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Our family is so lucky to call this beautiful place home. The Green Mountain State shines in just about every season, but Vermont in the fall is special. Autumn is when people travel from near and far to get a glimpse of the thrilling carpet of colors that blanket the mountains, forests, and fields starting in late September. Those colors sustain me through a winter that is always long and cold and often bleak and grey, and every year I make it my mission to drop everything and explore this beautiful state I call home.
I’d love to share some of our places to explore during Vermont fall foliage season, and let the wind blow you where it will, before winter opens up a whole new set of opportunities. We’re based in Southern Vermont, which is a road-trippers paradise, but the whole state deserves some serious explorations.
This guide explores quintessential Vermont fall foliage activities that visitors won’t want to miss, but first I’d like to answer a few questions about Vermont fall foliage that I receive in multitudes via email or Facebook starting in August.
When is Peak Foliage in Vermont?
This is the million-dollar question! If you are planning your Vermont fall foliage vacation in the summer, you want to know when to book your flight or hotel room so that you don’t miss the prime leaf peeping season. In my opinion, it’s better to be a bit early for the season because you can always go up in elevation to experience more Vermont foliage. If you are visiting the mountains, which run north to south through the middle of Vermont, I suggest visiting in late September or early October, especially if you are traveling to the Northeast Kingdom of Stowe.
If you are visiting southern Vermont, the Lake Champlain Valley, or the Connecticut River Valley for Vermont foliage, I would suggest coming during the first or second week of October. Obviously, Mother Nature doesn’t follow a strict calendar, so there are variations in fall foliage colors that will depend on temperatures and rain fall.
Where are the Best Places to See Vermont Fall Foliage?
Another question that I am asked over and over again, is where the best places are to experience Vermont Fall Foliage. There are so many beautiful back roads in the state, and I guess my first suggestion would be to ditch the GPS and pick up a Delorme Gazetteer for Vermont and New Hampshire. Some of my favorite back roads to explore are in the Cambridge/Jeffersonville/Underhill area, the Northeast Kingdom, and Bennington County. If you are interested, I have a few posts about my favorite spots to take fall foliage photos in southern Vermont. My all-time favorite back road to travel on during fall foliage in Vermont is Kelly Stand Road from Arlington to Stratton. I do it every year, stopping at Grout Pond for reflection shots.
No matter where you travel in Vermont, you will find fall foliage that will take your breath way, I promise!
Where to Go and What to Do During Vermont Foliage Season
The fall foliage season is the most popular time to Vermont. It’s a mixed blessing for travelers. On the one hand, Vermont foliage is incredibly beautiful, and every town and village wants you to visit. There are festivals, sidewalk sales, and special events all over the state to celebrate, not just the autumn in Vermont, but you, the traveler who is coming to spend money at local Vermont businesses. On the other hand, visiting Vermont in the fall means more traffic on back roads, not to mention a harder time booking rooms and making dinner reservations.
Is it worth it? Absolutely! I urge you to immerse yourself in Vermont’s most colorful season, and try the following excursions.
Hike Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s Highest Peak
Mount Mansfield got its name because, when viewed from the east, it resembles the profile of a giant, sleeping face. It could just as easily be a woman, but Mount Womansfield just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Reaching 4,394 feet at the chin, this is one of only two places in Vermont where you’ll find an arctic-alpine tundra ecosystem, complete with a plethora of tiny, rare plants that can only be found in such high, windswept climates as this, unless of course you want to travel to the far-reaches of our continent’s northern borders.
More than 40,000 visitors flock to the top of Mount Mansfield each year, and that’s because you can drive to the top on the auto toll road from Stowe Mountain Resort. This is a fun option if hiking isn’t your thing or you’re in a hurry, but it doesn’t hold a candle to leaves crunching under your boots, and the mesmerizing silence of the forest, blazing with autumn splendor.
There are a few trails up to the top of Mount Mansfield, but I recommend starting in Underhill State Park and hiking the Sunset Ridge Trail. It’s a 3.3 mile climb to the summit and quite strenuous. You can make a loop by combining Sunset Ridge with the Laura Cowles Trail. Mount Mansfield is a true gem, and one of the most beautiful places to hike during the Vermont fall foliage season.
Home of Mt. Mansfield: Stowe and Waterbury, Vermont
While you’re in the area, be sure to check out the mountain towns and villages that make this part of Vermont so special. Here’s what you won’t want to miss on your visit:
The beautiful village of Stowe, Vermont. Quaint shops, breweries, and restaurants — all with a gorgeous mountain backdrop. Stowe is one of the most popular towns to visit in Vermont.
The Trapp Family Lodge. The Trapp Family, fictionalized in The Sound of Music, fled Austria during World War II and landed in this beautiful Vermont town. This isn’t the original lodge, but it’s a still a beautiful and historical landmark, with hiking and mountain-biking trails, and lovely accommodations. It’s a perfect jumping-off point for your Vermont vacation.
The Cold Hollow Cider Mill. Not far from Stowe, in the town of Waterbury, you’ll find the best cider donuts in the whole world. Do not miss your chance to indulge.
Ben & Jerry’s Factory. And while we’re on the topic of indulging, be sure to tour the famous ice cream factory, dig into some free samples, and be sure to visit the Flavor Graveyard, where you can pay homage to your long-lost ice-cream loves.
