15 best things to do in Vermont in the fall – Lonely Planet

Every season is a great season to visit Vermont. In addition to skiing and snowboarding in the winter, outdoor enthusiasts will find year-round recreational opportunities like hiking, biking and fishing in the warmer months. Not to mention there’s a thriving art scene with performing arts, museums and galleries.

A founder of the locavore movement, Vermont is a highly coveted culinary destination. Proud producers of everything from meat to cheese, ice cream, chocolates, wine and spirits, the Green Mountain State’s farmers and chefs create farm-to-table meals that rival anywhere else in the US.  

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With beautiful scenery, covered bridges, lakes and state parks, you could spend an entire week simply taking scenic drives around the state. Should you end up touring all of the towns and cities in the state, you could become the next member of the 251 Club, a club dedicated to celebrating all of Vermont’s 251 towns and cities.

These are some of the best things to do in Vermont this fall. Let them inspire you to plan your next trip.

Sunrise over Shelburne Farms, Camels Hump Mountain and the Champlain Valley, Vermont
The 1400-acre Shelburne Farms with Camels Hump Mountain and the Champlain Valley in the distance © vermontalm / Shutterstock

1. Visit Shelburne Farms

Located on the shores of Lake Champlain, Shelburne Farms is one of the most magical places in Vermont. Once the country estate of railroad mogul Dr. William Seward and Lila Vanderbilt Webb, the 1400-acre working farm is now open to the public. The campus encompasses a grass-based dairy of Brown Swiss cows used to make their award-winning cheddar cheese, an organic garden market, plus maple sugaring and lumber operations. 

Designated a National Historic Landmark in 2001, visitors are welcome to explore the Farm Barn, which houses animals, a bakery and a cheesemaking facility, plus the Coach Barn – largely used for special events and meetings.

Miles of spectacular walking trails take you through the property and right down to the waterfront. You can also stay and dine at the Inn, the original summer home of William and Lila, which is now a 24-room hotel, open seasonally from May through October. 

Vermont’s 7 best hiking trails 

2. Learn about Vermont’s role in Underground Railroad 

Located in Ferrisburg, Vermont, the Rokeby Museum is a National Historic Landmark. Four generations of the Robinson family lived and worked on this 90-acre Merino Sheep Farm for over two hundred years. 

As abolitionists, the Robinson family provided shelter in the 1830s for two formerly enslaved people who were on the run. Their exhibit Free & Safe showcases and brings to life the role Vermont played in the  Underground Railroad.

The historic farmstead, comprising nine outbuildings, the original family home and hiking trails, sits on 90 acres of land. The museum is open seasonally to the public from mid-May through late October.

The Whale's Tails sculpture in Randolph, Vermont
The statue «Whale Tails» in Randolph, Vermont, is a popular draw © Brester Irina / Shutterstock

3. Watch out for Whales Tails

When driving along Interstate 89, keep a lookout for the «Whales Tails» between exits 12 and 13. Carved out of 36 tons of African Black Granite, the sculpture formally named Reverence is easy to spot. You can get up close to the two 13-ft high tails via a walking path (1.3 mi) in South Burlington’s Technology Park. During the holiday season, they are lit up with Christmas lights for all to enjoy.

But why are there outdoor pieces of art depicting whales’ tails in a land-locked state? Vermont’s Champlain Valley was once underwater and part of the Champlain Sea, an extension of the ocean. Proof that whales once inhabited the area was solidified when a fossil of a beluga whale was found in the town of Charlotte in 1849.

Vermont’s 5 most picturesque road trips 

4. Sample a creemee

What’s known as soft-serve ice cream nationwide is called a «creemee» in Vermont. Slightly creamier than hard ice cream, this sweet treat comes in traditional flavors like chocolate and vanilla, but the most sought-after is maple. There’s even a Maple Creemee Trail dedicated to finding the best one in the state.  

Creemees can be found at snack shacks, roadside stands and gas stations, and they’re all good. However, some of the best can be found at Little Gordo in Burlington, the Village Creeme Stand in Bristol or the Creemee Stand in Wilmington. 

In contrast, some of the most creative are at Canteen Creemee Company in Waitsfield. Order the Bad Larry, a towering cone of maple sprinkled with maple crystals and topped off with maple cotton candy.

