Hippies and Holsteins: Four Seasons in Vermont

In Travel Guides
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Those who really know nothing about the tiny US state usually assume it is a part of Canada. Culturally, they are not too far off the mark. I honestly get more culture shock by leaving Vermont for other US states than I do when visiting its northerly neighbour. If you too want a break from busy American life, but do not wish to hop the border, try a trip to the 802.

Vermont is a small state (3.5 hours driving North-South and 1.5 East-West) in the crammed region of New England in the Northeastern part of the US. It is known for many things, from Burton snowboards and Ben & Jerry’s Ice cream to ski slopes and picturesque fall foliage. You can also find just as many hippies as Holstein cows.

I grew up in the Green Mountain State and thus know many of its ins and outs. But, it is not a case of ‘no stone left unturned.’ As any local can tell you, there are still places that they, (for some mysterious reason or another), have not visited, but have driven past innumerable times. I am a victim of this condition as well. To remedy it, I have taken it upon myself to invite foreign friends to my home state and to see these places through the adventuresome eyes of a tourist. Since Vermont has four clear seasons (though some locals argue there is a forth: mus season), I will take you through a glimpse of the state and its seasonal treasures. This is by no means a comprehensive guide, it is merely a nip of what Vermont has to offer. I leave the rest for you to go explore yourself.

A stunning view from Mount Philo in Ferrisburgh.

A stunning view from Mount Philo in Ferrisburgh.

Spring:

Spring in Vermont is a tumultuous time. The weather can range from full sun to hail to a blizzard to screaming winds in one day. One just has to leave the house with a winter coat, several layers to peel off, and an umbrella. The weather is getting incrementally warmer and as a result, the flora is waking up.

Besides the glorious meadows of wildflowers that soon emerge as carpets of colour across the fields, the famous sugar maples come to life. Around March, the sap begins to flow and maple sugar farmers start to reap the benefits of their tree tapping. Acres and acres can be strung with plastic tubing or for a more traditional approach (and less of a hassle if one tree falls) hung with metal buckets. I grew up going to local sugar shacks, squelching through shallow snow towards the billowing white steam emerging from the boiling house roof. Inside was cozy and rich with the smell of maple. You can find these sugar shacks most anywhere in the state. Traditionally, you get snow in a paper container drizzled with fresh maple sugar and a pickle slice on the side. It is called “sugar on snow,” but nowadays it is usually shaved ice because the snow is either not clean enough or…there is none! Also, don’t forget to try a homemade, dense doughnut. These little rings of deliciousness add another texture and taste to your classic Vermont meal. Maple sugar shacks are dotted everywhere, all you have to do is look. You can meet some fantastic locals and feel a part of a community sitting on the long wooden benches with people from all walks of life.

Maple sugar buckets hanging on trees.

Maple sugar buckets hanging on trees.

Summer:

Everyone comes out of the woodwork during summer to try and maximize this brief season. Outdoors activities are extremely popular in Vermont, so it is worth it to get out there and enjoy nature like a local. You can visit the largest city, Burlington, which sits on the edge of Lake Champlain. The view is stunning, with the shadows of the Adirondack Mountains of New York on the horizon and the glimmering narrow slip of water between. There are a few sandy beaches to enjoy, but most are made of smooth, white-ringed rocks. Don’t expect a tropical paradise here, but more of a blue-brown sensation that is perfect for taking the edge off a hot and humid day. Nothing is better than hiking for hours through the woods, then topping the experience with a swim in the lake or a hidden waterfall. Vermont is rife with cascades and you can Google or ask locals to find the best spots. Some, like Triple Buckets in Bristol or Huntington Gorge in Huntington are popular with cliff jumpers and those who like a little more excitement in their aquatic experience. Be aware of strong river currents though, because it is quite common every year to hear about a drowning.

No trip to Vermont is complete without a little cheese. With more cows than people, Vermont has learned to harness this ratio and crank out some delectable dairy products. I am hugely biased because I worked there, but Shelburne Farms in Shelburne is an incredible day out. You can learn about sustainable agricultural practices, milk a sweet Brown Swiss cow by hand, and then taste the award winning cheddar cheese.

Sunrise over Lake Champlain.

Sunrise over Lake Champlain.

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Fall:

My favourite season, autumn is when Vermont gets many of its tourists. They come to go “leaf peeping,” or to drive through the rolling mountains and gape out the window at the blazing ochre and crimson colours. Every year I am awe-struck by the foliage show. It seems so bizarre that these “drab” green trees can suddenly, in a matter of a week or so, explode in colour. The air is crisp and frost may dust your car at night. It is time to drink hot cider and wear some plaid shirts from the Vermont Flannel Company. Despite the chilly shift in seasons, the majority of days are still nice. Afternoons can become magnificent as the sunlight falls over the lake, reflecting off the dancing water and illuminating the leaves.

Beautiful rural fall foliage.

Beautiful rural fall foliage.

Winter:

If people don’t come to Vermont for the leaves, they come for the snow! Winter is when the ski resorts come to life. No more excuses about how “cool” the Sugar Bush water park or the scenic gondola ride at Stowe or Killington are. People really go there in the winter to strap on some skis or snowboards and hurtle through trees and over ice patches. If you are lucky, you can spot a troop of locals on homemade monoskis. They look like their creator bolted a metal high school chair to a ski and said “let’s hope she works!”

If the -20C weather doesn’t put you out, you can go skating on a pond or snowshoeing (or nordic skiing) at one of the many nature places in the state. You can also easily make your own trail outside of these recreation centres, but make sure you know the area and where property lines are.

To conclude a winter day, I have to recommend two soul- and body-warming beverages: Lake Champlain Chocolate’s hot chocolate (the Aztec flavour with chili is ideal) and Boyden Valley Winery’s ‘Glogg‘ (a heated mulled spice wine). After warming up, nothing beats walking down the pedestrian mall of Burlington’s Church Street with its corridor of fairy lights. You truly do feel like you are in a separate world where the hectic pizzazz and ostentatious front of America does not apply. Welcome to Vermont!

A wintry scene in Waterville, VT.

A wintry scene in Waterville, VT.

If my words have not convinced you to visit the gorgeous Green Mountain State, I will leave you with this jay-dropping drone video by Matt Benedetto:

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