GetCurrentFast.com Travel Guide™
This travel guide presents the top things to do in Northern Vermont during a two-day trip at a leisurely pace. We suggest avoiding the winter months unless, of course, you are there for the snow. Although Vermont is lovely beneath a blanket of snow, the more temperate seasons are ideal for exploration. Fall is the height of tourist season, and for good reason! Fall foliage is worth braving the masses of “leaf peepers” who clog Vermont’s otherwise quite roadways.
Although it is filled with many practical travel tips, we wrote this guide to be “A good read even without the going,”™ so enjoy this virtual trip. Through this guide, you first explore the quirky metropolis of Burlington along the shores of Lake Champlain before heading inland to the idyllic small town of Montpelier, the Capital City of Vermont.
“I could not look upon the peaks of Ascutney, Killington, Mansfield, and Equinox without being moved in a way that no other scene could move me. It was here that I first saw the light of day; here that I received my bride; here my dead lie, pillowed on the loving breast of our everlasting hills.”
“I love Vermont because of her hills and valleys, her scenery and invigorating climate, but most of all because of her indomitable people. They are a race of pioneers who have almost beggared themselves to serve others. If the spirit of liberty should vanish in other parts of the union and support of our institutions should languish, it could all be replenished from the generous store held by the people of this brave little state of Vermont.”
No, the above statement is not the product of the Vermont tourism office. Rahter, it was part of President Calvin Coolidge’s address in 1928; a loving tribute to his home state. He was known as “Silent Cal” because of his light-handed approach to federal governance. But if you’ve visited Vermont, then you can understand why even he got carried away singing its praises.
Exploring the small yet vibrant State of Vermont is a quintessential American experience, and one we’ve covered before in our travel guides to Southern Vermont and Bennington. In the former, we cover a sidetrip to President Coolidge’s homestead and gravesite while the latter has you exploring the southern most city.
There’s no better way to complete a proper introduction to the Green Mountain State than to visit its Queen City, Capital City, and some of the nearby shires and scenic attractions.
Less than 100 miles from the Canadian border, Burlington, the Queen City, holds the happy honor of being the smallest city in the United States that is also the largest in its respective state. In 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau figured that there were only 42,000 people living in the state’s most populous city. While the combined metropolitan region has approximately one-third of the state’s 700,000 residents, today it remains lovingly uncrowded.
The shire town, or the seat of Chittenden County, Burlington is also home to the “shortest-tallest” building in the states. Decker towers, at a whopping 11 floors, is less of a skyscraper than the surrounding lush mountains that lend credence to the nickname, Green Mountain State.
In fact, Vermont’s population is so small, and the state so rural, that it has a higher dairy cow to people ratio than any other state. A happy result of this surplus is an exquisite array of artisan cheeses. If you spy a selection of local cheeses on a menu, and you don’t have any dietary restrictions, do yourself a favor: order it!
Vermonters seem to take a pride in braking “smallness” records instead of subscribing to the bigger is better mentality. This comes as no surprise given that the state only needs one telephone area code, thus it’s affectionately known as “802”.
And yet, Vermonters also pride themselves on being one of the top wine-producing states. While annual production is not near the likes of California, New York, or Washington, they’re not that far behind fourth place Oregon. They also produce a fair amount of hard cider, liquors, craft beer, and mead (wine made from honey).
State pride is also reflected in one of Vermont’s adopted sons, the beloved poet, Robert Frost. There are several memorials dedicated to him within the state including a mountain, trail ,and road in Ripton, and the charming “A Walk with Robert Frost” published by Yankee Magazine which included this introduction:
“A kneeler at well-curbs; a stopper by woods on snowy evenings; a subduer of birches; a mender of walls; a further ranger, he is indeed one well-versed in country things. But, above all else, like Thoreau, he [ Frost ] is ‘a home-cosmographer’ who sees the world in the local habitation.”
For the last twenty-four summers of his life, Frost resided at his historic Homer Noble Farmhouse, in Ripton. The surrounding woods and countryside provided inspiration for many of Frost’s works. To read a brief reflection on the life of this literary icon, A Tribute to a Failed Farmer, click here.
Long before creative writing became a fixture in schools and colleges across the land, Robert Frost proposed to the powers that be at nearby Middlebury College to hold writing conferences in August, while the campus was unoccupied. This is how The Bread Loaf Conferences came to be, due to the encouragement of Frost as well as others, including another famed author, Willa Cather.
On the eastern shore of Lake Champlain, the largest lake in the Adirondacks, sits Burlington, the Queen City of Vermont. With a very walkable downtown, charming marketplace district, and the lovely University of Vermont and Champlain College campuses, visitors are easily smitten by Burlington. Also bordered by the Winooski River to the north, the area is a water sports haven.
The ocean-like shore of Lake Champlain makes sunset an exquisite time in the city. When you find an ideal lake view spot, keep an eye out for “Champ,” New England’s version of the Loch Ness Monster. Sightings of this mysterious creature date back to early 19th century reports. This, among other things, inspired the Vermont legislature in 1983 to pass a resolution protecting the illusive creature —although it doesn’t appear that any of the politicians ever saw the legendary creature—or that he/she/it is a registered voter.
Less than a scenic hour’s drive away, the Capital City is dwarfed in size, at least in a very Vermonty way, by Burlington. Nevertheless, Montpelier holds its own “smallest-biggest” record as the least populous capital city in the U.S. with a mere 9,000 residents. What the city lacks in population, it certainly makes up for in charm —and maple syrup! It is, in fact, the largest producer of maple syrup in the country!
The town is also a small arts hub. The Vermont College of Fine Arts attracts a crowd of local artists and artisans. One of the premier culinary schools in the country (my alma mater), it is nestled among the green hills of the quaint town. New England Culinary Institute (NECI) draws diverse talent, resulting in a surprising amount of culinary delights for such a small town. The NECI campus is scattered around town and the “classrooms” include a working bakery and restaurant open to the public, where you can taste the student’s creations and watch them at work. Its graduates include some of the top chefs in restaurants and resorts around the country.
Vermonters are also famous for embracing the entrepreneurial spirit, so much so that they are fiercely loyal to independently owned and operated businesses. Nevertheless, the little state that could has spawned some very large businesses. Three of the most notable ones are from Northern Vermont.
Ben & Jerry’s ice cream stores and products began in 1978 when Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield opened their first shop in an old gas station in Burlington.
Bob Stiller created Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, now known as Keurig Green Mountain. It has mushroomed in growth and is now one of the largest coffee products retailers in the U.S. Still today, the company is proud of its humble roots, having begun in a small cafe in Waterbury, a town not far from Burlington, and where corporate headquarters remain.
International retailer Vermont Teddy Bear Company founder John Sortino started selling his famous products from a small cart on a Burlington street. The offerings now include Pajama Grams and other specialty products.
The editors of GetCurrentFast.com consider Burlington VT to be one of the best kept travel secrets in the U.S. With its proximity to the Canadian border, it’s a bit out-of-the-way. But a visit to this city and surrounding region rewards the intrepid traveler in spades; Green Mountain spades, that is.
While you could easily spend a long time exploring all that Northern Vermont has to offer, if you have only a few days, this guide helps you make the most of them including our Editors’ Choice attractions and restaurants in the itinerary below.