Vermont, the tiny west coast state in USA is famous worldwide for its dazzling array of fall colors which are a visual treat. Every year, thousands of people flock to witness the bejeweled colors that only Vermont in Fall can offer. We made the trip in late September in 2015 to see nature’s riot of colors and this post is a recap of what we did in the Green mountain state. Consider it a first timer’s handy guide to Vermont fall foliage drives as well as best places to stay for Vermont Fall foliage watching and includes fall foliage tracker link which you should keep an eye on to plan your visit around peak foliage in New England. Finally, as usual this guide also comes with is vegetarian and vegan friendly. So without further ado let’s get started on this sneak peak on what to do in Vermont in Fall.
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Vermont Fall Foliage Drives: resources for Fall foliage watching
Although Vermont has something for visitors every season, its most famous season is perhaps Fall, where the entire state breaks out into this out-of-world menagerie of colors which is nature’s beauty at its best. People from all over the world flock to see the spectacular Vermont fall foliage, specially in the first few weeks of October (around Columbus day/Oct 12), so we decided to avoid the crowds and go in a little early, i.e. end of September/early fall. The leaves had just started changing color and the country side was still lush with lots of greenery, so I guess it’s best to still aim for mid-late fall (October) for Vermont fall foliage drives and if you are blessed with good luck, you will get to see the wondrous colors of nature before the rain hits and the leaves fall away.
The Vermont tourism website is a good resource for things to do and see if you visit Vermont in Fall (they have a pretty good Vermont fall foliage tracker map/forecaster based on earlier years’ data, which, although, warned to be not an accurate marker for the current year, still gives you a general idea). It’s also a very good idea to request their free Vermont guide well in advance to get a state map and information on byways (more on that later) and you can also sign up to get emails on Vermont fall foliage on a weekly basis, should you want to minimize your chances of a disappointing show. Here is another excellent resource on foliage tracker providing photo updates on Vermont fall foliage.
Flying in from the west coast involves an entire day being lost, so we landed late evening in Burlington, Vermont’s “most bustling” city by Lake Champlain, one of the best cities in America and home to University of Vermont. We spent the night near the airport at Smart Suites (South Burlington), which is a pretty decent, basic accommodation for a stop over and provides free morning breakfast, wifi and a small kitchen (fridge, microwave, stove top) if you wish to warm up/cook food. We had dinner at Revolution Cafe in downtown Burlington, an awesome place if you are in the mood for a meatless dinner.
Vermont in Fall: Lake Champlain Byway
Day 1 of our three days in Vermont started with breakfast at Magnolia Bistro, another charming cafe in Burlington which has grub to satisfy carnivores, vegetarians and vegans. This was followed by a swift checkout as we started our Vermont Fall foliage drive by heading north in the hope of catching some fall colors. The beauty and idyllic village life that has made this tranquil, green state a staple of all postcards can only be experienced via driving along the byways and not the highways (although they too are very pristine with no ugly billboards maring the view).
These byways are simply roads parallel to the highways and meander leisurely through small towns and villages to give you a taste of real Vermont. You can get more information on these famous Vermont byways here and the map is included in your free Vermont guide, if you request one from the tourism website mentioned before. We drove along the Lake Champlain byway, skirting the border of the lake that ferries Vermonters to New York, all the way up to the city of St. Albans. We stopped on our way at a small gift store in one of the Lake Champlain islands where we were greeted by Shamus, an adorable pooch who was the official greeter for his mom’s shop. The store carried art and handicrafts made in Vermont and was a delightful place to do some shopping.
Out of the shop and into the cornfields, such is the changing scenery of Vermont (cheeky grin inserted)! An impromptu photo-shoot amidst the tall corn husks and then we were on our way to St. Albans in search of Vermont fall colors.
Lunch was at an Italian joint at St. Albans and then we made our way to Fairfax falls, which to my utter dismay was fenced and locked, thus preventing a closer look and toe-dipping. We then drove further east via Morrisville to lake Lamoille, a beautiful tranquil lake a la oasis in the countryside. Lake Lamoille is a must visit and should be included in your itinerary ASAP for its shimmering blue water and lush greenery around which will go wild with fall colors providing breathtaking views of the mirroring water later in fall.
Where to stay in Vermont in Fall: High Hill Inn in Montpelier
Lake Lamoille was the final stop in our Vermont Fall foliage drive on Day 1 before we headed south via the towns of Jeffersonville, Stowe and Waterbury to Montpelier, the capital of Vermont. Our destination was High Hill Inn in East Montpelier, one of Vermont’s favorite and most coveted B&Bs which is out of the world charming and a must stay place if you are planning a trip to see Vermont in fall.
