Vermont is getting ready for its annual gala event, and of course, you’re invited! The landscape is so stunning, so vibrant, that 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 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.
If you have two or three days to explore, why not head up to southern Vermont? It’s just a few hours from Boston and New York City – a perfect long-weekend retreat for families, couples, and canines. This leaf-peeper trip will maximize your fun, as well as your photographic opportunities. Here are the highlights of a three day trip through the mountains and villages of southern Vermont.
This little town bustles in all four seasons. In the summer, it’s a mecca for anglers, 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 before this year, 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.
Fall camping is a great way to see the Vermont colors in all their glory. In southern Vermont, we recommend camping at Woodford State Park, Molly Stark State Park, or Quechee State Park. You can learn more about tent and cabin camping on the Vermont State Parks website.
Camping not your thing? Find the cheapest southern Vermont lodging on Trivago.
Want to plan a vacation in Wilmington? The Southern Vermont Deerfield Valley Chamber of Commerce has lots of great information about where to stay, shop, and dine.
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.