It's never a bad time to come to this neck of the woods.
Home to both Sugarbush Resort and the intense, more "locals-only" Mad River Glen, Vermont's Mad River Valley is beloved by travelers all year round. Skiers flock to the slopes every winter, and in spring the place draws fly-fishing enthusiasts. The summer means arts festivals and in fall, you'd be hard pressed to find more vibrant foliage anywhere in the world.
Other than a brief period in the autumn (locally known as "sticks season") between late October and mid-December, when things temporarily shut down, the area is always inviting to people who enjoy spending time outdoors: after all, even the coldest winter days are attractive to well-prepared hikers.
Here's everything you need to know to have the perfect stay, no matter when you go:
Where to Stay
In true Vermont style, you'll find no shortage of charming inns and B&Bs here. If you're celebrating a special occasion or looking for something upscale, the Pitcher Inn (a Relais & Chateaux property) stands out. Each of its 11 rooms has a unique theme—ask for "Ski," which features vintage memorabilia, or "Trout," which boasts a porch suspended over a brook. Both rooms have large, wood-burning fireplaces. The daily breakfast, included in your room rate, is also worth calling out. Think: banana-chocolate-chip pancakes with local maple syrup and housemade granola.
A bit more traditional in vibe, the Inn at Round Barn Farm offers cozy rooms and 245 acres of on-property gardens and hiking trails. Or opt to stay at the relatively new, 18-room Mad River Barn, which features a more modern aesthetic. Be sure to visit the onsite pub, complete with vintage shuffleboard, foosball tables, and plenty of board games for afternoons when you're feeling the urge to stay inside.
Where to Eat
If you only have a few days in the area, you'll want to spend most of your free (read: when you're not outside) time eating.
For breakfast or lunch, the Warren Store is where you want to be. Located right across the street from the Pitcher Inn, this quirky country store sells everything from hand-knit scarves to a wide selection of beer and wine. You're heading straight to the back counter, however, to order one of their fresh-baked scones or oversized sandwiches (The Turkey Tumble and The Big Easy are especially worthwhile).
For a casual dinner, plan accordingly to get a seat at American Flatbread. To mitigate the famed hours-long lines, the restaurant has started taking names at 4 p.m. each day for seating times later that evening. Put your name in, and then wait your turn with a pint from the bar or a fireside seat at the Pitcher Inn's pub, Tracks, less than a ten minute drive away. For more upscale—this is Vermont, remember, so everything is pretty low-key—dining, 275 Main, offers an always-changing menu of seasonal, locally-sourced dishes in a white tablecloth setting.
What to Do
For outdoor enthusiasts, Camel's Hump is a fun—though long and slightly challenging—trail. Sunset Rock is a bit easier, and as the name implies, perfect for bringing a few beers or a bottle of wine to pair with a stunning view of day fading into night. Or, stop by Clearwater Sports in Waitsfield to rent bikes, canoes, or kayaks (then take a picnic out and paddle in nearby Blueberry Lake). In winter they also rent snowshoes and skis.
If you happen to be in Waitsfield on a Saturday, the farmer's market (which runs May through October) offers an array of goods from local farms. Afterward, pop in to Tempest Bookshop and ask the owner for his latest recommendations.
And if you're visiting in summer or fall, head to Wellwood Orchard for pick-your-own apples, pumpkins, or berries.
Finally, no visit to the Mad River Valley would be complete without a pilgrimage to the area's most famous attraction, the Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Factory in Waterbury. Take a 30-minute guided tour and end your visit by sampling scoops of all the latest flavors.