A sunny day at Billings Farm, Vermont
Billings Farm, Vermont, is one of the oldest registered Jersey dairy farms in the nation © Esposito Photography / Shutterstock

5. Roll up your sleeves and work at Billings Farm and Museum 

Established in 1871, Billings Farm is one of the nation’s oldest registered Jersey dairy farms. Still a fully working farm, visitors can get a sense of rural farm life. In addition to the Jersey cows, there are draft horses, steer, oxen, sheep, pigs, chickens and goats.

With 200 acres to explore at this outdoor history museum, it is best to allow approximately three hours to tour the educational exhibits, the barn and the 1890 Farm Manager’s House. The Dairy Bar is the perfect spot to get ice cream or cider donuts and hot apple cider in the fall. 

Bikers on the Colchester Causeway Park on Lake Champlain, Burlington
Colchester Causeway Park is a great bike trail through Lake Champlain © Jumping Rocks / Contributor / Getty

6. Stroll in the middle of a lake 

There are few places where you can take a stroll out into the middle of a lake. But, in Vermont, the Colchester Causeway allows you to do just that. Built out of white marble from quarries in Rutland, this former railroad bed is now a 10-foot wide gravel path with some of the most scenic views in the state. 

Connecting Colchester to South Hero, this section of the Island Line Trail is excellent for biking or walking. Approximately two-thirds of the way out, there is a 200-ft cut to allow for boat traffic, which is serviced by the Island Line Trail Bike Ferry, enabling pedestrians and bikers to cross and continue on to South Hero.

7. Buy local produce at weekly farmers markets

Once a place to buy local produce, farmers markets are now a full-fledged outing. In addition to supplying fresh vegetables, meats, cheeses and baked goods, they have become a place for the community to gather, eat and shop. 

With almost 85 weekly farmers markets in Vermont, farm-to-table fans can stroll through these open-air markets and sample some of the best food Vermont has to offer. It is a wonderful opportunity to meet the many farmers that grow the local food. The Waitsfield Farmers Market, the Craftsbury Farmers Market and the Burlington Farmers Market are three of the state’s largest and most popular markets.

The main entrance to the Trapp Family Lodge, Stowe, Vermont, USA
Trapp Family Lodge is an Austrian style named after the von Trapp Family, which is the inspiration for the famous movie

8. The hills are alive at The Trapp Family Lodge

The hills of Stowe are still alive with the sound of music. Over 70 years ago, Georg and Maria von Trapp discovered Vermont and made it their home for generations to come. Today the Trapp Family Lodge is an Austrian Style hotel lined with family photos and memorabilia. Start your visit with a 90-minute history tour to learn the real story of the von Trapp family, which differs quite a bit from the Sound of Music version most people are familiar with.  

Over the years, the resort has grown and now includes a Bierhall, brewery and a Kaffeehaus with fresh baked Austrian pastries. There are also miles of trails on the property for mountain biking, hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. In the fall, they host Oktoberfest, and in the winter, you can take a horse-drawn sleigh ride through their pastures.

Newbury, Vermont's general store in the fall
Newbury, Vermont’s charming general store © John Greim / Contributor / Shutterstock

9. Stop by a Vermont general store 

Several historic general stores are still in existence in Vermont. They’re located in town centers and serve as a place to pick up provisions and as gathering places for the community. The renowned Warren Store is one of the most famous. Housed in a building from 1839, the store’s shelves are stocked with local products and Vermont specialty foods. It’s a great place to poke around for souvenirs. 

You will find anything from maple syrup to hot sauce and cheeses, jams, jellies, craft beer, home goods and fashion accessories. Enjoy sandwiches from the deli out on the deck overlooking the Mad River.

10. Explore ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain

Just steps from Burlington’s waterfront, ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain is dedicated to understanding Lake Champlain, its animals and plants.

This science museum feels very much like an aquarium where you can explore a life-sized recreation of a famous shipwreck, learn about hundreds of other wrecks in Lake Champlain and try to figure out if the Legend of Champ is a myth or reality.

There are 100+ interactive exhibits to check out, plus 70 different fish species, reptiles and amphibians to see, such as snapping turtles, a black rattlesnake and pumpkinseed fish.

