Okemo Valley

Seen from above, a sprawling mountain farm with green fields in the fall.
The exterior of the Vermont Country Store building. The building is red and has a porch and balcony.

Okemo Valley

Visitors find it easy to get their bearings in the Okemo Valley, a small and tightly knit region in the Green Mountain foothills of south-central Vermont. Many make their first explorations here along the Scenic Route 100 Byway, which winds through the valley on its 146-mile journey through some of Vermont’s prettiest landscapes. Others get a bird’s-eye overview from more than 3,000 feet, atop the mountain that stands in the heart of the region and shares its name, Okemo.

But no road or mountain vista gives quite the sense of place that you’ll get simply by lingering in these 11 picturesque towns. Each is unique in its offerings—from outdoor sports to historic attractions to fine food and drink—yet all share the pace, and the peacefulness, of an earlier era.

Among the most notable people to fall under the spell of the Okemo Valley was Calvin Coolidge, who in 1923 was sworn in as the 30th U.S. president at his family home in Plymouth Notch. He returned to the tiny village often during his life, and now rests in a hillside cemetery that’s part of one of the nation’s best-preserved presidential birthplaces. Covering more than 600 acres, the President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site welcomes visitors to the Plymouth Notch that Coolidge knew, complete with 19th-century farm buildings and Vermont’s oldest one-room schoolhouse.

The Coolidge story touches another piece of Okemo Valley history: cheesemaking. The Plymouth Notch cheese factory founded by Calvin Coolidge’s father is home to the award-winning Plymouth Artisan Cheese, whose cheddar draws on an 1890 recipe. Across the valley, long-established cheesemakers like Mount Holly’s Crowley Cheese (1824) and Grafton Village Cheese (1892) and modern ones like Chester’s Jersey Girls Dairy keep this delicious tradition alive.

More culinary heritage is in spotlight during one of the region’s favorite autumn events, Mount Holly Cider Days, which features cidermaking on an apple press that’s more than a century old. And at Green Mountain Sugar House in Ludlow, second-generation owners Ann and Doug Rose transform maple sap into sweet syrup, a process that dates back to the first European settlers—and even earlier, to the native Abenaki before them.

But foodies aren’t the only ones to benefit from the Okemo Valley’s preservation-minded character. Architecture fans marvel at Chester’s trove of rare “snecked” stone buildings, the handiwork of Scottish immigrants in the 1800s. In Grafton, dozens of early structures have been saved by the local Windham Foundation (which also buried downtown power lines for added historic authenticity). Among the foundation’s properties is a cabin at Journey’s End, the homestead of a formerly enslaved man named Alec Turner and now part of the Vermont African American Heritage Trail.

Shoppers can step back in time at The Vermont Country Store, founded in Weston in 1946, where the jingle of an old-fashioned shop bell welcomes you to a cornucopia of gadgets, gifts, foods, and brands remembered from childhood.

Outdoor lovers, too, can venture into the past. A trip to Coolidge State Park reveals a rustic oasis largely unchanged since the 1930s; like nearby Camp Plymouth State Park, it’s a great spot for trying the bygone skill of gold panning. Head to Lowell Lake State Park, meanwhile, and you may hear the ancient call of a loon. Or, hit the slopes at under-the-radar Magic Mountain for a taste of Vermont skiing’s “golden era.”

Despite the Okemo Valley’s wealth of history and heritage, the region’s real strength is in bringing all that together with the best of here and now. One example is Weston Theater Company, the oldest in Vermont, which stages many of its shows in a state-of-the-art, year-round venue, Walker Farm. Another example is Okemo Mountain Resort: First opened in 1956, it’s still going strong with high-speed six-person bubble chairlifts and ever-evolving terrain parks that include the longest superpipe in the East. The après-ski tradition is likewise updated by modern eateries that have put the Okemo Valley on the dining map, such as Ludlow’s Stemwinder and Homestyle Hotel, and the nationally acclaimed SoLo Farm + Table in South Londonderry.

It’s no surprise the Okemo Valley chose “The Best of Vermont” as the title of its recently debuted summer festival—a weekend of music, crafts, food, and family fun—held in Ludlow in August. But all in all, they might just as well have added: “…Both Past and Present.

A chef poses for the camera while preparing a dish in a kitchen.
Dancers perform on a stage during a performance.

72 Hours in the Okemo Valley

Vermont’s Scenic Route 100 Byway winds across the Okemo Valley, through small villages that offer outdoor concerts and miles of backcountry. Here’s how to spend three days along the byway.