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When Fall Arrives, Vermont Comes Alive

By Moira McCarthy

Published by Boston Herald

The nights are cooler and the days are shorter, and that means the trees in this part of the world are kicking it up several notches & transitioning from rich green to dots of red to the wildly vibrant hues of full-on fall.

Nowhere does it better than Vermont. Why? A full 76 percent of Vermont is forested, and that forested area boasts the most sugar maples and red maples in one area in America.

That matters because those two types of trees are famous for creating the most vivid, breathtaking color. (An aside: We owe a debt of gratitude to the greedy folks who deforested Vermont back in the 1800s. With most of the state stripped of trees, nature had to fight back. And for whatever reason, when nature fights back hard, it sends out the maples first. That’s how Vermont came to have so many.)

The world might not know those details of why, but it knows where to go. Of the 14 million visits to Vermont a year, a full 3.5 million of them happen over the next few weeks.

Sound like a crowded scene? You’re wrong. Here’s why: Vermont is truly a series of hamlets — 251 unique, interesting, beautiful and visit-worthy towns spread across 9,623 square miles of “aha moments.” Heading to Vermont during foliage season means turning off the highway and meandering; to the north, south, east and west, and letting yourself to stare in wonder at the tapestry of reds, yellows, golds (even blues!) – part of a landscape dotted with barns, farmhouses, iconic white steeples and more — and actually putting yourself into that picture, becoming part of a town here, a village there and even a cityscape from time to time.

Vermont foliage time, for the visitor, is about becoming part of an authentic New England experience — being up close and personal with the tastes, the lifestyle and the people who make Vermont great during fall. In spots like Jamaica, Berlin and Peru, on the bustling yet chill streets of Burlington, way up north at Jay Peak and deep in the southern sections of the state, you’ll find unique spots alive with color, culture and characters.

Sound intimidating? No worries. The folks of Vermont have made it easy to do. A non-billboard state, the folks there don’t lure you to must-see spots by blocking our view of it as we travel. Instead, they’ve laid out a plan and mapped suggested courses in a program called Vermont Byways.

It offers you 10 unique routes to take you deep into Vermont this fall. You can mix and match them; make your foliage trip as short or long as you desire. (The 10 routes range from 14 miles to 400 miles). They are designed for any mode of transportation — by car, bike and even train, all taking you to places such as museums, art galleries, antique auctions and curio shops, trail heads, swimming holes, waterfalls, hiking sites and beautiful valleys.

Side excursions unearth the sublime, such as world–class music festivals and outdoor events of every kind. You’ll collect great finds, such as fresh-made local breads and cheeses, beautiful crafts and perfect photos. But the most important thing you take away?

Experience.

You can pick themes (foodie road trip among the leaves, anyone?) or simply let the byway take you along a route of discovery, introducing you to towns you may never heard of, taking you to the photo ops of a lifetime. There’s even an app for that — the Gypsy Guide app is like your own private tour guide. Download it now.

There are so many ways to go, and even from the 10 byways, there are side routes to choose. With 251 communities, each with its own vibe, you could get lost in the experience until all those leaves fall to the ground (and then stay and ski all winter).

The Journeys

Route 100, known as Vermont’s “Main Street,” can be driven from south to north from Wilmington to Jeffersonville (or visa versa). While it is the most traveled byway of the foliage season, it’s long (just over 146 miles) so you won’t ever experience a traffic jam. Along the route you’ll come upon covered bridges, country stores, scenic waterfalls, expansive farms, classic churches and quaint towns.

Taking on the route as a whole or in part is a delight, with plenty of chances to stop. And of course you’ll stop at the Vermont Country Store in Weston. Smart visitors to tiny Weston know, too, to cross the road and pop into the Weston Village Christmas Shop, which has perhaps one of the most diverse and wonderful ornament collections out there.

In Ludlow, folks tend to be lured immediately up to the trails of Okemo Mountain Resort, but stop first and poke around. A meal at the Mojo Cafe is a must (order the Possessed by Poblano Rings and pick out some vinyl for them to play for you as you nosh). Another must is the The Book Nook, a bookstore that reminds you why independent is the way to go when book browsing. That mountain is worth a stop, too. You can zip line or mountain coaster through the thick, colorful autumn trees.

