The 12 Best Places to See Fall Foliage in Vermont
In Vermont they call it “leaf peeping,” a phrase one-part awkward and one-part charming—as if the people doing the looking were catching nature in flagrante. Technically they aren’t wrong: “in flagrante” translates from Latin to “in blazing,” and what are these stately Vermont mountains, undulating Vermont forests, in autumn if not ablaze with color? Periods of peak foliage, when the leaves are at their most riotous and vibrant, move from the north of the state to the south, and from its highest elevations to its lowest, as fall progresses. Gorgeous vistas lit up with gold, orange, yellow and red (and everything in between) are visible from mid-September through mid-October, but it’s a good rule of thumb to head farther north the earlier it is.
A car provides the maximum flexibility for traveling around Vermont, but several train and bus options are also available—many catered specifically for those who want to see the change of the seasons. Billboard-free Route 100 and even I-91 provide good views as you traverse the state on your search for the best fall foliage shows, though state roads can be crowded with other leaf-seeking travelers. (Because this one of Vermont’s busiest times of year, it’s best to book well in advance.) Why not enjoy the scenery from one of Vermont’s picturesque lake, river, or mountainside villages? Whether you’re pulling up a porch chair or pulling on your hiking books, there’s something here for everyone.
What to do: Go hiking across the river on the Wantastiquet Mountain Trail (yes, technically in New Hampshire), but return for a drink overlooking the Connecticut River on the roof deck of the Whetstone Station Restaurant and Brewery. In case of rain, check out the eccentric Estey Organ Museum (the musical instruments, not the body parts) or catch a movie at the Art Deco Latchis Theatre. For those with a car, pop up to nearby Putney for roadside gem Curtis’s BBQ as well as Green Mountain Orchards, whose apple cider donuts are hard to forget. Where to stay: B&Bs are where it’s at. Check out 1868 Crosby House, Green River Bridge House, or Forty Putney Road Bed and Breakfast.
What to do: If the tiny village of Grafton (population 679) looks like it’s from another time, that’s because it is—the town’s historic buildings have been restored and maintained by a local nonprofit. The village is packed with galleries (Hunter Gallery of Fine Art, Gallery North Star, Jud Hartmann Gallery), and museums (Grafton History Museum, Vermont Museum of Mining & Minerals, the Nature Museum). Check out local cheesemaking Grafton Village Cheese and syrup tapping at Plummer’s Sugar House. Where to stay: The gorgeous Grafton Inn is an easy sell—those looking for something a little more rustic (did someone say barn suite?) should check out The Inn at Woodchuck Hill Farm.
What to do: Just north of Smugglers’ Notch pass in the Green Mountains, Jeffersonville offers visitors a wealth of outdoor activities. What better way to see the leaves than zip-lining through them with ArborTrek Canopy Adventures (one of T+L’s world’s coolest zip lines)? Vermont Canoe and Kayak provides a waterside perspective on the scenery, and the particularly adventurous can try a ride on the improbable looking Flyboard at FlyBoard of Vermont. Where to stay: Smugglers’ Notch Resort is great for families, and Nye’s Green Valley Farm offers the B&B experience in a former 1811 stagecoach tavern. For something more modern, check out The European Artists Bed & Breakfast in nearby Underhill.
Mad River Valley
What to do: Explore the wild slopes of the Mad River Valley on foot (Vermont’s Long Trail runs along the nearby peaks) or by air (Sugarbush Soaring offers spectacularly scenic flights in gliders). Check out local favorite American Flatbread or the “uncommonly” good food at The Common Man. Don’t forget to stop at the cheeky “almost world-famous” Warren Store. Where to stay: The Pitcher Inn combines a high-end boutique experience with tremendous food and a quirky—and very Vermont—sense of style. West Hill House B&B is a cozy alternative, a charming bed and breakfast that fast feels like home.
What to do: The Equinox Preservation Trust maintains beautiful hiking, biking, and riding trails through the woods of the southern Green Mountains. The Hildene Estate (built by Abraham Lincoln’s son Robert Todd) is catnip for history buffs, while the independent Northshire Bookstore is the same for book nerds. Up for Breakfast (4935 Main St.) is delightful for a morning meal; The Silver Fork is a perfect pick for dinner. Where to stay: The recently renovated Equinox Golf Resort & Spa offers a luxurious take on rural Vermont, while the boutique-y Reluctant Panther has a spectacular wine list. For a classic B&B experience, seek out The Inn at Manchester.
