Fall in Vermont is, to say the least, iconic. Mountainsides glow fiery reds, oranges and yellows as maples, beeches and birches ready for winter. Whether you’re a visitor touring rural Vermont or a local looking for a fresh perspective, here are three ways to spend a day leaf peeping.
Fall in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom
Looking to explore northern Vermont? The Northeast Kingdom’s peak foliage typically runs from late September to early October, and the place to be is Wheeler Mountain in Barton.
If you’re heading north from the Lyndon area, start your day at Café Lotti in East Burke. While the nitro brew is Lotti’s signature drink, grab a hot espresso — brewed in the owners’ fire-engine red, Italian-crafted La Marzocco—to warm up during the drive. Owners Linda and Johnny Lotti take pride in their Italian heritage, so you’ll want one of their cannoli as well.
Coming south from Newport? Fuel up with homemade donuts and hot coffee at Martha’s Diner in Coventry. This ’50s-style diner opens at 6:00 a.m., seven days a week, so you can get an early start on the crowds.
From either stop you’ll have a half-hour drive to the Wheeler Mountain trailhead on Wheeler Mountain Road, off U.S. Route 5 (the trailhead lot is the second parking lot on your right). The Wheeler Mountain Trail offers a 4.4-mile, out-and-back hike that gradually climbs through the woods following the ridgeline, leading to an easy walk over open ledges with expansive views. On the trail, watch for Jay Peak, Mount Mansfield, Lake Willoughby, and Mount Pisgah—all painted in autumn’s warm hues.
After enjoying the NEK’s fall foliage, drive 40 minutes to St. Johnsbury for food, fun and fur. Yes, fur. The annual Dog Mountain Fall Dog Party on October 1 offers delicious eats (for humans) from Tacos Del Reino, Rocky’s New York Style Hotdog Cart, and Makin’ Maple. There’ll also be live music from blues artist Shrimp Tunes, raffles, and a magic show. And bring your pets, because dog contests and an agility course are part of the festivities. Free; 12-4 PM.
Finish the day at the Fairbanks Museum’s Bears & Brews on October 1. Sample beers from the finest nano- and micro-breweries in Vermont and New Hampshire. This event not only features great beer and fresh food, you’ll get to talk with the masterminds behind the local flavors, explore the museum, and take in a planetarium show. $10-55; 4-8 PM.
Not in the area on October 1? Don’t worry—you can still find fall fun. Grab lunch at the local farmers’ market (St. Johnsbury, through October 26, 9 AM-1 PM; Danville, through October 9, 9 AM-1 PM); then watch Hocus Pocus on the Danville Green on October 15 at 6:00 p.m. or head to New England’s largest corn maze, the Great Vermont Maze, until October 10.
Fall in Central Vermont
If you’re touring central Vermont, you’ll want to catch the foliage in the first two weeks of October, particularly via the Jerusalem Trail. Start your day ascending this 2.4-mile side trail to the Long Trail, which passes through a large maple grove spouting vibrant reds in the fall. When you reach the Long Trail, choose your own adventure: head north to foliage views at Stark’s Nest (6.8 miles round trip) or south for views from Mount Ellen (8.4 miles round trip).
Following your hike, choose your own adventure again. Head west on Vermont Route 17 to historic Middlebury, where you can visit two of Vermont’s 100-plus covered bridges — Pulp Mill and Halpin – before exploring the state’s culture at the Vermont Folklife Center. Or, wind down with cider, live music and freshly picked apples at Happy Valley Orchard.
For a particularly scenic commute, the newly reintroduced Ethan Allen Express Amtrak Train offers daily train rides from New York City to Burlington and back with stops in Middlebury and Rutland.
To the east is the beautiful Mad River Valley, with the picturesque towns of Warren and Waitsfield. Cruise the 35-mile Mad River Scenic Byway, and visit a few more of Vermont’s historic covered bridges, Pine Brook and Great Eddy.
Tour the autumn landscape on one of the world’s oldest horse breeds with a scheduled ride through Vermont Icelandic Horse Farm; the experienced staff will match one of their horses to your experience level for a smooth adventure that suits your pace (year round, by appointment, $100-185 per person).
Afterward, grab dinner at the Hyde Away Inn. On a warm night, enjoy their outdoor dining, complete with a swing set, giant Jenga game, and fishpond with an underwater view Trout Cam for the kiddos.
Fall in Vermont near the Appalachian Trail
The Long Trail and the Appalachian Trail, which follows the LT for the first 100 miles north of Massachusetts, are the backbones of Vermont’s hiking scene. Head to Sherburne Pass, near 4,000-foot Killington Peak and the junction where the footpaths fork, and climb to Deer Leap Overlook.
In early October you’ll catch peak foliage you can share with the whole family. Park in the small trailhead lot next to the Inn at Long Trail on the north side of U.S. Route 4, or in the large lot on the south side of the highway if the trailhead lot is full. Listen carefully before crossing the wide highway: there is next to no sight distance, and drivers floor it over the crest of the pass.
The fairly short but rugged Sherburne Pass Trail provides impressive views of the Coolidge Range and Sherburne Pass on its ascent to the AT; then just a few steps southbound on the AT take you to a left turn onto Deer Leap Trail. You can return to your car from Deer Leap the way you came, or make a loop by continuing along the Deer Leap Trail back to the AT, then following the AT northbound back to the Sherburne Pass Trail.
If you’re short of time post-hike, stop at the Inn at Long Trail for a piece of history before driving on. The inn has been serving hikers, skiers and leaf peepers since 1938. Enjoy a seasonal dessert at Rosemary’s Restaurant; we recommend the inn-made maple crème brûlée or apple crisp a la mode (open Fridays and Saturdays from September 23 to October 15, opens at 5 PM).
Ready for a late night? Head to the award-winning Hathaway Farm & Corn Maze (10 AM – 5 PM, closed Tuesdays, $10-15). This year’s Bloomin’ & Buzzin’ theme corn maze highlights pollinators, and is complete with maze games and challenges. Not into getting lost? Hathaway Farm hosts a top-ranking pumpkin patch. You can also tour the livestock barn, housing pot belly pigs and donkeys, singing chickens, and Flossie the cow; try the mini-maze designed for toddlers and youngsters; shop the farm store for Hathway’s maple syrup; and roast marshmallows during Moonlight Madness (Saturdays, 5-9 PM).
This article is by Angela Hilsman, GMC Communications Coordinator. It was originally published in the Fall 2022 edition of the Long Trail News under the title “Your Perfect Fall Hiking Weekend.”
Information was accurate at press time, but subject to change. Please check with vendors for up-to-date info.