
Wander the lavender labyrinth, inspired by the work of expert labyrinth designer Lars Howlett. Pick your own sunflowers, mint and chamomile. Shop the farm store, full of fresh vegetables and lavender products ranging from lotions and oils to smudge sticks and maple syrup. Enjoy the solitude of primitive, no-hookups camping — all groups are placed an acre apart for easy social distancing. Sign up for a romantic date night in the gazebo, complete with s'mores and heart-shaped sparklers, or stargaze through a telescope. Visit on the weekend for proper cream tea, served with lavender sugar cookies and lavender-blueberry jam.
Or just stroll the fields, inhaling deeply. The farm is open for drop-ins Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to sunset. "You're bound to meet me and my mom," said Michele. "This is definitely a family farm. We're trying to offer something different and affordable and an experience — the romanticism of a lavender farm on a former dairy farm in the Northeast Kingdom."
● Cedar Circle Farm and Education Center's pick-your-own flower field, 225 Pavillion Rd., East Thetford
● Trapp Family Lodge's wildflower walks and garden tours, 700 Trapp Hill Rd., Stowe
143 Parks Rd., St. Johnsbury
Dog Mountain pays homage to our best friends with hiking trails, ponds for dogs to swim in, grassy fields, a Dog Chapel and a gallery devoted to the folk art of its creator, the late Stephen Huneck. It's not just dog friendly; it's a nonstop dog celebration. Canines can sniff, run, pee, play, romp and sniff some more, all of which is just fine.
The 150-acre property in St. Johnsbury is open year-round and offers scenic mountain views. In non-pandemic times, its concerts and "dog parties" draw hundreds with two legs or four. These days, visitors can still hike through fields lined with wildflowers and into dense forest. Dog Mountain does request, however, that to enable social distancing, you leash your pet — a first — and wear a mask when around other guests. There's plenty of room to spread out, though.
Check out the gallery, where Huneck's artwork is on display and for sale. It's open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and until 5 p.m. on weekends.
The same hours apply to the Dog Chapel that Huneck built. "Welcome," says the sign out front. "All creeds, all breeds, no dogmas allowed." Inside, thousands of people have pinned photos and notes of gratitude on the walls, recalling the companionship of pets they have lost. One sample: "The terror who loved everyone."
Even in these divisive times, we can all agree that dogs rule.
● Mills Riverside Park, Route 15, Jericho
● Shelburne Dog Park, 740 Harbor Rd., Shelburne
Bethel Drive-In, 36 Bethel Dr., Bethel
Fairlee Drive-In, 1809 Route 5, Fairlee
Sunset Drive-In, 155 Porters Point Rd., Colchester
Since the pandemic closed Vermont's indoor theaters in March, most of us have been watching movies on our couches. But warm weather and the loosening of lockdown restrictions brought another option that is both refreshing and retro: the drive-in theater.
For many, it's the quintessential American summer experience: Buy the tickets, tune the radio, get some popcorn and settle in for a picture show. Yet, just six years ago, Hollywood's transition to digital cinema threatened the survival of drive-ins across the U.S. In Vermont, three were left when the dust settled: Colchester's four-screen Sunset Drive-In and the one-screen theaters in Bethel and Fairlee.
Now, all three invite pandemic-weary Vermonters to soak in the magic of the big screen, with built-in social distancing and additional safety precautions. Most theaters have online ticketing; some deliver concessions to your car.
And there are newer, pop-up options. Rutland's Paramount Theatre has been holding sold-out drive-in movies on the Vermont State Fairgrounds, with plans to open another screen in Brandon. Up north, Moonrise Cinemas shows movies on a 52-by-26-foot screen on the Caledonia County fairgrounds in Lyndonville during the month of August. It will move to another, to-be-determined location for September.
This sudden drive-in renaissance has a fringe benefit for movie fans. Because Hollywood's big releases are on hold, the drive-ins are mixing up newer fare with older favorites that many younger viewers have never seen on a big screen: E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Footloose, Jurassic Park, Galaxy Quest. Want to see Jaws the way so many scared-stiff moviegoers did in the summer of 1975, in a car under the stars with crickets in the background? Turn off your phone and drink it in.
● Moonrise Cinemas
● Paramount Theatre drive-in
About the series
This series, a partnership between Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing and Seven Days, will run weekly through mid-October, presenting curated excursions in every corner of Vermont. The idea is to highlight the state's restaurants, retailers, attractions and outdoor adventures so Vermonters and visitors alike can plan safe, local trips and discover new corners of the state. Happy traveling, and stay safe.