Road Trips

Three Days in Summertime Vermont


HIT THE BYWAYS, BACKROADS AND BREWERIES OF THE BRAVE LITTLE STATE.

Wildsam

Kristina Delp

Updated

8 Jan 2024

Reading Time

6 minutes

A simple bridge joins Route 125 to East Middlebury. Pretty much any summer day, a half-dozen parked cars skirt the road here. With towels draped over shoulders, swimmers make their way below the bridge to boulder-flanked pools of deepest green. 

They move through a particular shade of emerald that only comes of sunlight filtering through evergreens. Dappled light and shade meet over pebbles, polished smooth below the water’s surface. The descent from road to gorge is, in a way, a movement from today’s familiar world back to ancient origins: a place made by glaciers, with plunging sluices, roaring cascades, water pushing and playing around ancient rock walls. Local kayakers have named the river’s drops and sieves after stages of the birthing process. And it’s true that this place feels like an outtake from geologic time, a deep past when everything had just begun.

At the same time, everyday humanity and lively community are close by. After all, this is Vermont. Wildsam’s Vermont field guide explores the Green Mountain State in all its verdant glory and human quirk and industry. Here’s a peek, including the best spots to immerse in its natural beauty–cold plunges and leafy trails–along with beer adventures and small town walkabouts.

Wildsam
The charming Dorset Inn. | John Greim/LightRocket/Getty Images

Day 1

Vermont’s name–from the French vert and mont–evokes Green Mountain National Forest’s 400,000-acre expanse. In warmer months, the landscape is densely blanketed with ferns, including the rare maidenhair, found only in these northern climes. Come autumn, 900 miles of trail are awash in a blaze of burnished hues: cue the annual leaf-peeping rush. Moose, black bear, beaver, coyote make their homes here. While lacing up hiking boots is the instinct, the area contains multitudes: deep-gorge cold plunges, writing cabins, country stores, book collections and quaint overnights abound. 

First things first: your home base. Evergreen charmer The Dorset Inn has doled out hospitality since 1796, when guests arrived on horseback to belly up to the tavern bar. The refurbished inn remains timeless, with pine-board floors and cozy quarters bathed in candlelight. Snag a room with a window seat for bookish afternoons and Dorset village views.

A drive north brings you to Sandy's Books and Bakery in Rochester, where a realm of new, used and collectible titles—especially cookbooks and homesteading texts—is also a warren of reading nooks, a homey spot to linger over breakfast and lunch supremely sourced from nearby farms and producers. Maine coon cats stand door duty; say hi. 

Next up is Warren Falls, with cliff jumps ranging from 10 to 20 feet. This swimming hole’s waterfalls were created by glacial floods—now, a leap or two here is a summer tradition. Warren Store, a Mad River Valley institution, is your spot for picnic provisions.

In Hancock, the 27.8-mile point-to-point stretch of The Long Trail from Route 125 to U.S. 4 takes an average of 14 hours to complete. But you can get your blood pumping with less commitment, traversing a small slice of this route through high-elevation wilderness. At the trail entrance, you’ll spot thru-hikers as they convene and continue onward.

Nearby in the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area, the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail is just a short walk away from the cabin where the poet once spent his summers. The shaded woodland trails and sun-dappled Middlebury River open up to a meadow replete with wild blueberries you can eat right off the bush come late summer. 

Wildsam
Bingham Falls in Stowe, VT. | Jenna Szerlag/Design Pics/Getty Images

Day 2

Deep (often semi-secret) pockets for cold dips are scattered all over the Green Mountain State. Come summer, refreshment awaits.  

On the New Haven River, Bristol Falls boasts hanging rocks for jumping into deep pools, plus a show-stopping 14-foot waterfall with a sunny rock expanse for picnics and sunbathing. At Bolton Potholes, there are soaks for every age, whether you’re a wader or diver: three falls progressively peter out in three emerald potholes, with each cascade feeding a calm, round pool; plenty of pebbled beachfront, too. In Stowe, a half-mile out-and-back to Bingham Falls promises the reward of a 40-foot cascade and an ultra-deep, boulder-protected pool surrounded by evergreen forest. Unlace those boots and soak easy. The loop trail to Leicester’s Silver Lake is a two-hour haul, yet the terrain payoff—a secluded alpine lake—is worth the mileage. Follow the “Lenny’s Lookout” marker for epic Champlain Valley views. 

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Burlington Beer Company's Taproom. | Burlington Beer Company

Day 3

Burlington sits pretty on Champlain’s eastern shore, and many of Vermont’s brewers call the Queen City home. Journey through its world of beers.  

You could focus on brewpubs alone; if efficiency is your goal, visit any of these stellar brewpubs for a full spectrum of beer styles. Just a short trip from downtown, Black Flannel Brewing & Distilling Co. rolls out 40 taps with suds brewed, aged and soured on site—and the outdoor biergarten commands views of Mount Mansfield. Vermont Pub & Brewery, a city institution, helped pave the way for the industry as we know it. Zero Gravity's Pine Street production facility doubles as a beer hall, doling out drafts, cans and special bottles, like Bretthead, a Citra IPA fermented with wild yeast. Winooski sweetheart Mule Bar offers an opportunity to taste the state’s terroir via its ever-changing tap list of local and regional breweries, turning out fruited gose, farmhouse ales, extra-specials and IPAs. Settle in with an insulating order of poutine. 

For a tight tour de force of some of the city’s best, look to Foam Brewers, Four Quarters Brewery, Switchback Brewing Co. and Burlington Beer Company. The taprooms and collective offerings of these powerhouses deliver an experience of Vermont’s craft sensibility in the space of one afternoon.  

It wouldn’t be a visit to this particular beer country without a treasure hunt for the awarded, enigmatic and limited-edition. Think: Black Flannel’s Disco Montage, a juicy New England IPA; Foam Brewers’ pale Canvas or dry-hopped and wonderfully named A Thousand Beautiful Things; Zero Gravity’s hazy, golden Sippie Wallace; Switchback’s Katie's Love Poem and Burlington Beer Company’s Double Dazzling Gleam. 

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Field Guide

Vermont

Water holes and poets, land stewards, brewers and dairy farmers, creemee stands and musical tradition.

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