Vermont is car-crashingly beautiful right now, and I have to make a point to watch the road, and only the road, when I’m out and about. It just seems impossible to go about my daily life when the natural world is putting on a display that just begs to be photographed. The solution? A spur of the moment fall camping trip that’s all about soaking up the season.
We packed up our little car, and sweet Ogden, the Guiding Eyes for the Blind puppy, and left our little blue house in the dust. With just three days to explore our home state, we created a leaf-peeper route that would maximize our fun and our photographic opportunities. It was a huge success – fun for parents, dogs, and teenagers — I don’t think I could ask for more than that. Here’s the route we took, if you’ve got the inclination to explore Southern Vermont. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Of course, we couldn’t see everything in three days, so here are the highlights from our little excursion.
This little town bustles in all four seasons. In the summer, it’s a mecca for fisherpeople, sailors, hikers, and swimmers, who come to enjoy the cool, clear waters of Lake Whitingham. It’s also home to several swoon-worthy restaurants, a sweet little bookstore, and boutique shopping. In the winter, skiers and boarders flock from all over to hit the slopes of Mount Snow, just a short drive from the center of town. Wilmington was hit hard by Hurricane Irene a few years ago, but it has bounced back and continues to be a destination hot-spot for Vermonters and tourists.
The view from Hogback Mountain in Wilmington.
Curtis Barbecue: Putney, Vermont
Who says awesome barbecue can only be found in the south? If you’re heading through this part of Southern Vermont, you absolutely have to make a detour to eat this world-famous barbecue. Curtis Barbecue has been a seasonal staple around these parts for more than 35 years. It was featured in the New York Times way back in 1988 as the most awesome back road BBQ in Vermont, and even though I’m a proud vegetarian, my family will happily vouch for this all-American fare.
Next stop, an new-to-us state park to take in the fall colors, eat a few s’mores, and drink a few beers with some of our favorite people. Quechee State Park is nestled in a deep valley east of the Green Mountains. It’s home to Vermont’s deepest gorge and has even been nicknamed the Grand Canyon of Vermont. The gorge was formed by glacial activity some 13,000 years ago, and now it attracts thousands of visitors each year.
The gorge is pretty impressive, and the park and campground, like every single state park we’ve visited in Vermont, is home to the friendliest staff, the cleanest restrooms, and the most laid-back atmosphere. It’s certainly not wilderness camping — you’re in close proximity to mini-golf, kitschy souvenir shops, and several restaurants, all hoping to cash in on the allure of the gorge. The campground was quiet enough, the company was perfect, and the hot showers were the best ever. Luckily, we packed extra blankets because we did get a frost in the night, and none of us wanted to get out of our tents in the morning. I think the secret to visiting Quechee Gorge is to get up early as the sun is just waking up. I didn’t see a single human at 7 am, but at noon the place was overrun.
Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park
It’s Vermont’s only national park, and the last time I visited was so long ago I can’t even remember (I think I was 6). This is a gem of a park, with a working farm, a managed woodland, and a historic mansion and gardens that have been lovingly restored. We visited during peak foliage, and it was REALLY busy, but most tourists were touring Billings Farm & Museum. There were horse-drawn carriage tours, cheese-making demonstrations, and guided tours of the farm and mansion.
We were seeking solitude, so we headed out on the network of more than 20 miles of trails and carriage roads. As is the case for most national park tours, once we got off the beaten path, we met nary a soul. This is a managed forest, and if you bring along the trail map, you can learn when each stand of trees was planted. The trails take through quintessential Vermont landscapes — beautiful meadows, dark pine and hemlock forests, and around picturesque ponds. We could have stayed forever, but we only had an afternoon.
Want to learn more about Autumn in Vermont? Check out these posts!
Do you have a favorite spot to explore fall colors? We’d love to hear about them in the comments.