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Vermont's not a large state, meaning it's perfect to explore on a road trip. Cover the state end-to-end or focus on a smaller region. Either way, there'll be lots of beautiful mountain scenery to enjoy, especially if you visit in autumn to do a fall foliage tour.
A drive along Vermont Route 100 is one of the top road trips in the country. Route 100 covers the state end-to-end, from Massachusetts to Canada, and the drive hits some of the most scenic spots plus top ski towns including Stowe and Killington. A drive on Route 100 puts you near the slopes at Mount Snow, Sugarbush, and other ski resorts. In the northern part of the drive, the scenery changes to rolling farmlands instead of the mountains.
The state is filled with scenic byways, so there's always a route near your Best Western Hotel.
Follow the Green Mountain Byway from Worcester to Stowe to explore the Green Mountains, the Worcester Range, and the valleys in-between. Plan to stop for outdoor action in the mountains or to explore shops and art galleries.
The scenic views of the Lake Champlain Byway follow the water. There's plenty of history in these parts-this is where Europeans and Native Americans first met in the state-and it's preserved in the towns' history museums. Art museums showcase folk and fine arts. The drive also offers some of the state's best dining, because Lake Champlain Valley holds some of the state's richest farmlands.
The Northeast Kingdom Byway takes you through territory that's been called the #1 Geotourism destination in the US. The byway takes you from to St Johnsbury to Newport. You'll start in a town filled with Victorian homes and drive through a region of farmlands, lakes, and great recreational opportunities. One of the most unusual sites along the route is the opera house in Derby, with the US and Canadian border running through it.
If you love covered bridges, spend the day driving from one span to the next. With more than 100 covered bridges crossing small streams, you can map your own route. If your goal is to see as many of them as possible, make sure Lyndon is on your route-the town has five covered bridges. Montgomery has even more-seven covered bridges.
There are lighthouses all around Lake Champlain. Plan a drive, leaving time to stop and visit the historic lighthouses. You can even take a cruise on the lake to see the lighthouses from the water.
You'll see great color in the trees almost anywhere in Vermont if you time your travels to the changing season. Follow Route 100 and you'll find many colorful highlights. In Granville, Moss Glen Falls is visible from the road. You'll want to get out of your car to walk through the trees in the Green Mountain National Forest in Hancock. The gondola to the top of Stratton Mountain lets you see the colors from a new perspective.
On our final leg of The Maritime Trail Drive, we ambulate inland to Vermont! While the Green Mountain State is the only New England state without ocean frontage, there’s certainly no shortage of water. Nature has gifted Vermont with the largest lake east of the Great Lakes, and the sixth largest freshwater in the U.S. – glorious Lake Champlain.
At 120 miles long, and 400 feet deep in places, it was once part of the Champlain Sea, which in turn connected to the Atlantic. And so, it comes complete with its own complicated version of “seafaring” history and shipwrecks. And, we might add, a Loch Ness mystery creature that’s baffled experts for decades.
The sparkling waters are skimmed with sailboats, edged with sandy beaches and views of New York’s Adirondacks to the west, and a lively boardwalk in Burlington.
From the water’s edge, it’s a quick jaunt up to Burlington’s busy Church Street and full immersion in its rich brew of inventive cafes and artisanal shops. Seven miles to the south, Shelburne beckons with Shelburne Farms, the last word in bucolic grandeur, and an astounding collection of Americana at Shelburne Museum.
And then there’s the local secret. A cache of islands strewn further up the lake, heading towards Canada. Hidden in plain sight, these unspoiled Champlain Island beauties – North and South Hero, Grand Isle, and Isle La Motte – are everything our imaginations crave in an island. With water at every turn, artisan galleries here and there along the roadway, and more beauty than we can possibly absorb.
A Fairytale Farm & Uncommon Museum
See: Fifteen minutes south of Burlington, the pretty village of Shelburne has more than its share of spectacles.
The 1,400-acre Shelburne Farms – infused with Vanderbilt cash and designed in the late 1800s by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted – gives new meaning to the term “gentleman farmer.” The estate’s centerpiece is a massive barn stocked with gentle farm animals, a cheese-making center, and bread baking.
Shelburne Museum, spread through 38 buildings, includes a 50-ton slate jail from 1890, a 1920s carousel spinning outside the Circus Building, and 22 gardens. Electra Havemeyer Webb spent her fortune amassing 400 quilts, Impressionist masterpieces, the elegant Ticonderoga – and so much more.
