It’s hot outside, brutally hot. However, it’s never too soon to start planning your Fall road trip when the temperatures will cool down and the leaves turn vibrant colors. The Green Mountains’ of Vermont are a perfect Fall getaway to view the best of New England’s foliage. In Fall, the Maple trees lining the Green Mountain Highway explode with brilliant colors. As Robert Frost said that Vermont is “a state in a natural state.” Another great thing about Vermont? It can be explored year-round, with cooling water holes in the summer and plentiful skiing the winter.
This road trip starts in Albany, New York. Why New York? Because it’s the closest major airport (read, cheaper flights) to Wilmington, Vermont. If you are planning on driving up from Boston, drive the two-and-a-half-hour drive to Wilmington, Vermont. Wilmington has a small, regional airport for those local to New England. The ride from Albany into Wilmington also takes you through the Green Mountain and Finger Lakes National Forests. It’s a beautiful introduction to Vermont.
Tips Before You Hit the Road
- You will be heading up and down some steep mountains (not hills) so check your vehicle’s air pressure and make sure they are perfectly inflated. Also, perform basic car maintenance to ensure that your brake and transmission fluids are filled.
- Speaking of mountains, check your speed while going downhill. Try not to go down any faster than you went up and try not to ride your brakes.
- Don’t hug the center line when driving around a curve. The mountain roads are narrower than the highways and some of these roads are simple two-lane roads.
- Before going off-road or into some of the regions, check the local weather for road conditions or flash flood warnings.
- Higher elevations can lead to dehydration, thus leading to altitude sickness. Carry plenty of water for each person and keep hydrated.
- Don’t wear flip-flops, sandals, or other simple shoes. You never know when you might want to take a quick walk or hike up to see the vistas. Wear hiking boots, tennis shoes, or other durable shoes that cover your entire feet.
How long? Depending upon when you start, and if you like to take hikes, it can vary from a few hours to a weekend trip. I would recommend two days to fully take in all that the area has to offer. Spend the night at one of the area’s hotels or go camping at any of the nearby parks. Montpelier, Vermont’s capital city, is about half-way through the tour, so that might be a great place to stop for the evening. If you plan on just driving through, then you could do it in a day quite easily. Just remember that you will be navigating mountain roads, so you will be (or should be) going slower and it can get tiring navigating the twists and turns. Plan for 35 mph in some of the local areas.
Time of Year? Late September into October is when the area is at its most beautiful, with color lighting up the Green Mountains to fiery shades of orange, gold, and red. The summer months are also good for finding cool spots in the heat by visiting numerous waterfalls and hidden swimming holes. Some of New England’s largest ski resorts are here, so it is also a great winter getaway. Maybe I should change the answer to “year-round?”
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Vermont Fall in the Green Mountains Itinerary
Start in Albany, New York
From Albany, follow I-787 N to NY-7 E. Once you enter into Vermont, take VT-9 E to Wilmington, Vermont. On your path, you will cross the Green Mountain and Finger Lakes National Forest for some spectacular views on your way to your first stop.
Continue on Route 9 past Wilmington, Vermont to Molly Stark State Park. The Mount Olga Fire Lookout Tower is a moderately easy hike that provides a cool overlook of the area. This tower, constructed in 1930, is used as a popular hiking destination and viewpoint within the mountain. The rolling hills of New Hampshire are viewable to the east. The crimson maples and canary-yellow birch trees are visible in early Fall and make an impressive start to a Fall road trip. Note that the first half of the hike up to the tower is all uphill and you don’t have much of a view. Heading downhill is easy, and the view’s worth it. If you don’t feel like hiking up to the tower, visit the park’s recreational area along Route 9 (Molly Stark State Park, 705 VT-9, Wilmington, VT 05363). A path also leads to the summit of 2,415-foot Mount Olga.
As you drive into Townshend, Hemlocks and Hemlock-Northern Hardwood trees cover the nearby mountains. Townshend State Park, in the tiny village of Townshend and Townshend State Forest, provides stunning views of Bald Mountain and the nearby river valley. At the park, access one of Vermont’s most beautiful bridges—the Scott Covered Bridge. The Bald Mountain Trail passes various waterfalls, pools, and wooded ravines lead to the 1,680-foot summit of Bald Mountain. From the overlook, you can view the farms and forests along the West River valley. Additional trails are available that are less strenuous that still provide spectacular vistas.
In the 772-acre Jamaica State Park, The West River loops eastward toward the bulk of Ball Mountain. In the Fall, the trail leading from the park along the water is an unbeatable walk with a wide variety of trees. Cobb Brook plunges 125-foot plunge at Hamilton Falls. The path is relatively flat for over two miles and then becomes rocky for a couple of more miles. No swimming is allowed (or recommended) at the Falls due to the rocky environment and swift currents. If In the summer months, you can also go swimming at the Salmon Hole (but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it in the fall). If you are not interested in a nature hike to the Falls, then continue driving West into the Winhall Municipal Forest.
During the winter months, Stratton Village is like a Swiss village located in the Alps with the magnificent ski slopes of Stratton Mountain Resort looming nearby. In the Fall months, you can still visit the village and the resort, but the forest around you is alive with colors of red, orange, and yellow trees that dot the landscape. The village has a variety of shopping centers and places to eat, similar to Estes Park in Colorado. Stratton Mountain is Vermont’s highest peak and plentiful hiking is nearby. Visit the Stratton Fire towner from a .75-mile beginner route from the gondola tower. After taking in the view from the peak, we’ll head back down to visit the 18th-century town of Weston, Vermont.
