A friend of mine, who had lived in Grafton, recently moved to Ontario, Canada, complaining of all the New Yorkers buying up 10 acre lots, building a cabin and thinking they were living in the wilderness. While not exactly urban centers, the towns of Brattleboro, Bennington, Woodstock and Rutland are lively communities. In many ways, the south is the gateway to Vermont. Most visitors arrive from the populous states of Massachusetts, Connecticut and, especially, New York to the south.
Fortunately, the Green Mountain National Forest protects a big chunk of southwestern Vermont from overdevelopment, plus it gives outdoor recreationists plenty of opportunity to try their hand at their activity of choice in relatively pristine setting. All six of Vermont's federally designated wilderness areas are in the forest. Roll in White Rocks National Recreation Area, an area of the forest managed for its wilderness values, and you have a fair amount of wild land to explore.
The area has waterbodies for anglers and paddlers alike. The Batten Kill River, synonymous with superb fly fishing, and can make a superb paddling excursion besides. The Connecticut River which flows southward, is wide here, and offers paddlers a bucolic trip throuth the countryside. Lake Saint Catherine is a nice spot for family recreation, with a state park that has a good campground, and row and paddle boat rentals.
Come winter, out-of-state skiers pressed for time have amplified the popularity of several south Vermont ski resorts, including Mt. Snow, Ball Mountain and Bromley.
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The population starts to thin somewhat in Central Vermont, and outdoor recreation becomes better and better. A big chunk of the Green Mountain National Forest sits southwest of Montpelier, the state capital.
In addition, two prominent state forests are located here: Groton State Forest and Coolidge State Forest. Vermont's public land system has two major designations. Generally, state forests are larger tracts of undeveloped land. State parks tend to be nodes in the state forest that have developed campgrounds and other recreational facilities. Groton State Forest is a 25,000 plus acre forest that is the second largest contiguous landholding by the State of Vermont. This forest supports a sense of wilderness, along with black bear, moose, deer, grouse, mink, beaver, otters, loons and herons. Seven state parks are attached to the forest, providing a wide range of facilities, including campgrounds, boat launches, swimming areas, and nature education. Many pleasant trails explore the woods of Groton, none longer than 3 miles one-way. If you want an even wilder forest experience, seek out the nearby 18,000 plus Coolidge State Forest which has fewer facilities than Groton—only one state park providing camping facilities, lavoratories, and not much else—but plenty of good hiking.
Camel's Hump State Park, at almost 21,000 acres, is an exception to the rule that most Vermont State Parks are smallish. The name pretty accurately describes the landform, but not as much as Camel's Rump—the name recorded on a map from 1798. Besides being distinctively scenic, the area has a fascinating ecology, well explored in a difficult, but worth-it 7.4 mile hiking loop.
Vermont's one national park facility—Marsh Billings National Historic Park—lies just north of Woodstock. Marsh-Billings is the historic Billings/Rockefeller Farm and Estate in Woodstock, Vermont. It is the first unit of the National Park System to focus on the theme of conservation history and the changing nature of land stewardship in America. Besides offering a fascinating display, the facility has some pleasant trails and carriage roads that are walking only—a chance to stroll the area's gentle terrain without fear of being mowed down by mountain bikes.
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Northern Vermont has both the most and least populated areas of the state.
Burlington, on the shores of Lake Champlain, is Vermont's largest city. The gentle agricultural landscape around Burlington seems custom-designed for bike touring: small villages, country inns, and a ferry that will take you and your bike across the lake to New York's Adirondack State Park. But don't be in a hurry to leave the state. Lake Champlain itself is quite a sight to behold: 120 miles long, 12 miles wide, it has been called the most historic lake in the country.
Shelburne Museum is a good place to begin your exploration of that history. Shelburne Museum is home to 37 exhibition buildings scattered on 45 acres. You can walk around the grounds and visit seven furnished historic houses (1773-1840), moved from northern New England and New York; a 1901 Vermont round barn; an 1890 railroad station, blacksmith, printing and weaving shops; a one-room schoolhouse; a stagecoach inn; a lighthouse, a jail and a general store along with the 220-foot steamboat, Ticonderoga, a designated National Historic Landmark.
The Burlington area has many wildlife watching venues, including the Mississquoi National Wildlife Refuge. And three important rivers—the Winnooski, the Lamoille and Missisquoi—feed into Lake Champlain near or north or Burlington. The Green Mountains east of Burlington offer some of Vermont's top attractions, including the resort town of Stowe, Mount Mansfield (Vermont's highest summit) and the Worcester Range. The ski resorts in this area are world famous, especially the expert-class Stowe slopes and the family-friendly Smuggler's Notch.
The Northeast Kingdom is a region of near wilderness, full of isolated forests, lakes. The region is more reminiscent of rugged Maine across the border than the gentle farmland to the west. Two state forests—Willoughby and Victory—are good get-away-from-it-all spots. Isolated, they get many fewer visitors than parks to the south. Willoughby Cliffs overlook and Darling State Park, which is attached to Victory State Forest, stand as unheralded gems according to in-the-know Vermonters.
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Northern Vermont Resource Page
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication