Greensboro's Highland Lodge Is an Enduring Vermont Destination
By: Kristen Ravin
Words and photos courtesy of Seven DaysThis summer, ever-changing circumstances surrounding the coronavirus have made a Green Mountain getaway more feasible — and perhaps far more appealing — for Vermonters than exploring crowded city streets or sharing a buffet aboard a cruise ship.
And in Greensboro, the remote Highland Lodge is prepared to provide just such a vacation. It's an unpretentious destination for those seeking to enjoy the state's natural wonders and craft food and drink — or simply some socially distanced solitude. The more than 150-year-old lodge has withstood significant historical events and today is pivoting to ride out a pandemic.
Near the shore of Caspian Lake in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom, the Highland Lodge originated as a family farmhouse in the 1860s. Developers, planning to build more than 70 cabins on the grounds, bought the abode in 1926. After a short time and a little progress, the stock market crashed and construction came to a halt.
Yet the Highland Lodge showed itself to be the little inn that could, persevering as a boarding house through the Great Depression and World War II.
A turning point came in 1954, when the Smith family purchased the place after vacationing there. The lodge stayed in the family for more than 60 years. Generations added rooms and cabins, a kid-friendly game room, a dining room, and ski trails connecting to the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, making it an all-seasons attraction.
After the Smiths put the lodge on the market in 2015, six community members joined forces with Brooklyn-based entrepreneur Heidi Lauren Duke to invest in the property. She managed day-to-day operations until her departure on May 31 of this year.
Stepping into her place are new general managers and partners Elsa Schultz and Chad Sims, who began training in March — "just in time for the pandemic to really unleash on the world," Schultz said by phone.
The circumstances at the time of their arrival were no doubt challenging. In April, personal finance website WalletHub ranked Vermont No. 4 on its list of states where COVID-19 had the biggest impact on the tourism industry. Still, Schultz and Sims are enthusiastic about taking the lodge into the future while staying connected to its past.
"It's been our priority to continue to highlight the magic that has been Highland Lodge historically," Schultz said.
Highland Lodge, courtesy of Tate Johnson
If the number of repeat guests is any indicator, that magic is real. "A significant amount of these people are folks who have been coming here for 20, 30, 40, 50 years, even," said Schultz, "and they've been bringing their kids and their grandkids."
What keeps visitors returning year after year? It could be the 136 picturesque acres, the hiking trails, the private beach, the Nordic skiing trails, or the midcentury-style rooms and private, dog-friendly cabins. For foodies and beer hounds, it could also be the lodge's proximity to award-winning producers including Hill Farmstead Brewery and cheesemaker Jasper Hill Farm.
One guest from Massachusetts noted in a 2019 TripAdvisor review that she had stayed at the lodge five times in the previous two summers. "The Highland Lodge offers a trip back in time with most of the amenities of the present," she wrote. Another reviewer praised the "cozy" atmosphere and absence of televisions.
After temporarily suspending lodging and food service, the business began booking five-night-minimum stays on May 7. With new policies in place, doors reopened on June 15.
Schultz and Sims are blocking off a full day in between reservations to allow for thorough cleaning between guests. Booking in the main house is limited to 25 percent capacity.
The House Bar & Kitchen at Highland Lodge typically offers dinner and drinks several nights a week for guests and nonguests alike. For now, all menu items are packaged to go. This doesn't mean folks can't enjoy a special dining experience, though. "We've actually spent a lot of time sprucing up our back garden picnic area behind the bar, which is all open-air," Schultz explained.
The general managers are working to create an all-encompassing experience for guests, so that vacationers never have to leave lodge grounds during their stay.
To that end, they've added lunch service and expanded the to-go canned beer selection; they're also scheduling food trucks for nights when the kitchen is closed. Additionally, a Whetstone Wellness instructor leads socially distanced yoga on the lawn for guests and community members every Saturday. (Attendance is capped at 25 people, so folks should preregister.)
Potential visitors are encouraged to touch base with the Highland Lodge for the most up-to-date information, as policies are subject to change according to Gov. Phil Scott's orders.
Schultz said that many of the lodge's repeat guests were out-of-staters who might not cross state lines this summer. That opens up the market to more Vermonters, she noted.
"At first, [reservations were] very slow," Schultz observed. "People were very cautious, but I think people are realizing that we have all these cabins here and that you're in a prime location for social distancing. You can check into your cabin and not see a single person for a week if you don't want to."
And past guests who do return this summer can count on a little familiarity in a quickly changing world — namely, said Schultz, "the warm nature of our staff, and coming here and letting us take care of you."
1608 Craftsbury Rd., Greensboro
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.