Kid-friendly Shelburne also gets straight A’s for its Flying Pig Bookstore, Jamie Two-Coats’ Toy Shop, Vermont Teddy Bear Company, and old-fashioned candies at the 1859 Shelburne Country Store.
Eat: Terrace views of Lake Champlain top off the locally sourced menu at the Inn at Shelburne Farms. Brew-heads appreciate the suds at Fiddlehead Brewing Company, paired with wood-fired Neapolitan pizza next door at Folino’s.
Burlington; US-7 (7 miles; 15 min)
See: Nestled against Lake Champlain’s beauty, this liveliest (and largest) Vermont city was settled in the late 1700s, but its modern-day sensibility is hip and cultured. Get oriented on Church Street, strolling pedestrian-only blocks alive with open-air cafes, shops, and musicians.
Duck into Frog Hollow for a sampling of Vermont artisans or check out the unexpected reads at Crow Bookshop – the shopping along Church Street is as fresh and unpredictable as its street performers.
Down by the waterfront, ECHO Lake Aquarium & Science Center captures the life of the lake with hands-on exhibits and bits of an old shipwreck.
With that knowledge in hand, rent a bike at Local Motion and cruise the Burlington Bike Path – a pedal-friendly 7.5-mile meander with views of the lake and hazy Adirondacks. What better reward than a patch of sun-soaked sand at North Beach Park?
Eat: Start with people watching at Leunig’s Bistro, a vibrant French café that’s been a fixture since 1980. Dobra Tea Room offers an oasis of calm, with every type of tea, and off Church Street, cheery Penny Cluse Café invents breakfast originals like gingerbread pancakes.
In this land of farm-to-table extravagance, Farmhouse Tap & Grill creates award-winning feast, with burgers, cheeses, and house-made charcuterie.
Bonus Detour: A half-hour east of Burlington, Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory unveils behind-the-scenes alchemy in Waterbury, with free samples, no less.
(US-2 E to I-89 S; 27 miles; 28 min.)
Island Magic: South Hero, Grand Isle, North Hero; US-7 S, US-2 E and W (32 miles; 38 min)
See: As Burlington recedes in the rearview mirror, you’re heading toward a string of under-the-radar jewels that even many Burlington residents seem blissfully unaware of.
You can sample low-key Champlain Island life at the weekly Saturday Farmers Market in Grand Isle, where neighboring farmers, bakers, and crafters spill their abundance into tents.
A stop at Grand Isle Art Works plunges you further into the world of island creativity, with rooms of driftwood sculptures, yarns, and hand-blown glass. The go-to resource for all things “islandy” is Hero’s Welcome, a North Hero general store/café/marina where you can rent boats or bikes, and stock up on everything from Champlain Island windbreakers to kitchen trinkets.
Eat: North Hero House Inn & Restaurant serves farm-fresh food – fine dining or pub-style – from its dining room or on the porch, looking out to the water. For casual eats, locals line up for Pan’s South Hero Pizza thin crust.
More Low-Key Magic: Isle La Motte & Alburgh; VT-129 (20 miles; 30 min)
See: Traces of the islands’ 480-million-year-old history are most evident on Isle La Motte, the least-inhabited island, where remnants of the Chazy Fossil Reef underpin the landscape. It’s the ideal place to shift gears (literally) and bike a landscape crisscrossed with quiet roads, fields to the horizon, and lake views.
Cycle past Saint Anne’s Shrine, a 1909 open-air chapel overlooking the lake – a lovely spot to stop and admire the water. At Fisk Farm, the bucolic setting conceals the ruins of Fisk Mansion and a restored barn where the arts reign in the summer, with for-sale craftwork enhancing the former stalls.
Heading toward Canada, wrap up your journey with a drive through northern Vermont farmland and a fine meal (see below) in Alburgh – technically a peninsula, not an island. There might even be time for a tasty detour to Canada, detailed below.
Eat: South End Café, on Isle La Motte, is a haven of grilled-ham and Havarti goodness, with samplings of their own iced cider at Hall’s Tasting Hall. In Alburgh, enjoy a home-cooked meal in Ransom Bay Inn & Restaurant’s cozy 1795 dining room.
A Taste of France; US-2 W, VT-225, QC-225 (9 miles; 19 min)
See: This far north, it’s a waste of a passport (don’t forget to bring one) not to cross the Canadian border and indulge your wildest cheese fantasies at Fromagerie Fritz Kaiser, in Noyan.
Follow pastoral Route 225 into Canada and ask the border guard to direct you toward the rural country lane where cheese aficionados fill the parking lot.