Tucked into the southern terminus of the Green Mountains of Vermont, Wilmington is a tiny village of just over 2,000 people. It sits on the crossroads of route 9, running east and west, and route 100, which runs the length of Vermont, from Massachusetts to Canada. While many small towns in Vermont and across the country have fallen on hard times, Wilmington is thriving. It was hit hard by Hurricane Irene in 2011, with massive flooding and destruction of beloved buildings, but if anything, Irene seemed to bring the people of Wilmington, Vermont together, making it stronger, and more committed to embracing and promoting the charms of this beautiful mountain village.
Exploring Wilmington, Vermont
Visitors to Wilmington will find more than a dozen restaurants with eclectic culinary offerings, quirky, independent shopping opportunities, and a variety of lodging choices, from campgrounds and mom & pop motels, to upscale luxury inns and resorts. Wilmington is also a playground for outdoor adventurers and nature lovers in every season.
In the summer vacationers flock to the gorgeous Lake Whitingham (Harriman Reservoir) to swim, boat, sail, and fish. Lake Whitingham is the largest lake entirely contained within Vermont’s borders. This man-made lake was created in 1923 by the New England Power Company, who dammed the Deerfield River as part of a hydroelectric power project. Today, Lake Whitingham is more than eight miles long and features more than 28 miles of wild, undeveloped coastline.
Leaf peepers pass through in the fall, journeying along Vermont’s back roads for a spectacular and colorful show beyond compare. I included Wilmington in my Leaf Peeping Road Trip of Southern Vermont post last fall. The incredible beauty of Wilmington in the fall is just too good to pass up, and there are numerous back roads, scenic vistas, and attractions to explore as part of New England leaf peeping trips.
Mount Snow, in nearby West Dover, attracts skiers and snowboarders from all over the world. At 3,600 feet high, Mt. Snow is Vermont’s closest big mountain resort to major Northeast metropolitan areas, and one of the most popular ski resorts in New England.
Wilmington makes a great home base for a southern Vermont family vacation. You’ll find eclectic galleries, secluded beaches, and incredible trails, all within the confines of the town proper. Day trips around southern Vermont are easy from Wilmington — it’s just 30 minutes from Bennington to the west and Brattleboro to the east, both hubs for art and culture in their own right. Ready to plan your Wilmington, Vermont vacation? Here are our favorite things to do, places to go, and culinary indulgences in and around Wilmington. As usual, our suggestions are heavy on the outdoor activities because that’s what our family is drawn to. The stores and shopping opportunities are abundant, but you’ll have to explore that on your own.
Dining in Wilimington, Vermont
There are no chain restaurants in Wilmington, and every dining opportunity is unique. From roadside stands, to incredible fine-dining, here are our top choices for eating out in Wilmington.
Wahoo’s Eatery – After a day relaxing by the lake, this is where we seem to end up, wet bathing suits and all. Wahoo’s offers quality roadside food (burgers, wraps, ice cream) at affordable prices. The ice cream is always our favorite and the burgers are made with local beef. If you’re looking for delicious, unfussy, barefoot dining, this is it.
Dot’s Diner – After Hurricane Irene severely damaged this beloved diner, we were worried that Dot’s might not recover. We’re so glad it did, and that locals and tourists continue to support this Wilmington icon. Head to Dot’s for traditional diner fare, especially breakfast.
Jezebel’s – This is one of our favorite lunch spots for paninis and dessert, especially in the summer when you can relax on the back deck after some downtown shopping.
Cask and Kiln – Pub Fare with an incredible beer and drink menu or eclectic fine dining, this posh restaurant has a big-city feel that is totally anniversary worthy. Try the hearth-baked chicken or the delicious meat and seafood dishes featuring seasonal, local produce.
Lodging in Wilmington, Vermont
We admit that we’re suckers for small road-side motels, which you can definitely find in Wilmington. There are also some incredibly luxurious inns if that’s your thing, plus a handful of comfortable bed and breakfasts. These are our favorite to stay in Wilmington.
The Viking Motel – It’s not for everyone, with it’s outdated decor and small rooms, but for families looking for affordable lodging, the Viking Motel has everything you need. It’s clean and cute, and the owners will happily chat and give you tips about where to go and what to do. It’s unique and within walking distance to everything — our favorite kind of place.
The Nutmeg – Another sweet find, the Nutmeg is so charming. You’ll find a beautiful garden for sitting in, antique furnishings, and friendly hosts. This B&B sits on the outskirts of town, perfect if you don’t want to be in the thick of it. Breakfast is served each morning, and you can also get a delicious evening meal on Friday and Saturday nights.