Alchemist's Double-IPA Heady Topper beer being canned at their Waterbury, Vermont brewery
The incredibly popular and delicious Heady Topper, canned locally at the Alchemist brewery in Waterbury, Vermont © Boston Globe / Contributor / Getty

11. Enjoy Vermont’s craft beer scene

While Vermont isn’t the birthplace of craft brew, they’ve certainly been churning out tasty home-brewed pints for a long time. When Vermont Pub & Brewery opened its doors in Burlington in 1988, it began a movement in the state. 

As a result, the number of brewpubs, microbreweries and craft brewers has grown to over 60. To put it in perspective, that’s roughly 11.5 breweries per capita, which is a lot of beer for a small state.

The challenge is how to try them all while you visit. While names like Magic Hat, which was recently sold to Zero Gravity, and Heady Topper are synonymous with Vermont Craft beer, there are numerous smaller breweries worth putting at the top of your list during a visit to the Green Mountain State. An excellent way to do that is a craft brew tour where you can leave the driving to someone else.

Vermont’s best beaches for a picturesque fall getaway

A bench with the perfect view of Isle La Motte, Vermont
The Isle La Motte is part of the archipelago of islands in Lake Champlain, Vermont © Tammy Fortin / Alamy Stock Photo

12. Discover the islands

Although Vermont is known for being a mountainous state, it’s also home to an archipelago of islands in Lake Champlain worth visiting. Mostly flat, it is a fabulous place to bike. Home to several state parks, such as Grand Isle and Knight Point, it is also an excellent place to go camping with a waterfront view.

Crossing over from the mainland via Route 2, make your first stop in South Hero at Allehholm Farm, Vermont’s oldest commercial orchard with a petting paddock, maple creemees and a farm store. Next, check out Snow Farm Vineyard and make dinner reservations at Blue Paddle Bistro.

Further north, pop into Hero’s Welcome, a legendary general store with yummy sandwiches and picnic tables overlooking the lake. It is also an excellent place to go ice skating in the winter. Next, stay at the North Hero House or book a boat tour around the islands. Finally, before crossing over into Canada, at the last island, spend an afternoon at Alburgh Dunes State Park, one of Vermont’s largest beaches.

13. Hit the slopes at Vermont’s Ski & Snowboard Museum 

In a state famed for producing many Olympic-caliber ski and snowboard athletes, of course, there is a museum in Stowe dedicated to preserving the history of the sports. There are over 8000 items in the collection at the Vermont Ski & Snowboard Museum. It includes hundreds of pairs of skis, snowboards and bindings. 

There’s a collection of mechanical equipment used for ski operations like snowmaking and races. Exhibits are dedicated to skiing and snowboarding history, showcasing the sport’s legends, slopeside fashion over the years and how pastimes have changed over the decades.

Pouring fresh maple syrup over packed snow to make "sugar-on-snow"
Sugar-on-snow, a long-standing tradition during the sugaring season © Stéphane Groleau / Alamy Stock Photo

14. Always time for some maple syrup 

Nothing says “Made-in-Vermont” more than maple syrup. With over 1500 sugarhouses, Vermont produces approximately 2 million gallons of syrup a year. So if you plan to travel to Vermont in the spring, be sure to visit a sugarmaker

Most sugarhouses are open to the public throughout March and the beginning of April when the temps have warmed up and the sap is flowing. They’re happy to show off how maple syrup is made, teach you about the different grades and offer you a sample.

In addition, they’ll be serving sugar-on-snow, a long-standing tradition during the sugaring season as well. This sweet treat consists of hot syrup drizzled over packed snow, turning it into a taffy-like consistency and served with a donut and dill pickle.

15. Tour the Lincoln family’s summer home 

Plan a visit to Hildine, the summer home of Abraham Lincoln’s only son who lived to adulthood. Located in Manchester, Vermont, there’s a lot to explore at the Lincoln family home in southern Vermont. Robert Todd Lincoln, the Pullman Company president, and his wife Mary built their family estate at the turn of the century. 

The home remained in possession of the Lincoln clan up until 1975, when Abraham Lincoln’s great-granddaughter, Peggy Lincoln Beckwith, passed away. 

Today the property encompasses the 8000 sq ft family mansion plus 14 historic buildings. You can tour the mansion, carriage barn, 1903 Pullman car, goat dairy and chevre cheese-making facility. If you are a peony lover, plan to visit in late spring or early summer when thousands of these fragrant flowers bloom in the formal garden.

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