As it climbs northward, Route 7 plays leapfrog with Otter Creek, Vermont’s longest river, which tumbles down from the Green Mountain foothills into the southern end of Lake Champlain. For its first 50 miles, the lake is extremely narrow, at points only a few miles across. That made it prime defensive ground for generations of French, British, and Americans soldiers who protected the waterway from attack at Fort Ticonderoga  and Mount Independence .
Farther inland, along the mountains, the region was rare in Vermont for making its money from mills and industry rather than farming. The concentration of wealth in Middlebury  led to the founding of Vermont’s most prestigious college , which still gives the town and surrounding communities an air of cultural refinement.
There’s no easy way to get to the Middlebury  from the highway—whatever route you take involves a long (though beautiful) drive across the Green Mountains. Probably the best option from I-89 is to take exit 3 south to Route 107, then head west on Route 125 and cross the mountains at Middlebury Gap  (70 mi., 2 hrs. from White River Junction ). To drive to Middlebury from Rutland , take Route 7 north (35 mi., 1 hr.).
Run by the Chittenden County Transportation Authority, the Middlebury LINK (802/864-0211, www.cctaride.org ) provides regular bus service between Middlebury (Exchange St. or Merchants Row) and Burlington .
Addision County Transit Resources (802/388-1946, www.actr-vt.org ) runs bus routes throughout the town of Middlebury.