The term may evoke comical images of tourists sneaking up on unsuspecting fallen leaves to ogle them, but come autumn in Vermont, “leaf peeping” is serious business. It’s the basis for the state’s second-biggest tourist season, drawing visitors in droves from around the country, and often the globe, to witness the glorious color palette of fall. Trees begin to change color in mid-September and the show lasts through mid-to-late October, progressing north to south through the state. But taking on the leaves can also mean taking on a crush of tourists. Make reservations in advance and check the season’s progress online before you travel. We’ve also tried to include some quieter places that take you off the beaten path where you can actually enjoy nature’s presentation.
From Montpelier, take I-89 west to follow Route 100 north to Stowe. Mount Mansfield’s peak lures skiers in winter, but in fall it’s all about the lush foliage across its slopes. No visit to Stowe is complete without a trip to the Trapp Family Lodge, the ski chalet built by the real-life von Trapps, whose story leapt to screen in The Sound of Music. The chalet also offers overnight accommodations.
The next day, follow the foliage south on Route 100 to the Mad River Valley, stopping for lunch at The Warren Store and for a gambol around the Saturday afternoon Waitsfield Farmers’ Market on the Mad River Green. Spend the night in Warren at Round Barn Farm.
From the Mad River Valley, follow Route 100 south to Hancock, then cut west across the mountains on Route 73 through Middlebury Gap, oohing and aahing at the foliage. Continue to Middlebury for a tour of the small but impressive Middlebury College Museum of Art or the quaint Vermont Folklife Center. Stay overnight at the Swift House Inn.
From Middlebury, Route 7 continues south to Rutland, which offers a taste of America’s great small-town memorialist at the Norman Rockwell Museum. Try to time your visit for the Proctor Fall Festival in late September. Bed down for the night at the Inn at Rutland.
The next day, head south on Route 7, where the sophisticated outlet town of Manchester lies quietly in the Southern Green Mountains. Spend the morning touring the exhibits at the Southern Vermont Art Center or the Victorian furnishings at Abraham Lincoln’s son’s former estate of Hildene. At night, the romantic The Reluctant Panther Inn & Restaurant offers a place to stay, while the on-site restaurant includes views of Mount Equinox.
Today, head south on Route 7A, making a detour in Shaftsbury (15 min.) to visit the Robert Frost Stone House Museum, former home of its namesake poet. The surroundings are a perfect foil to Frost’s love of the outdoors, and the poems that exemplified them: The house sits on seven acres filled with stone walls, birches and apple trees, none of which are more vibrant than during foliage season.
From Shaftsbury, it’s a three-hour drive north to return to Montpelier, or to the airport in South Burlington.
Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Vermont.