What to do: Home of Middlebury College, there’s plenty more to do in this foodie and culture-friendly town. Catch a play at Town Hall Theater and sample an array of hand-crafted beverages at Appalachian Gap Distillery, Lincoln Peak Winery, and Otter Creek Brewing Company. The Storm Cafe serves up a great breakfast and lunch, while Jessica at Swift House Inn focuses on fresh, local fare in an elegant setting. What better way to appreciate the scenery then when you are well fed? Where to stay: Both the gracious Middlebury Inn (a hotel) and the charming Inn on the Green (a B&B) overlook Middlebury’s green.
What to do: “The Covered Bridge Capital of Vermont,” Montgomery boasts six covered bridges within the town and a seventh on the border. A great area for mountain biking, especially as many of its cross-country ski trails are opened during summer and fall to bikes. Check out the local club, Grateful Treads, for the latest information on routes. The Jay Peak Resort also keeps its aerial tram open all year round—and there’s not a better way to see the autumn leaves in all their glory. Where to stay: The quirky Phineas Swann Bed & Breakfast combines accommodations with an antiques gallery, and The Inn has converted a former lumber baron’s 1890 home into a boutique hotel.
What to do: The least-populous capital city in the entire United States, Montpelier more like a cozy small town stumbled upon gold-leafed capitol building. Tour aforementioned 1859 building, peak inside the Vermont History Museum, and then sample the state’s great craft beer tradition at the Three Penny Taproom. While exploring the great outdoors (try Camel’s Hump State Park), don’t forget to eat. Breakfast at Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks, lunch at Sarducci’s, and dinner at Kismet. Where to stay: Try the High Hill Inn, which offers tremendous views, or the Inn at Montpelier downtown.
What to do: The hills are alive with the sound of autumn in Stowe. At least they are for fans of The Sound of Music: the real-life inspiration for the fictional Von Trapps settled in nonfictional Vermont. Check out Stowe Cider for a sip of something after spending the day strolling the town’s streets or the mountain’s paths. And less than ten miles down the road is the Ben & Jerry’s factory, an essential Vermont experience. Where to stay: The Trapp Family Lodge’s “Austrian-inspired” lodging will appeal even to visitors who aren’t fans of the Austrian-inspired musical. The smaller-scale Stone Hill Inn and Brass Lantern Inn provide a more intimate experience with, you guessed it, breakfast.
What to do: On the banks of Lake Champlain, Vergennes is Vermont’s smallest and oldest chartered city. Though its hop, skip, and a jump away from Burlington, many of the best attraction are closer to home. Check out the eclectic, enormous Shelburne Museum, which includes—among many other things—39 structures on 45 acres of land. Don’t forget to take in the leaves (and apples) at the nearby Shelburne Orchards. Stop in for breakfast or lunch at the lovely Vergennes Laundry. Where to stay: Basin Harbor Club alone makes Vergennes worth it. A seasonal resort that’s been in operation since 1886 and run by the same family (now in its fourth and fifth generation), it rents out cottages of various sizes.
What to do: The constitution of the short-lived Vermont Republic was signed here in 1777, and since then Windsor has taken up the moniker, the “Birthplace of Vermont” with gusto. It’s home to Harpoon Brewery, which makes it a great destination for beer enthusiasts who want a craft brew to go along with their spectacular scenery. (For those who prefer spirits, never fear: SILO Distillery is just down the road.) You can take the long Cornish-Windsor Covered Bridge over to New Hampshire to see the stunning home and grounds of 19th-century sculptor August Saint-Gaudens (he created the statue of Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial), now a national historic site. Where to stay: Snapdragon Inn has the B&B game on lock.
What to do: Check out the working dairy farm (that means both cheese and ice cream) Billings Farm and Museum and one of the oldest covered bridges in Vermont, the Taftsville Covered Bridge, built in 1836 to span the Ottauquechee River. Woodstock is also great for walking, with easy paths through meadows or along carriage roads, as well as challenging hikes along the Appalachian Trail. The Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Park is a great starting point. Where to stay: Riverfront boutique hotels On the River Inn and The Shire are both charming options. The town is also rich with the best of bed and breakfasts: try the Jackson House Inn or the Village Inn of Woodstock.