Further north, Route 100 takes you through the Mad River Valley, quintessential Vermont town Stowe, and then to Smugglers’ Notch, a mountainside village worthy of a multinight stay. (But no worries — should you be feeling wanderlust, the resort offers a great “Daycation” ticket that gives you a full day of access to all the amenities that staying guests have.

Smugglers’ Notch practically invented the “family vacation” concept decades ago, and it is still going strong. But it’s the location and vistas, particularly in the fall, that make Smugglers’ Notch great. Tucked into the base of its own three mountains (on the back side of Mount Mansfield), the views are simply magnificent. And while you’ll want to just sit and stare, there’s so much to do.

Its “AutumnFest” season offers tennis court use, bike rentals, the clubhouse, pools and hot tubs, guided and self-guided nature hikes and walks (for all ages), playgrounds, mini-golf, disc golf, shuffleboard, basketball, volleyball, horseshoes and more.

The centerpiece of fall fun, though, might just be the year-round Zip Line Canopy Tour, a series of eight interconnected zip lines through dense mountain forest, two suspension bridges and two rappels. Navigating in small groups, each tour is accompanied by two guides familiar with the local ecology and natural history, who are prepared to deliver an unforgettable experience.

There’s also that “on a cruise” vibe Smuggs does so well — arts and crafts, yoga, games and live music happen every day and evening. Learn more at Smuggs.com.

The Northeast Kingdom Byway runs 51 miles and takes you nearly to the Canadian border. Along it, you’ll find small Vermont towns where they do things their own way, like tiny Eden, where you can soak in the season at Babcock Nature Preserve. You’ll wind through Burke, Derby and Newport, too. In Newport, you can grab a bike and ride along a family-friendly bike path, which cuts through the deep trees of the region and puts you right in the foliage.

In famed Woodstock, along the 50-mile Crossroad of Vermont Byway, you’ll find a village that’s alive with restaurants, great shops and the beautiful Woodstock Inn & Resort centering it all. Should you be traveling the weekend of Sept. 23–24, you’ll get an added surprise when you find the Vermont Woodworking & Forest Festival at the Billings Farm & Museum (from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day).

Working farms and forests give Vermont its beautiful rural character and unique sense of place while serving as an important part of the economy for many of its communities. To celebrate this, the Vermont Wood Manufacturers Association will partner with Marsh–Billings–Rockefeller National Historical Park during the Forest Festival for a premier foliage weekend event.

There, you can visit with artisans and woodworking demonstrators at the visitor center, the barn and on the farm lawn. The 20 wood artisans and demonstrators will be crafting and selling wood furniture, utensils, jewelry, bowls, cutting boards and other products. Surrounded by the beauty of Vermont, you can chat with the locals about life and their artistic inspiration.

There are so many festivals during fall, from town celebrations to special foodie events.

The towns

With 251 communities in the state, there’s a place, and a mood for everyone. In the fall, Vermont towns get a bit giddy. Why? First, they just look so darn good. Streams are still full and now reflect those brilliant colors. Hills and mountains above the villages offset the simple beauty. And hey, the black flies are gone and the sun is still warm even on those perfectly crisp days.

Besides the wealth of fall festivals, visitors can find great experiences every day. There’s even a program to celebrate called Two Fifty One, in which Vermont folks celebrate the unique — OK, sometimes quirky but in a good way — vibe of each town. Encouraging you to visit as many as you can and share on social media, the program lures you to famed spots like Stowe and Manchester, as well as to lesser known towns such as Barre, Charlotte, Topsham and Worcester.

There’s even a group of folks trying to win the right to say they’ve visited all 251 communities. Imagine the riches of that journey? Well worth taking.

The trees are vibrant and breathtaking all autumn long in Vermont. Led by the maples, they shift colors as the season progresses. That same vibrance is reflected in the rest of Vermont. For the art, the recreation, the food, the festivals and, most of all, the folks who make it Vermont, head to a byway and take it all in this fall.

Start planning your trip to Vermont today.