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Scenic Foliage Drives

Vermont Foliage Driving Tour

Farms, Villages, Country Roads, and Millions of Trees

by William Scheller


Photograph of Montpelier, VT
Submitted by Eileen Weber

Photograph of Montgomery Center, VT
Submitted by Jerry Gryniewicz

Photograph of Morrisville, VT
Submitted by Ron Bianco

Photograph of Montgomery Center, VT
Submitted by Jerry Gryniewicz

Photograph of Swanton, VT
Submitted by Jeff Folger

THIS ITINERARY covers a big chunk of Vermont's northwestern corner, some of the most unvarnished and underpopulated nooks in the land o' leaves. Compared with any other New England state, Vermont has more designated scenic highways (highways made more beautiful by the lack of billboards, which Vermonters have outlawed). The Green Mountain State offers beautiful farms, quiet country roads, pristine villages, and sophisticated inns with gourmet dining. In the fall, millions of acres of deciduous trees turn brilliant shades of red, gold, and orange for a foliage show unrivaled anywhere. Remember, though, that autumn is a mighty popular time to visit, so be sure to have your lodging reservations in hand before setting out, especially if you are traveling on the weekend.

This tour begins at the Vermont-New Hampshire border in Wells River on Route 302, heading toward Barre. Over the next two days you'll see miles of colorful vistas, the world's largest granite quarry, the country's smallest state capital, and Vermont's first National Park.

Day One

Wells River is the start of the Bayley-Hazen Military Road, built during the years 1776 to 1779 by General Jacob Bayley and General Moses Hazen. Ordered by George Washington, it was constructed from the upper Connecticut River to St. Francis, Quebec, and was intended to serve as a military route should the Revolutionary War spread to the northern border. Today the roadbed is still visible as it rises at the north end of the Route 5 bridge across the Wells River and disappears over a crest on Bible Hill. We like to stretch our legs on the first couple of miles of this historic road. Starting at the granite marker at the end of Main Street, we continue to a clearing above Tickle Naked Pond in Boltonville for rewarding views of the White Mountains. ("Tickle Naked" comes from the Algonquin name Tickenecket.)

Day or night you can find warm food and an equally warm welcome at the P&H Truck Stop in Wells River. If it is a weekend, the parking lot will be full, with more family cars than trucks. Inside, you are greeted by a bakery case of big, fresh loaves of bread (they bake 300 a day) and plates full of 20 different flavors of pie. Talk to a trucker anywhere in the country, and he'll recommend the maple cream pie at P&H. You'll be seated quickly. In the air you're likely to hear the murmur of English and French conversation, while music drifts from jukeboxes. The mood is light, the food is good; what more could you ask for?

Return to 302, where southeast of Barre lie the famous granite quarries. Here in the lush hills of Vermont is a lode of granite so vast and deep that it could last forever. Beginning 200 years ago, men from all over the world came here to work. In the decades that followed, quarrying of local granite grew into an industry of such prominence that by the 1960s the stoneworkers could boast there was a piece of Barre in every city in the nation.

The Rock of Ages Visitor Center is located in Graniteville. At the green in Barre, turn south on Route 14 and follow the signs. Though this may not be Vermont's number-one tourist stop (that would be Ben & Jerry's), it is a dramatic attraction. A path behind the center leads to one of the state's oldest quarries, and tours (in an open bus) to the working quarries are also available. Don't miss the intricate and moving memorials in Hope Cemetery on Route 14, 3/4 miles north of Barre. Here stonecutters have painstakingly carved sculptures for themselves and their families. You can spend an hour quietly walking the roads, reading epitaphs and international names, marveling at the art and love reflected in stone.

Take Route 14 north to Route 2 in East Montpelier. From here we are going to head west to Shelburne (just a little south of Burlington). In Montpelier, you can choose between I-89 or Route 2; both will lead to Burlington, and both offer good views. Route 2 will be slower, as it passes through more villages. On the interstate, allow about a half hour. (Don't think we are ignoring Montpelier; we're coming back this way!)

Next stop is Shelburne Farms. It is located at the intersection of Bay and Harbor roads, off Route 7 (take I-189 from I-89) in Shelburne. Originally designed as a model agricultural estate in 1886 by Dr. William Seward Webb and Lila Vanderbilt Webb, Shelburne Farms has magnificent 19th-century buildings in the most pastoral setting imaginable.

Retrace your route and take Route 2 (Williston Road) east from Burlington, stopping for snacks at Cheese Traders and Wine Sellers. In 10,000 square feet there is a huge inventory of cheeses, over 3,000 wines, and every Vermont microbrew you could want. You'll be in the country when you reach Richmond, 12 miles away. Our route calls for a left at Richmond's only intersection, but if you want to see the famous Round Church, turn right, cross the bridge, and look to the left. (There is parking on the circle.) The church, built in 1812, actually has 16 sides.