High Hill Inn is literally located at the top of a small hill, surrounded by greenery as far as the eye can see and mountains beyond. The owners, Anne-Marie and Joe, are the kindest, nicest, warmest people one can ever meet and made us feel so much at home! Their hospitality and amazing lip smacking breakfast aside (which we had the next two mornings; they are also very accommodating of any dietary restrictions that you may have), what was most endearing to us was their love for animals and nature. They have a 100 acre property with a dog, cats (Swepea’ and Two Toes), horses (stallion and mares), goats and chicken. Swepea’ took a shining to S as I snapped a gazillion photos of her being petted by him. They have several guest rooms and a loft above, separated from others(where we stayed) and get filled up pretty quickly due to their five star reviews. This is one of the best places to stay in Vermont in Fall and I highly recommend that you book a few months in advance should you plan to visit New England in the fall season.
We ended the evening of our first day on a spectacular note by strolling in downtown Montpelier and savoring some date-nibs and dandelion latte (coffee like concoction minus the caffeine, can be made vegan using almond or coconut milk) followed by a sumptuous dinner at Hen of the Woods in Waterbury, one of Vermont’s finest restaurants and a pioneer in the farm-to-table/locavorian food movement the state is famous for. In one of our many firsts (the first of them being seeing hens pecking at apples near the apple tree at the inn), we had a menu completely devoted to Vermont cheese. We sampled the softest goat cheese with immense trepidation since we are anything but cheese connoisseurs and were super happy with our choice. Post dinner, we chalked out our route for day 2 of our Vermont fall foliage drives sojourn, hoping against hope that Stowe would miraculously show us those blazing colors and fulfill our burning desire to see bursts of red, orange and gold!
Best of Vermont Fall Foliage Drives: Exploring Stowe
Our second day in Vermont was off to a good start with a sumptuous breakfast of french toast drizzled with Vermont’s very own locally made Maple syrup, freshly squeezed orange juice, home baked banana-nut bread and granola with yogurt and berry compote, all thanks to our gracious hosts! We started off with our bellies full and decided to explore some of the local industries of Vermont lined along the byway during our drive to Stowe.
Vermont is famous for its wide variety of cheese, maple syrup and apple cider, while being home to famous chocolatiers such as Lake Champlain chocolates and Handcrafted American Pewter, Danforth Pewter. But the most famous export of Vermont, one that put the state on the world map, is perhaps its iconic Ben and Jerry’s ice cream which true to its Vermont roots, is a business with a heart (think love, peace, justice, ice cream served all in one). So a stop at the Ben and Jerry’s near Waterbury was a must and we took the painless, fun 25 min tour (includes a brief movie about the company, an aerial view of their production facility and tour guides explanation of how ice-cream is made and finally a taste testing on an unreleased flavor: ours was orange cream). Finally, we departed B&J with a scoop of Maple walnut, the flavor of the day. Ice-cream gave way to cider as we stopped along the famous Cold Hollow Cider Mills and sampled their cold cider, marveled at all kinds of apples, edible items made from maple syrup (candy of all kind) and left with some maple drops. Lake Champlain chocolates apparently serves the best hot chocolate in town and so how could I resist testing the claim? Needless to say, the hot cocoa tinged with spice hit the right spot! We gave into the old world charm of pewter and got some gifts (delicate chains with tiny animal pendants and drop earrings) from Danforth Pewter.
Post shopping, we drove up to the Von Trapp Lodge and marveled at the beautiful surroundings and the wooden lodge itself. The lodge is a fully functional hotel so you need to make reservations to stay. We rested in the lobby for a little while where all the photos of the Von Trapp Family (who inspired the iconic musical “The Sound of Music”) were proudly displayed and left after snapping a few photos of nearby fall foliage. In this portion of our Vermont Fall foliage drive, we did catch a few leaves changing color, as you can see from the photos below.
Up next was lunch and we got some grub at the fantastic pizzeria Piecasso (pun on their favorite artist and food) which is also part of Vermont’s Farm-food network,i.e. they source everything locally and support local farmers. We had a fantastic vegetarian pizza there and I washed it down with some local cider. We could not resist walking down a beautiful trail starting right outside the parking lot of the restaurant and walked around for some time to burn off those pizza calories!
Where to see Fall colors in Vermont: Danville and St. Johnsbury
We kept on driving after lunch towards Danville and St. Johnsbury where we hoped to be greeted by some more Vermont fall foliage. We stopped by a beautiful lake in West Danville and then grabbed a bite to eat at one of the cafes nested in the US Postal Office building at St. Johnsbury. In all these places, we were greeted with green leaves changing color but the blazing reds and yellows and orange hues still eluded us (early fall, damn you!).
Disheartened and tired we made our way back to East Montpelier but then on the way back, this beautiful scenery appeared from nowhere. The last rays of the sun lit up the trees in the distance like a billion fireflies with the rolling green countryside stretched in front of us with bales of hay and a cart tossed on one side. A full rose over it all giving it such a romantic aura! The diffuse light of dusk made everything seem so magical and blissful that we forgot all our woes. Perhaps this is how Vermonters attain their “state of mind” aka zen amidst the crazies of life, they have so much natural beauty to bounce back to. Finally, the night ended with a beautiful dinner at Tulsi Tea room in downtown Montpelier. The tea room serves vegan thalis (Indian full meals with several courses) , Dosas (south Indian pancakes) and other curry bowls. The food was simple, yet hearty and just what we needed for our tired bodies.
