In mid-September, we spent two weeks exploring Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Our intent in heading to the Northeast was to join the hordes of “leaf peepers” and take in the gorgeous fall foliage for which the region is famous. Being us, we spent more time exploring than relaxing and ended up with tons of great suggestions for things to see, do, and eat. In order to best share our experiences, we’ve decided to cover the best of What to See, What to Do, and What to Eat in a separate post for each state. The first of these three states that we visited, Vermont, was beautiful, friendly, and more like home than we’d ever imagined. Yep, we love Vermont.
What to See: The Views from the Mt. Mansfield Auto Toll Road
The tallest mountain in Vermont and the home of one of the top East Coast ski resorts, Stowe Mountain Resort; Mt. Mansfield, is much more than just a few ski runs. Originally created as a carriage road in the mid-nineteenth century and officially opened as a toll road in 1870, the Mt. Mansfield Auto Toll Road is an 4.3 mile dirt road that runs from the base area traveling beneath resting chairlifts, zig-zagging across runs, and following the path of catwalks before eventually ending an elevation of 3,850 feet at the Mt. Mansfield Summit Station. Before you start your descent up, a helpful staff member (a very entertaining gentleman for us) provides you with a CD full of interesting facts about the history of the road and Stowe (seriously, be sure to listen- it’s fascinating!) and a bumper sticker that proclaims, “This Car Climbed Mt. Mansfield”. A slower drive due to the steep and winding road conditions, it offers an opportunity to roll down the windows and breathe in some fresh mountain air, enjoy Vermont’s foliage regardless of the season, and catch amazing views of the Green Mountains and Lake Champlain. It was also the perfect speed for Finley to stick his head out the window and enjoy the ride.
Once at the top, a short hike takes you across dirt, rocks, and some wooden planks that cover a trail that sometimes seems more stream than hiking trail to a few different viewing areas that provide gorgeous views of the resort, valley, and beyond. If you opt to continue beyond these most popular stops, you’ll find yourself on the Long Trail headed towards the Chin (Mt. Mansfield resembles a face when viewed from the east) with only a handful of other hikers and the opportunity to summit Vermont’s highest peak. A 2.6 mile loop hike with 600 feet of elevation gain, we figured that it wouldn’t be too tough for two Coloradans who’ve lived above 8,000 feet and easily walk more than 25 miles per week. Well, Mt. Mansfield proved slightly more challenging than we’d anticipated. Not a difficult hike due to the distance or elevation, it was the scrambling up and down the tops and edges of rocks that made it less of a walk and more of a hike that left us with tired ankles. Poor planning aside (our hiking boots were in the truck), it was a gorgeous hike and provided us a hike and beautiful views that we weren’t expecting.
As we may have made clear by now, we love cars and driving, so anytime that we get to explore a new road, an old road, or basically any road is a highlight in our travels. Combine that with a rewarding hike and the chance to stand atop the highest point in Vermont, the Mt. Mansfield Auto Toll Road earns 4 out of 5 rivets.
Mt. Mansfield Auto Toll Road: 4 / 5 Rivets
What to Do: Hike Sterling Pond Trail
Just down the road from Smugglers Notch, a mountain pass once used to bring in liquor from nearby Canada during Prohibition, lies a trailhead for the Sterling Pond Trail. Billed as a moderate 2.5 mile out-and-back hike with just under 1,100 feet in elevation gain, it isn’t quite as sedate as the description would indicate. We wouldn’t describe it as hard, so much as steep. From the very beginning, the trail has you climbing stone steps. And climbing. And climbing. The hike was short and steep and after about a mile ended at Sterling Pond, a small alpine pond, that the day of our hike was shrouded in low-hanging clouds reminiscent of some of the high alpine hikes we’ve done in Colorado. Just before a short stretch with very slippery rocks down to the pond, the trail crosses the 272-mile Long Trail, the oldest long-distance trail in the country, which runs from the US-Canada border in the north to the Massachusetts border in the south and provides the opportunity to hike the entire length of Vermont.
Once we were down, with a very wet and dirty dog (note: bring a towel or three), we struck up a conversation with a local maple syrup producer that was selling four grades of syrup in three different sized containers- from a few ounces to what might have been close to a gallon – out of the back of her minivan in the trailhead parking lot. As we were in Vermont and embracing all things maple and because we love supporting local business, we treated ourselves a small bottle. A tasty and fun memento of our hike.
Sterling Pond Trail: 4 / 5 Rivets
What to Eat: A Hash Burger at the Burger Barn
A vibrantly green barn/shed tucked away at the edge of a parking lot for an auto glass shop houses the Burger Barn. Upon walking up to the restaurant, you are met with a menu that takes up what feels like half of the side of the building. It’s overwhelming, but in a good way. After some serious deliberation, we ended up with the Hash Burger, a burger topped with cheese, bacon, hash brown patty, and a fried egg (Jay) and a regular Cheeseburger (Jen). We’d give you a full description of the nuances of each flavor and texture in the bite, but really all we need to talk about is the cheese. The gloriously thick slice of locally produced Cabot Cheddar Cheese that made the burger one of the best we’ve eaten in a long time. Seriously. This is why we love to seek out the hole-in-the-wall, roadside, frequently overlooked local restaurants that can provide that one bite or meal that you can’t stop thinking about. Let’s also not forget to mention the fries. Perfectly fried, they were tasty on their own; but seeing as we were in the Northeast, we grabbed the 99¢ plastic spray bottle full of vinegar and went to town. Vinegar-drenched, salty fries paired with the burger made it the perfect post-hike lunch, though it would have been great without the hiking too. In fact, it would even be good for breakfast.
One of the best, or possibly even the best meal we’ve had since we’ve been on the road combined with the slice of cheese that lives in our dreams earns the Burger Barn 5 out of 5 rivets.
Burger Barn: 5 / 5 Rivets
Our above suggestions are all located in the Northern Vermont area around Stowe with just short drives between them and can easily be done in one (very) big day, if you so choose. Before getting to our beautiful and peaceful campsite at Maplewoods Campground near Stowe, we spent a night in Burlington and want to mention a few other fun options for what to see, do, and eat. Our traveling route took us from New York to Vermont and as it turns out, the fastest way to cover that ground is to take a ferry from Essex, NY to Charlotte, VT. Us landlocked folk love an opportunity to get on a boat whenever we can, so we pulled in to a parking lot so small that if we had to turn the truck and trailer around, we’d still be working on it now, before pulling all 53.5 feet of rig onto the ferry for a 30-minute ride across Lake Champlain. While a nice way to shorten our drive and save us some of the work, this would be a beautiful and fun way to spend a day enjoying the lake and the two cute towns on either side.
Once in Burlington, a 20-ish minute drive from the ferry, head to the Waterfront and find a seat on the dog-friendly patio with a great view of the water at The Skinny Pancake. With a large menu of almost entirely crepes, both savory and sweet, we both opted for the Josh Panda Crepe, filled with chicken, hash browns, and sausage gravy. Unfortunately, they were out of sausage gravy for that crepe the day we visited, so we had a vegetable gravy that was good, but we can see where the sausage gravy would have made it amazing. However, it wasn’t the crepes that made this a memorable stop, it was the Poutine. If you are unfamiliar with poutine, it is a Canadian dish of french fries ranging from gently doused to nearly drowned in gravy and topped with cheese curds. It may sound strange, but it tastes so good. Seeing as we were mere miles from our neighbors to the north, it was a must order and it was phenomenal and most definitely worth a stop if you’re in Burlington.