Turn back to Richmond, head north on Jericho Road, and continue five miles to Jericho Center. The marker on the green commemorates Wilson "Snowflake" Bentley, a turn-of-the-century Jericho farmer who took the first photographs of snowflake crystals. Continue beyond Jericho Center on Brown's Trace Road for three miles to Route 15, then turn right. Ahead and a bit to the right stands Mount Mansfield -- that's the chin of the mountain's illustrious profile farthest to the left (north); the nose and forehead lie farther south. (Use your imagination.)

Stay on Route 15 for half a mile, then bear right and continue three miles to Underhill Center. Head straight through town to Pleasant Valley Road, watching for a sign (a mile north) for Underhill State Park, where some of the best Mount Mansfield hiking trails begin. Although there are signs, your best bet is to carry a copy of the Green Mountain Club's Long Trail Guide. A ramble along the old Civilian Conservation Corps Road or Cantilever Rock Trail offers a way to see the colors at less than highway speed.

Return to Pleasant Valley Road and follow this rolling byway north through woodlands and meadows, bearing right at the fork six miles ahead onto Upper Valley Road, which delivers you to Jeffersonville by way of dairy farms and some fine views of the Lamoille River valley. If you're ready to call it a day, on the corner of Route 108 and Upper Valley Road you'll find the historic Smugglers Notch Inn. This 18th-century village inn has been hosting guests long before skiers descended on the area. Innkeepers Pat and Lisa Martin serve dinner in their large dining room, or you can choose from a handful of family restaurants in town. Don't miss a stroll down Main Street in Jeffersonville. This charming rural town has some lovely galleries, including the Mary and Alden Bryan Memorial Art Gallery, known for its landscape paintings.

If you are interested in more action, take a detour south about 15 miles on Route 108 to Stowe. Here you will find shops, movies, apres-ski entertainment, and an abundance of lodging and dinner choices. Edson Hill Manor is an inn that consistently receives rave reviews for its dining, which is open to the public. For an overnight in Austrian style, book a room at the mountaintop Trapp Family Lodge. Closer to Jeffersonville on Route 108 is Smugglers' Notch Resort, where both formal and informal dining choices abound.

Day Two

In the morning, drive north from Jeffersonville on Route 108. At Bakersfield, the blip in the road 10 miles north, turn left opposite the cemetery onto Route 36. Two and a half miles west is East Fairfield, where you can take a side trip to visit the reconstruction of President Arthur's boyhood home, known as the President Chester A. Arthur State Historic Site. Here you will get an idea of what a wilderness this was in 1830. (It still is -- this route is 4-1/2 miles each way on dirt roads.) To get there, turn right onto New Street, then go to a fork and bear left onto Dodd Road. Continue to the next intersection, where you'll see signs for the Arthur Site. Turn right; the site is a half mile down the road. To return (views on the way back are terrific), retrace your steps to Route 36. Stay on this through East Fairfield, and in five miles you'll enter Fairfield. Here you can pick up a sandwich, a maple-white chocolate scone, or a whole pie at Chester's Bakery, where everything is homemade.

When you crest a hill six miles west of Fairfield, you may have trouble paying attention to the road. The view that suddenly spreads before you takes in a vast swath of the upper Champlain valley, with St. Albans in the foreground, Lake Champlain in the middle distance, and New York's Adirondacks as a backdrop for it all. St. Albans is a redbrick period piece: A century ago it was northern New England's rail capital, and during the Civil War it was the site of the conflict's northernmost action, when Confederate raiders robbed the town's banks and made off into Canada. Stop to appreciate the handsomely preserved Victorian facades on Main Street and the stately public buildings facing the park on Church Street. One of these houses is the St. Albans Historical Museum, with an eclectic trove ranging from railroadiana to an old-time doctor's office. If you're hungry, try Jeff's Maine Seafood.

Head west out of town for three miles on Route 36 (Lake Street) to St. Albans Bay. Turn right and follow Route 36 for ten miles along Lake Champlain to Swanton, gateway to the waterfowl-rich St. Albans Co-Op , which is the supplier of much of the cream that goes into Ben & Jerry's ice cream.

Continue your itinerary on Route 78 east and drive five miles to Highgate Center (intersection with Route 207). Stay on 78 east out of Highgate Center, and after about 1.5 miles, the road will fork. Bear left at the next fork onto Franklin Road, which will take you (on dirt roads) through five miles of dairy country. Franklin County is Vermont's milk-producing leader.

Follow the road through Franklin, which, if everyone sneezed at once, would be in Quebec. When the road comes to an intersection, turn left and follow Route 120 north. Ahead and a little to the right, you'll see the summit of Jay Peak, with its cantilevered aerial tramway station. On your right, a few miles farther, Lake Carmi reflects the colors of the surrounding hills. Stay on Route 120 through East Franklin, then take Route 108 south to the junction with Route 105. Turn left and head east along the Missisquoi River to East Berkshire, where you take Route 118 south to Montgomery Center.