Exploring Vermont in Fall: Capitol and Rutland
We saved the best for the last aka exploring the Capitol building and stopping by Rutland on our third day in Vermont. Our kind hosts at the High Hill Inn informed us that the State House dome was made of real gold (we did get a glimpse of it the previous day when we were in town) and that made me instantly want to go and click a million photos of it! Also, S found out about the Norman Rockwell Museum in Rutland, a town an hour and a half south of Montpelier, which again had to be visited since we both are such big fans of the legendary American artist. Finally, we decided to pay homage to Vermont’s love for all things maple and stop by the famous Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks, one of the most famous maple producers of the state and a host farm (i.e they allow visitor interaction).
We chose to photograph the state house in the early morning light with the mist still hanging in the air. The dull glow of the dome in the thin fog, the feel of the wet grass beneath the feet and the amber like glow of the crisp leaves strewn all over with lush greenery all around made the serene morning extra beautiful. Honestly, that is the perfect time to click some photos of the majestic building and its surroundings (i.e. garden and lawn) since it gets crowded very quickly with tourists flocking to the front get a view.
Post photo session, we had one more round of yummy breakfast at the inn, packed our bags and said our goodbyes to humans, kitties, hens and goats and drove off to Morse Farm. Morse Farm is a fun little place with tons of maple syrup loaded products and the world famous maple creemee, Vermont speak for soft serve infused with maple syrup. Fun fact: this awesome creemee is listed in the top 75 quintessential American eats. After gobbling down the creemee, which was a slice of instant melt heaven, and touring the gift shop, we were off to our next destination, i.e. Vermont’s poster child of an idyllic village, Woodstock. True to the recommendation, Woodstock indeed turned out to be a charming little hamlet with some cute boutiques and cafes to nosh. We had sandwiches and local cider at Mon Vert cafe, which had a beautiful patio to sit and enjoy lunch.
The last stop before we returned to Smart Suites, South Burlington, for the night was the most anticipated Norman Rockwell museum in Rutland. The museum is in a small building literally in the middle of nowhere and showcases the artists work (about 3000 of them) from 1920s all the way to 1978, when he passed away. The joy of watching rows and rows of his art on several magazine covers, the most notable being the Saturday Evening Post and the beauty, skill and painstaking detail of each of his creations left us completely in awe.
My personal favorite (see below) was a little boy snuggled with his dog in a warm blanket, an advertisement piece. I have been to several museums all over the world, but there was indeed something special about this tiny abode filled with curated art work (original and prints) that will always find a special place in my heart. Much like Mr. Rockwell’s body of work, which was considered more of a commercial artist’s work and a picture rather than a painting for the elitists to be showcased in museums, nevertheless caught the fancy of millions who loved his art as it captured Americana in a way no one else could, this museum too symbolizes that rugged simplistic attitude embodied in his work minus the ornateness that you see at other places. Highly recommended for the art lover to squeeze this in your Vermont Fall foliage drives itinerary.
Places to see in Vermont in Fall: Burlington
We ended our three day visit to Vermont by flying out from Burlington. On our drive back, I caught sight of some much waited Vermont fall foliage with three fantastic horses grazing in an empty field nearby. I waded through itchy tall grass to get to those majestic beasts and boy, they were super curious of this pint sized human and came right up to the edge of their enclosure. I went shutter crazy and clicked the regal chestnut brown, white and jet black stallions like crazy! We spotted a two-humped camel aka a Bactrian Camel smack-gob in the middle of the field grazing casually with a bunch of sheep around. Don’t believe me? here’s the proof!
We checked in for the night at Smart Suites again and then left for dinner to downtown Burlington, i.e. to the market square, a bustling and fun place to hang out. The square has the city hall located on one end and lots of good eateries. We had a great dinner over poutine (The french-Canadian influence is all over in Vermont due to its code proximity to Montreal) and vegan crepe at the Skinny pancake, a very popular joint amongst the college-goers.
Next morning it was a quick breakfast at Penny Cluse Cafe in Burlington (one of the few places that open at 7AM) and then we were off to the airport to fly back home! Although we could not catch peak foliage during our Vermont fall foliage drives (all pun intended), we had a great stay with great food, scenery, very friendly people who opened their hearts and homes to us, lots of furry friends and abundant greenery that made us drought stricken Californians realize how brown and dried up our state has turned into! I hope you enjoyed this guide to Vermont in Fall and are already planning to spend a few years to see some jaw dropping fall colors and roll in those crunchy leaves! Do share your experience with me!
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