White House Inn – For the ultimate in elegance, the beautiful White House Inn will take your breath away. The inn sits up high on a hill, with beautiful views and a sprawling lawn. Rooms are spacious, unique, and luxurious. This is THE spot for a romantic getaway, but rooms fill up quickly, especially during the foliage season. Breakfast and dinner are served daily in two beautiful dining rooms.
Camping in and around Wilmington, Vermont
Molly Stark State Park – We just returned from a trip to this beautiful park, and can’t recommend it enough. The park staff was extremely friendly, it’s totally dog-friendly, there are wooded and grassy sites to choose from, and the hiking trail to the top of Mt. Olga is beyond lovely. The best part? Molly Stark State Park is just a short drive from everything Wilmington has to offer. You can explore all day and come home to a blazing campfire and fireflies at this beautiful mountain campground. Another plus – the bathrooms are super clean at Molly Stark State Park and showers are free.
Woodford State Park – Woodford is several miles west of Wilmington, about halfway between Bennington and Wilmington. I’ve been singing Woodford State Park’s praises for years. Here you can score a waterfront tent site, or if rain threatens, a cabin or lean-to. The park is always a good 10 degrees cooler than our home in Bennington, and for the most part, it’s blissfully quiet. At Woodford State Park, you’ll find hiking trails, a small beach for swimming, and canoe/kayak/paddle boat rentals. It’s a dog-friendly park and the fall foliage is beyond stunning.
Hiking in and around Wilmington, Vermont
Haystack Mountain Trail – This 5 mile (round-trip) trail provides a moderate woodland hike with stunning views from the top of the mountain. The hardest part might just be finding the trailhead, which is in a development with roads and houses that all look the same. If you click on the link above, you’ll find directions. Follow them exactly and you shouldn’t have a problem.
Valley Trail – This is one of my favorite new trail systems, but I haven’t explored it all. The trail connects Mt. Snow and West Dover with Wilmington. Occasionally it follows a road, but you’ll also find woods, meadows, wetlands, streams, and ponds. Download the map above and start exploring. Our favorite trails so far are in the Sherwood Forest area.
Hoot, Toot, and Whistle Trail – More of a meander, this trail hugs the river and the lake until it reaches a nice swimming beach and boat launch. You can see the trail with directions on the Valley Trail map above.
Hogback Mountain Trails – Have you been to the 100-mile view on route 9, just east of Wilmington? This is Hogback Mountain. There’s a gift shop here, a cool natural history museum, and yes, a fabulous view. What many don’t know is that there is also a series of cool trails on the north side of route 9. The parking lot for the trails is just west of the gift shop. Here’s the trail map.
Catamount Trail – The Catamount trail is a long-distance ski trail spanning more than 300 miles. The Wilmington portion starts at the end of Woods Road west of Wilmington and follows the whole length of Lake Whitingham. There are lots of places to swim as you hike and dogs are commonly off-leash.
There’s even more trails that I haven’t explored yet. Here are some more great ideas for day.
Beaches in Wilmington, VT
There are lots of places to swim in Lake Whitingham — the shore is undeveloped and there are plenty of pull-offs and trails that will take you to the water. We regularly visit 3 designated spots for swimming. I’ll call them beaches, but that’s not exactly what they are. The names listed below seem to be what the locals call these spots, but I’m not sure they’re official names. Each spot has picnic tables, grills, and porta potties, though, and on a busy summer day, you’ll share the lake with lots of locals and visitors.
Fairview Avenue Boat Launch – From route 9, turn south at the traffic light onto Castle Hill Road. Turn right onto Fairview Avenue and follow to the end. This spot is sandy in spots and rocky in spots, but the swimming is delightful. There’s a boat launch here too.
Boyd Hill Road Picnic Area – Just east of the center of Wilmington, turn south onto route 100. Turn right on Boyd Hill Road and follow to the end. There’s a sailboat mooring area here and it’s really fun to watch the boats come in and out on a windy day. The shore is rocky, and the swimming is deep. There’s also a trail from here that heads out to a nude beach. Never been, but if you go, please let me know how it is.
Woods Road Picnic Area – Just west of town, cross the bridge heading south onto Woods Road. There’s a parking area when the road turns into dirt. This is the start of section 2 of the Catamount Trail, so hiking is good. There’s a grassy picnic area and a small, sandy beach. This is also a good spot to launch canoes and kayaks into the lake.
Can you tell that Wilmington is one of our favorite Vermont towns? Come for a visit and I’m sure you’ll agree with me — mountains for hiking, a huge lake for swimming, and a really cute town with lots of Vermont charm. Have you ever visited Wilmington, Vermont? I’d love to hear more about your experience in the comments below.