For the last word in foliage panoramas, take Route 242 from Montgomery Center to the Jay Peak Resort & Aerial Tramway eight miles away. Trams run every half hour.

For an afternoon encounter with the leaves, head east from Montgomery Center through Hazen's Notch on Route 58, a gravel road (note: road may be closed in winter or mud season) through deep woods ablaze with the yellow foliage of birches. Where the Long Trail crosses the road, you find that the Green Mountain Club's Hazen's Notch Camp is a good hiking and picnic destination six-tenths of a mile north of the road.

After 10 miles, Route 58 crosses Route 100 at Lowell; continue for eight miles to Irasburg, looking north along the way for some of the best long-distance views. Just before Irasburg, you'll come to a "T" intersection; turn right onto Route 14, which you'll follow through town and to points south. Route 14 out of Irasburg follows the Black River, which flows north into Lake Memphremagog.

As you drive south through the valley's pastures and hay fields, you'll notice left-hand turnoffs for the secondary roads through the Albanys and the Craftsburys, each town with elegant inns and restaurants that could seduce you to extend your trip. But don't let Laura Ashley fool you -- this is still wild country. (Near Lake Elligo, which hugs Route 14 in Craftsbury, researchers have identified scat proving the long-debated existence of mountain lions in Vermont.)

Stay on Route 14 through Hardwick, 24 miles south of Irasburg, and continue for 19 miles of lake-strewn, wooded country to East Montpelier. En route, detour to Cabot (left turn at Woodbury ; you'll be on dirt roads for 6.5 miles) for a tour of Cabot Creamery.

At East Montpelier, pick up Route 2 west for the seven miles into Montpelier. Note the golden dome of the state capitol rising before you. By now, you should know why it's topped with a statue of Ceres -- the Roman goddess of agriculture -- and why, perhaps, she should be clutching a sheaf of autumn leaves.

At this point in the tour, you've already had a couple of full days, but autumn in Vermont is still calling to us. If you have the time, visit the Vermont Statehouse and the Vermont Historical Society Museum in Montpelier. The statehouse offers guided tours from July through mid-October. The atmosphere is relaxed here, and no place is off-limits to visitors.

The state historical society has permanent and rotating exhibits. It is a great little museum where you can see many Vermont artifacts. Its permanent exhibit, "Freedom and Unity: One Ideal Many Stories," features a series of period rooms, ranging from an Abenaki Wigwam to a World War II era living room, that allow guest to literally walk through 400 years of the state's history. Both the statehouse and the museum have nice gift shops.

If time is limited, you can hop on Interstate 89 south and pick up I-91 south to Brattleboro, Vermont, to continue to Massachusetts on our grand New England foliage tour.

In Massachusetts, we'll take you through the western hilltowns for apples, antiques, and good eating on beautiful back roads. If you can't quite leave Vermont yet, here is a (longer) scenic route and you will hook up with Massachusetts later.

Day Three Option

From Montpelier, head northwest on Route 2. Pick up Route 100 in Duxbury and follow this south along the eastern edge of the Green Mountain National Forest (approximately 70 miles from Duxbury to Woodstock). This north-south corridor, once used only by hill-town villagers, has become the way to Vermont's most popular ski resorts. It is as scenic a highway as you'll find anywhere in New England. Near the major downhill ski areas there are great accommodations and fine food.

Just a short drive from Route 100 is Woodstock -- a showcase of a town anytime, but in autumn it is stellar. For a spectacular scenic road from Stockbridge to Woodstock (25 miles), take Route 107 east to 12 south. Woodstock highlights include impeccably maintained historic architecture; a classic town green lined with sugar maples; Billings Farm & Museum, a circa-1890s farmhouse and modern farm; and Vermont's first National Park, the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park.

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 October 11, 2009

Having been born and lived in Vermont all my life the author presents a wonderful route to visit for foliage. I would also like to point out though that moving from Burlington to Manchester Vermont has also opened up a whole new vista of foliage. How nice it would be to take the "option" drive from I-91 into Vermont and cross over the mountains on VT Route 9 - where the scenery and landscape are as remarkable as the people who work and live on the farms and in the smaller towns. Head over to Bennington and then catch Route 7 or Historic Route 7A where the Green Mountain Boys used to roam to see some of Vermont's Southern most beauty.. Towns rich with color and history and foliage to take one's breath away ....Arlington-home to Norman Rockwell; Manchester-home to Robert Todd Lincoln, Dorset and Danby and on through up to Rutland, Vt all are well worth a quick trip off of I-91. And head back down US VT 7 all the way to CT to see more than just VT at it's finest. Southern VT is sometimes forgotten along the travels- but with the only Shires in Vermont, it is well worth the travel to our part of the state....

Comment from melanie brunell on January 26, 2012

This drive makes me sick with excitement. But it has been so dry and warm this year so far. Which weeks would be the best under these weather circumstances, in which to visit??

Comment from Sharon Lefebvre on June 17, 2013

What is the prime time to see the the fall foliage in Vermont and New Hampshire?

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