I was the prodigal son returned.
Despite a raft of happy childhood memories at Smuggler’s Notch Resort, I had recently tossed Vermont aside for the bigger, fancier, and more famous escape of Colorado. With the dramatic Rockies, endless outdoor activities, a foodie heaven in Boulder, and lots of easy flights into Denver, Colorado had stolen my heart.
So it was with trepidation similar to a visit back to your old middle school that I took a long weekend to return to Stowe, Vermont just as fall was transitioning into winter. After being away for four years, would the things I once found charming or exciting now seem dull? The mountains less gasp-inducing? The long drive a buzz-kill?
Instead, Vermont was just what I needed.
Set at the foot of Mt. Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak, Stowe and its surrounding area are an ideal refuge from the daily grind at any time of year. But fall is one of the best seasons to visit.
First of all, there is the foliage. If you have never heard of Vermont’s breathtaking autumn leaves, just type the phrase into Google Images and start planning your 2014 weekend getaway. Trying to fit a Vermont covered bridge, rollicking stream, colorful foliage, and the mountains into one Instagram shot will become your Holy Grail.
But the foliage is far from Vermont’s only fall attraction. After a hot, sticky, and prolonged summer, the bracing mountain air—where winter comes on quickly—clears out the mind’s cobwebs. Stowe has the perfect weather: during the daytime, visitors can enjoy the great Vermont outdoors, and the nights are cold enough to merit a crackling fire as the backdrop to a bottle of wine with friends. And, at this time of year, there’s always the possibility of waking up to snowfall in the morning.
With a number of great hiking trails and three nearby mountains, Stowe is a haven for outdoorsy types. On our final day, we slipped and struggled our way up Mount Elmore after a torrential downpour to reach the fire tower at the top, which, from 1938 to 1974, was operated by an official fire watcher who lived on the mountain. The neighboring Mansfield has magnificent stone cliffs and a variety of hikes ranging in difficulty. According to legend (or at least my traveling companion and some hiking blogs), a disabled Native American chief was once trying to summit Mansfield in order to die in peace, and when he failed, the gods carved his face into the mountain’s cliff. The third peak, Sterling, has a pond at the top, which every year sparkles with coruscating reflections of the sun.
After working up an appetite hiking, followed naturally by some shopping on Stowe’s delightful Main Street, there’s nothing better than a tour of Vermont’s culinary treats. Ben & Jerry’s Factory (yes!) is the perfect place to fantasize about what flavor ice cream you’ll create once you’re famous (as for me, I’m content to eat Stephen Colbert’s Americone Dream until I can’t move). And yes, there is a free sample! If that isn’t enough dairy, cheddar-cheese devotees should check out the Cabot Annex just a short drive away.
To indulge your sweet tooth one last time, taste the sinfully delicious creations at Cold Hollow Cider Mill. My favorite are the apple cider donuts.
Wrap up your mountain journey with dinner at the Trapp Family Lodge. Like something out of a postcard from the Alps, the lodge is where the von Trapp family settled after a tour through the U.S. as the Trapp Family Singers. Whether or not you are a Sound of Music fan, make a reservation and enjoy a delicious meal in a beautiful setting.
At the end of my trip, weaving along Highway 91 heading back to the city, I realized that Vermont was the perfect weekend getaway—even worth the drive through Connecticut.