Falling for Northern Vermont: The Ultimate Road Trip.
January 1, 1970
by Sarah Kittell
Getting to Know Vermont
Vermont is a treasure, with a mysterious beauty and quirky locals nestled in every fog filled valley. Its rolling hills and softly curved mountains give way to epic views of towns mimicking ones found in a snow globe. Located near Canada, and squished between New York and New Hampshire, this tiny state often gets forgotten among its neighbors. However, an epic road trip through Northern Vermont during the peak of fall foliage will leave an imprint on your heart that will be hard to erase.I am a bit of seasoned veteran of Vermont’s falls, as I was fortunate enough to grow up exploring its dusty roads, and picking apples every year until my arms fell asleep. Yet, I still get goose bumps when I see the deep reds, bright yellows, and rusted oranges contrasted with the dark clouds, which threaten bitter cold.
The Mad River Valley
As you mosey north on Interstate 89 on an early October day, with Ben Howard and Bon Iver playing in the background, you may notice the lack of billboards. Though, you will probably be too busy gasping at the unobstructed real life watercolor painting for that to sink in. The highway is beautiful, but it’s the old routes that are the real treat. As you veer off at Exit 9 for Middlesex, make a quick stop at Red Hen Baking to fuel up with some simple buttered toast on artisan bread and organic coffee. Next, hop on Route 100B, though this road takes you south before heading north, it is not to be missed. 100B intertwines with the Mad River and is lined with huge white 1800’s farmhouses jutting up against mountains highlighted in fiery sugar maples and emerald pines.
Eventually this will road will lead you to the intersection of Route 100, Vermont’s most scenic route. Head north on Rt. 100 to Waterbury, an up and coming hipster town, and home of the world famous Heady Topper Beer, and Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory. If you have time on your way north, stop at the Waterbury Reservoir, and take a second to sit and observe the reflection of the dancing leaves on the water. Just up the road from the reservoir is the Cold Hollow Cider Mill. This is not to be missed; they sell FULL FAT APPLE CIDER DONUTS, fresh from the fryer they will melt in your mouth. Accompanied by hot cider and a sprinkle of cinnamon-sugar, these donuts will make want to buy a house in Vermont.
Next, make your way towards Stowe, an iconic ski town with all the New England charm. A gondola tour in Stowe will get you to the top of Vermont’s tallest mountain, but will cost a pretty penny. If you want an equal view for free, not including a little sweat equity, turn onto the Mountain Access Road (Vermont 108 North). This road will take you through the ski resort, where you can drool over the huge houses, and dream of someday becoming rich. As you ascend past the ski resort, the road begins to narrow, and the trees become a canopy overhead, you are now entering Smuggler’s Notch. The notch isn’t just a pretty place, it was where bootlegging and alcohol trafficking took place between the US and Canada during the prohibition era. Take this road slowly, enjoy it, and don’t be that person that gets stuck… this road can be dangerous. At the top of the Notch is a small parking area and the Sterling Pond trailhead. You are going to have to work a bit for this view, but trust me it is worth it. The trail takes about an hour to the top, and is very steep at the beginning, but mellows out towards the top. When you reach the opening of the trail, you can turn left and descend toward Sterling Pond and Smuggler’s Notch Ski Resort, a Vermont ski area stuck in time. The ski lifts are over 50 years old, and are well-kept secrets, since they access some of the most challenging terrain on the East Coast. These views alone are well worth the hike, but there is more to see! If you turn right where the trail splits and walk another 20 minutes, you will pass the Stowe chairlift on your left. Here, veer right, then left at the dilapidated cabin. You should see the Stowe Ski trails, and layers and layers of mountains in the background.
The Lamoille Valley
After frolicking around on the mountaintops, you will surely be hungry. Continue on RT 108 North toward Jeffersonville, a sleepy town refreshingly opposite of Stowe. If you are looking for a sit down place, check out 158 Main, a converted general store, with a huge menu! If you are looking for something quick and yummy, drive to the Cupboard Deli/Gas Station/Creemee Stand on Route 15. They have premade sandwiches and wraps when warmed up, will satisfy any hunger. If you are lucky, you’ll see a real Vermonter here; easily identifiable in flannel, a bright orange cap and work boots, with dirty hands and a bloody deer in the back of their truck.
Jericho and Mount Mansfield
From here, make your way on Rt. 15 West toward Jericho. You can stop at the Maple Outlet just outside of Jeffersonville for all your maple needs, and you’ll pass one of Vermont’s famous covered bridges on your left as you enter Cambridge. Shortly after entering Cambridge, take a left onto Pleasant Valley Road. The name speaks for itself; an old paved road with curves that hug Mount Mansfield and leaves you breathless with a warm pleasant feeling inside. Follow this road until you reach the aptly named town of Underhill, and meet back up with Rt. 15. Just after the intersection, turn left into the Mills Riverside Park, a favorite spot for locals to walk dogs, hike, and play in the shadow of the Mt. Mansfield. The best part? The beautifully restored red covered bridge you’ll walk over as you enter the park. This park is in fine form in the late afternoon just before sunset. If you are lucky, you’ll catch the pink light of the setting sun on the face of Mount Mansfield. With a smile on your face, and a rosiness in your cheeks, stumble into the Jericho Café and Tavern, where you can catch a live local band most nights, and try some of Vermont’s finest craft beers paired with an incredible menu. After your meal, you will be too full to walk, so waddle back to your Air B&B (there are plenty of options in Jericho, Underhill, or neighboring Essex). Finish the perfect day bundled up in a flannel blanket next to a crackling cozy wood stove as the smell of campfire permeates the crisp earthy air.