The Mill Museum is an 18th-century grist mill that evokes the Vermont of yesteryear. The museum is also within walking distances of the village of Weston’s shops and stores. Next to the museum is a colonial-era residence that dates from 1795 with time-period furniture, kitchen tools, and toys. The trees, millpond, and waterfall of the Mill is also a great place for photography. While in Weston, visit the Vermont Country Store (657 Main Street, Weston, Vermont 05161) for everything from antiques to practical goods. The Weston Village Christmas Shop (660 Main Street, Weston, Vermont 05161) is also a popular place to purchase some Christmas ornaments from around the world.
Okemo Mountain Resort is a year-round attraction that has everything from a zip line to downhill mountain biking. The best part of this trip is simply the drive up to the resort, where you will pass the beautiful forests up to stunning views. You can also ride the Timber Ripper Mountain Coaster, which takes you on 1,600-foot climb followed by a 375 vertical-foot descent along 3,100 feet of track that follows the contours of the mountain (think Six Flags roller coaster). You can also follow a paved road to Okemo’s 3,343-foot summit or take a hike from the resort itself.
The village of Plymouth Notice is a tiny hamlet where time has stood still. Surrounded by hills, the 19th-century settlement is where President Calvin College was born and raised. Similar to the Lincoln Home national park, the little crossroads settlement called the Plymouth Historic District remains virtually the same as it did during Coolidge’s time. Visit the President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site, a 19th century home with original period furnishings. Along with the house, you can also see the little one-room schoolhouse, the Union Christian Church built in 1840, the Florence Cilley General store, the Wilder Barnes and house, and the cheese factory where the president’s father once worked.
This 113-acre park is known for the Gifford Woods Natural Area. One of the few remaining old growth forests in the northeastern United States, the 7-acre old-growth northern hardwood forest is perfect for viewing Fall foliage. The Kent Brook Trail is a one-mile loop that goes through the hardwood forests of the park and the Gifford Woods Interpretive Trail is a shorter loop at .3 miles.
This tour winds down in Montpelier, the capital city of Vermont. The gold-domed Greek Revival State House was built in 1859. The design of the building is reflective of the style of the nation’s capital building. The dome is currently under renovation, but you can still tour the grounds and the building for free. Self-guided tours are available, or you can take a half-hour tour. One additional site that I would suggest is the Bragg Farm Sugar House & Gift Shop (1005 Vt Route 14 S, Montpelier, VT 05651-9765) for a true taste of Vermont. The Maple syrup season in Vermont is late February through April, so if you want to experience the maple sugaring process, Fall isn’t the best time to go. However, the town is lit up with the brilliance of Fall colors, so you’re not missing out on much by visiting this capital city.
The blaze of color fully ignites the Green Mountains as you begin heading into the colder valley and temperate lowlands. Stop at Elmore State Park to hike up to Elmore Mountain to view the abandoned fire tower at the summit. From the summit, you have a perfect view of the fall foliage below. The foliage is also reflected in the waters of Lake Elmore, which has a swimming beach and picnic area.
Charted in 1763, Stowe is a classic New England village in the Green Mountains. The narrow spire of Stowe’s Community Church is most recognizable of Vermont’s Route 100s many country villages. The church was plotted in 1818 and is still one of the most recognizable structures in the mountains. From the 10-mile drive up from Waterbury, you’ll also see a magnificent view of Vermont’s highest peak, Mount Mansfield. Mount Mansfield State Forest rises from the west and CC Putnam State Forest is visible to the east.
While it may seem strange to go on a tour of an ice cream shop in the Fall months, the Waterbury Factory tour on Route 100 is a must see. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield set an ice cream shop in a converted gas station in 1978, and this area has been known for Ben and Jerry’s ever since. The thirty-minute tour is a great place to get out and stretch your legs. It’s also a beautiful area, especially during the Fall foliage season.
Texas Falls Recreation Area (Middlebury gap)
After passing by the college town of Middlebury Gap, take time for a small picnic at the Texas Falls Recreation Area. Take a one-mile hike up to where the Hancock Branch of the White River into one of New England’s most beautiful waterfalls. A viewing area and small suspension bridge leads to a trail at the bottom of the stream. The walk down to the stream can be a little tricky (especially after rain), but the toilet facilities and picnic beaches make for a great stop to enjoy lunch in all of nature’s beauty.
Finish off the final part of the tour in beautiful Rutland, Vermont on Route 7. Rutland is the third largest city in Vermont and the site of the Vermont State Fair. The city’s downtown is listed as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places. Places to see include Wilson Castle and Hildene-The Lincoln Family Home. Outside the town near the Pico Mountain Ski Resort is Deer Leap Trail. Take the 2-mile hike to an outlook with an absolutely incredible view. The trail can be steep in places, but you can go to certain points and still have an amazing view.
Afterward, follow the route back down south on US-7 to VT-279 into Bennington. Then take the VT-279 exit from US-7 and follow it into Troy, New York. Then take I-787 into Albany, New York.
Plan Your Fall Adventure