Ride Your Bike Along Burlington’s Waterfront
A Lake Champlain sunset is just about the most stunning thing I’ve ever seen. No matter how many times I watch the sun sink behind the Adirondacks, turning my favorite lake incredible shades of orange and red, I still catch my breath to glimpse such beauty. There are lots of places to watch the sunset in Burlington, especially if you’re riding the Burlington Bike Path. The paved trail hugs the water for most of its eight miles, connecting riders to several lovely parks and beaches. Start in the south end at Oakledge Park, and work your way to North Beach or the mouth of the Winooski River.
Speaking of Burlington — with just under 43,000 people, this is Vermont’s biggest city. It’s home to the University of Vermont, the bustling Church Street Marketplace, and an incredible number of shops, restaurants, and breweries. It’s a city I called home for many years, and still one of my favorite places on earth.
More Places to Visit in Burlington During the Vermont Foliage Season
The Burlington Farmers’ Market. Every Saturday from 8:30 to 2 pm. With over 90 vendors and awesome live entertainment, this hoppin’ market is consistently rated one of the best farmers’ markets in the country, and it’s right around the corner from the Church Street Marketplace.
The Spirit of Ethan Allen. Get out on Vermont’s biggest lake with a sunset or dinner cruise on the Spirit of Ethan Allen. Cruises depart several times a day from the Burlington Boathouse at the bottom of College Street.
The ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center. This a must if you have kids, but it’s pretty awesome no matter how old you are. Get up-close-and-personal with some of Lake Champlain’s coolest critters, learn about the forces that shaped this beautiful landscape, and check out the awesome traveling exhibits.
Tour the Rock of Ages Quarry in Barre, Vermont
Rock of Ages opened for business quarrying granite in 1881 and is still going strong today. The highlight is a cavernous pit surrounded by sheer walls of granite, and filled with turquoise water. It’s 600 feet deep and covers more than 50 acres, the largest quarry of its kind in the world. Visitors can tour the quarry and the factory, bowl on the world’s only outdoor granite bowling lane, and sandblast their own granite souvenir. Serious fun for everyone.
While you’re in the neighborhood of this “Granite Capital of the World,” be sure to stop and meander around the Hope Cemetery, also in Barre. It pays homage to memorial art with fantastic examples of the work of master Italian artisans from the 19th and 20th centuries. You’ll find some cool contemporary pieces too, and all of the sculptures are made from the same “Barre Grey” granite.
Visit the Covered Bridges in Bennington County, Vermont
Vermont boasts more than 100 covered bridges, the highest number per square mile in the United States. Bennington County, in the southwest corner of Vermont, is home to five, all relatively close to each other. You’ll find three in the lovely little town of North Bennington and two more in Arlington. They all feature authentic construction, but some have been rebuilt over the years. The Arlington bridges are both perched above fabulous swimming holes if you happen to be meandering on a hot, summer day.
Even if covered bridges aren’t your thing, I urge you to visit this corner of Vermont in the fall, where you’ll find rolling hills, bustling farm stands, art galleries, museums, and shopping opportunities. The Appalachian and Long Trails share a single path through these mountains, and both Robert Frost and Norman Rockwell called Bennington County Home at one time. You can even visit Robert Frost’s grave behind the Old First Church in Old Bennington.
More Vermont Fall Foliage Sites in Bennington County
Woodford State Park. It’s true — we’re attracted to out-of-the way corners, and this is one of our favorite spots for quiet hiking, kayaking, and swimming. Woodford State Park is tucked away in the mountains and sees very few visitors. A quiet lake surrounded by lush forest is the main attraction, but you’ll also find hiking trails and a quiet campground within the park. On really quiet evenings we’ve seen moose and otters, and we hear the fishing is pretty good too.
Bennington Battle Monument. We hear that this is Vermont’s most popular historic site, but we’ve never encountered a full parking lot. Finished in 1891 to commemorate the Battle of Bennington (August 16, 1777), the monument towers 306 feet over the town and is the tallest building in the state. Take a quick elevator ride to the top and enjoy the panoramic views of the town, valleys, and mountains that make this place so special. Don’t forget your camera.
Lye Brook Falls. An easy 2.3-mile hike on a beautiful, forested trail will take you to a lovely waterfall in the Green Mountains. The trail is dog and kid-friendly, and the woods are especially spectacular during fall foliage. Lye Brook Falls is a single cascade plummeting more than 125’ into a rocky streambed. It’s not deep enough to swim at the falls, but there’s a nice swimming hole on the dirt road that leads to the Lye Brook Falls trailhead. I know, this list is for fall visitors, but any beautiful day is a good day for swimming, even in October!
There’s so much more to Vermont in the fall. This is just a fraction of the indoor and outdoor fun to be had in our tiny corner of the United States. I’m afraid, though, that I will start to lose readers if I go on forever and ever about Vermont’s spectacular attractions.
Resources for Visiting Vermont in the Fall
As I mentioned earlier, the whole state becomes a tourist attraction during the Vermont fall foliage season. If you are planning to visit on a weekend in October, make your reservations as early as possible. The Road is Calling has a great post with specific Vermont road trips for viewing fall colors. Here are some more resources for planning your Vermont fall foliage vacation.
Airports: Burlington International Airport is closest to the Champlain Valley, Stowe, and the Northeast Kingdom. If you are traveling to southern Vermont, your best bet is flying into the Albany International Airport in New York.
Where to Stay: Vermont has lots of independent hotels and motels to choose from. We find the best Vermont hotel deals on TripAdvisor. If you want more space to spread out, you’ll be happy to know that there are lots of Airbnb options in Vermont at reasonable rates.
Vermont Peak Foliage Reports: You can get Vermont fall foliage reports delivered to your inbox by signing up at Vermont Vacation website.