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Scenic Foliage Drives

Scenic Drive: Vermont's Route 100

by Michael Blanding

Credit: Kindra Clineff
In Vermont's Mad River Valley, East Warren Road (less than a mile off Route 100) wanders through Waitsfield's lush farmland.
cows in field
Credit: Kindra Clineff
Jerseys and friends graze the Wheeler Farm's pasture in Wilmington, tucked into southern Vermont's Deerfield Valley.
Credit: Kindra Clineff
Adams Farm, Wilmington, Vermont
Credit: Kindra Clineff
The village of Stowe is nestled amidst the foothills southeast of Mount Mansfield.
Credit: Kindra Clineff
Pumpkins adorn a bench in North Hyde Park, up north in the Lamoille Valley.
Photo Credit: Kindra Clineff

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Route 100 is a restless road. As it salamanders its way through the mountainous middle of Vermont, it seems perpetually on the verge of decision, only to change its mind in a mile.

One minute, it's slaloming along a rocky riverbed through dense cover of birch and maple; the next, it's soaring up to a sudden vista as if God has suddenly pulled away a curtain. There's a reason this stretch of highway -- some 200 miles from Massachusetts to Lake Memphremagog -- has been called the most scenic in New England.

In some circles, it's known as the "Skiers' Highway," since it connects Vermont's giants -- Snow, Okemo, Killington, Sugarbush, Stowe, Jay -- like knots on a whip.

But the road really comes into its own in autumn, hitting the peak of fall foliage not once but many times as it traces an up-and-down course along the unspoiled edge of Green Mountain National Forest. When civilization does break through, it's in the form of some of Vermont's most quintessential villages. Leaf-peeping, after all, is about more than just leaves. It's about the foliage experience -- farmstands and country stores, craft galleries and hot cider -- and route 100, with its many off-the-beaten-path side trips, offers all of that in one long winding package. And because the road never makes up its mind, you don't have to, either.

After hemming and hawing a bit with some doglegs from the border, Route 100 really takes off on its northern trajectory in Wilmington, one of those towns that make travelers doubt whether Wal-Mart really exists. The downtown's appearance hasn't changed much from the 1930s, with the exception that art galleries and craft stores now occupy some of its historic buildings. Heading out of town, yellow beeches and orange sugar maples start painting the highway, with white lines of paper birch cutting through like scratches of a palette knife. It's hard to believe that decades of timbering and sheep and dairy farming once reduced tree cover to 20 percent of Vermont's landscape. Now it's more like 80.

Even so, hard rock farms still cling to the mountainsides, and the green and yellow of John Deere is as ubiquitous come harvest time as the reds and oranges of the maples. A sputtering 1959 diesel carries fourth-generation farmer Bill Adams as he gives tours of Adams Family Farm, which has produced timber, maple syrup, sheep, and milk, depending on Vermont's economic circumstances. Since the 1980s, the farm has expanded its seasonal sleighrides pulled by Belgian draft horses into full-fledged agritourism. Children are drawn to the livestock, while evening hayrides bring guests to a bonfire pit for s'mores under the stars and the smoky blues vocals of Bill's daughter, fifth-generation farmer Jill.

Spontaneous fields of wildflowers and perfectly distressed barns color the highway as it cruises northward into Weston. Few gazebos are as happily situated as the bandstand gracing the town green, surrounded by spreading sugar maples that turn the meeting space into a golden-roofed amphitheatre every fall. Weston is justly famous for the Vermont Country Store, where you'll find homespun clothing, foods, and handicrafts. (Particularly popular is the candy counter, with sweets from yesteryear: Mary Janes, Necco wafers, and such.)

Please Note: This article was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

Reader Comments

Comment from Diane Pouliot on September 18, 2009

Being a Native Vermonter and co owning a motel/cabin property in Manchester Center, Vt ( just a short distance from Route 100) it has been one of my 'to-do' lists to travel the entire length of Route 100 from top to bottom. Proud to say my business partner (who also shared this dream) actually did just that! The beauty is not limited to fall--there are mountain meadows and stream side oasis that wait around each and every corner. Quaint Vermont towns with interesting names tucked here and there along the way and coming over the mountains is just breathtaking. Thank you for this article---it truly showcases one of the most scenic and exciting rides be it motorcycle, car, rv, truck or bike ride in the State......

Comment from Rob Mehner on September 23, 2009

For me this is a very timely article as it coincides with my own online project to document life on and around Route 100 through the photography and stories that will hopefully be contributed by those who appreciate all that the road has to offer. While the aura of Route 66 has diminished over the years, Route 100 is still a vibrant lifeline well steeped in the Americana of days gone by. I moved here from Stamford Ct almost 14 years ago and it's funny how Rt 100 gets it's southern most start in a town called Stamford too. Now I live on a little dirt road off Route 100 and I sense that there is no danger that the overcrowding that occurred in my former hometown will ever happen here.

Comment from Thomas Forcier on October 4, 2009

I would to clarify the northern most point of Route 100 for you as I did a few years ago for an article in Vermont Life about Route 100. That point is approximately 4 miles south of Lake Memphremagog at the foot of Coburn Hill in the Town of New Center at the junction of Route 105 with the start or finish of Route 100. As I grew up in Newport, Vermont at the foot of Lake Memphremagog I am very familiar with the area.

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