My Vermont is not the Vermont of tourist brochures and movies: Sure, I've experienced the small towns with white steepled churches and grange halls. They're certainly charming, like a distant friend. But the Vermont I love is found when you leave settlement of any kind, no matter how small and quaint, and step back onto the forest path.
Vermont's Long Trail is the Granddaddy of American long distance hiking trails. It was envisioned in 1910 at the founding meeting of the Green Mountain Club, the organization that still stewards the trail. In 1930, a short 20 years later, the club oversaw the completion of the trail. In contrast, the Appalachian Trail, which swings in from the east to join the Long Trail midway through the state, traces its origins to a 1921 magazine article, and wasn't completed until 1937. The Long Trail extends 270 miles up the spine of Vermont, and although there are some gentle passages, much of the trail steeply climbs and descends Vermont's highest peaks. Similarly to the AT, the Long Trail can be through-hiked all at once, or taken in pieces.
The Green Mountain National Forest shields much of the Long Trail, and has tons of other trails both in the Middlebury and Rochester districts in the north and the Manchester District in the south. But perhaps the most renowned portions of the Long Trail ramble over state forest land: Camels Hump, Mount Mansfield and Smugglers Notch. Smugglers Notch is a historic route used for over a century to smuggle goods and people into and out of Canada. These days its used by hikers, who come to enjoy the personality-filled rocks and rare plants. But for history's sake, put an extra chocoloate baror whatever in your pack: we won't tell.
If you really want off the beaten path, you can't do better than an expedition to the Worcester Range near Stowe and Montpelier. While not as high as the Green Mountain view, these lovely peaks more than make up for it in breathtaking views in a soaringly wild setting.
Vermont doesn't skimp when it comes to good bike riding. But if I had to choose a region to begin pedaling, I'd go with central Vermont. It's wild enough to have lots of exciting off-road trails. It's civilized enough to offer all the amenities of a biking vacation: country inns and convenient repair shops.
If your style is road touring, a terrific two day tour through Calvin Coolidge country follows rivers and streams into the heart of Vermont. Coolidge worked at a desk made of trestles and planks, two telephone lines and a telegraph, which is quite an image compared to the trappings of the president today.
Like it rougher? Some of the state's best mountain biking is found in the central part of the state. A Bethel ride follows the west bank of the White River. The Pittsfield ride loops out of a traditional Vermont town into spectacular countryside. The Green Mountain National Forest offers more rugged mountain biking, for workouts that range from gentle to bone jarring. And a ride around the Mad River will really challenge your endurance. The rewarda swimming hole and a covered bridge.
But hey, I don't want to give the rest of the state short shrift. Bennington County in the south makes a good home base for more Green Mountain National Forest biking. And road tourers will want to seek out the area's many covered bridges.
In the north, the Lake Champlain valley around Burlington is very bike friendly, with 350 miles of identified bicycle routes within a vast network of quiet back roads. The landscape ranges from wild lakeshore to gentle farmland. And as Vermont's largest city, the Burlington area offers a full range of accomodations and eating options.
Vermont has some of the prettiest lakes and streams, and some of the most productive waters, of anywhere in the east. Both bass and trout fishing are popular. Battenkill River is the most famous trout stream a magnificent standard-bearer and one of the few wild trout streams left in the east. It consistently delivers challenging angling and a mysterious allure. But Vermont offers much more. The White River is another enjoyable river, with lots of personality.
Other legendary trout streams include the Mad River, the Dog River and the Winooski river in Central Vermont. In the north, you can't do much better than the Lamoille River and Missisquoi Rivers. For a change, while in the Northeast Kingdom search out a beaver pond and try your luck with native brook trout.
If it's lake fishing you're after, the Army Corps of Engineer has several excellent facilities, including Townshend Lake and Ball Mountain Lake. Other excellent fishing lakes include Winona Lake in central Vermont, which is known for its northern pike, but also has thriving populations of bass, yellow perch, and bluegill. North of Montpelier on VT 14, the Woodbury/Calais Lake Region is a popular fishing destination. This is a string of at least 27 small lakes and ponds variously providing habitat to bass, rainbow trout, pickerel, yellow perch, bluegill and more. These lakes are best fished from a canoe, which you can rent in the area.
With so much wild land, Vermont has great wildlife viewing. The state has two national wildlife refuges, the Mississquoi and the new Sylvio O. Conte. The traditional Mississquoi is a mostly wetlands area near the Canadian border. This corner of the state, which includes Burlington has many wildlife spots, including a bird museum and lovely Lake Carmi State Park. The newly created Sylvio O. Conte is a new style wildlife refuge. While it owns a mere 3.2 acre island, it is charged with protecting the fish and wildlife of the four-state Connecticut River watershed. To do this, it stresses education and cooperative ventures with other agencies and individuals, as well as the more common boundary protection of a preserved parcel of land.
It's hard to imagine a drive in Vermont that isn't full of interest and beauty. Just pick any backroad, and you're bound to have an adventure. Be warned, during October leaf-peeping season, those backroads fill up. And in winter, those icy mountain roads get treacherously slick. My Vermonter friends say they can always tell the outstaters by how fast they drive: Vermonters know better.
Many scenic drivers go off in search of covered bridges. Bennington County is a good place to start. Green Mountain National Forest is another good choice for pleasure driving; GORP offers details on nine auto tours.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication