Though Vermont glitters under a white blanket in the winter and blooms shocking green in the spring and summer, the most famous season of all is definitely FALL. September and October bring in a fiery transformation that streaks across this state’s many trees.
But it’s not just pretty. The harvest season also means a lot of activity. Farms, orchards, wineries, breweries, hay rides and more are all underway. And yes, as I visited during the 2020 pandemic, there was less open than usual, but Vermont has always been about the outdoors, so many of my favorite activities are still happening in some capacity.
I was in need of a little fall country fun and was delighted to spend a week exploring the autumn bounty in the Northwestern area of Vermont. This region has glittering lake views, sweeping hillsides and picture perfect farms, scattered along it’s breathtaking roads. Adventuring with my 2 year old daughter, we had the most memorable week frolicking throughout the countryside and embracing everything FALL.
When to go?
Last week in Sept – First 2 weeks in October
Peak fall in Vermont usually occurs at the end of September and early October. You might catch some golden leaves in mid September as well. Don’t wait too long in October though! By Halloween, there’s usually been some frost and the leaves lose their vibrancy or most have indeed, fallen.
Where to Visit?
I grew up in Woodstock, which is Eastern central Vermont. The fall in Woodstock is stunning and there is an adorable town to go along with it. But I think the most scenic countryside is along route 7 in Northwestern Vermont. Here you have quiet roads, farm stands and majestic mountains, all set on the backdrop of Lake Champlain, just a couple miles West. It has a full fall experience, all within 20 minutes.
Where to Stay?
There’s no doubt that Basin Harbor is where to stay if you want to experience the best of Vermont. Quiet renovated cottages perched next to the dazzling Lake Champlain, a historic lodge that serves everything from waffles to sushi and an assortment of adirondack chairs thoughtfully placed with views. The peacefulness that Basin Harbor brings allows guests to breathe in the autumn air and fully immerse in Vermont’s natural splendor.
Don’t even bother with your car, use a golf cart to get around this massive resort, from the general store to the pool to the Red Mill restaurant. If you have had your fill of all that lake gazing and cozy fires, there’s actually a lot available for the adventure seekers too.
What to do?
Cruise the Lake at Basin Harbor
Many leaf peepers take in the foliage by car or on foot, but I daresay that viewing it from a boat might be the most picturesque. Lake Champlain, Vermont’s largest and in my opinion, most gorgeous lake, is hugged by rolling hills, making it an autumn lovers dream. Basin Harbor offers daily cruising aboard it’s EScape, a 47’ modified lobster boat that can seat up to 48 people (modified capacity during COVID-19). The tour will include the centuries old history of the Basin Harbor and Lake Champlain, as well as highlight more scenic spots along the lake.
Craving something with a little more speed? Rent a boat to do some tubing or waterskiing, or take out a motor boat with just your family if you prefer to have a more socially distant experience. The calm water and reflection of those leaves will definitely ensure that you have stunning photos!
Apple Picking at Happy Valley Orchard
A quintessential fall experience, apple picking is one of those things that is just fun (and easy) for all ages. Great photos, lovely outdoor orchards and using a lot of tasty bites along the way. My toddler loved learning how to twist and pull off the apples on the low branches all by herself.
We were told by a local about Happy Valley Orchard in Middlebury (about 35 minutes south of Basin Harbor) and it was perfect. This cute family orchard has well maintained trees, which were simply full of apples. If you don’t feel like picking, the market has bags to carry out, including the beloved Honeycrisp, and other local specialties. It’d be a tragedy if you didn’t snag a bag of cider donuts to share (or not!).
Pick a Pumpkin: Lester Farm Market
I daresay there’s a place in the country that has prettier pumpkins than Vermont. These beauties are for sale along the side of the road, at local farms and markets everywhere during this time of year. However, I have to give credit to Lester Farm Market.
Their thoughtful display is out of an foliage postcard. Wagons piled high, pumpkin “spiders,” and a pumpkin adorned house big enough to enter; their market offers so much more than just picking out a pumpkin! The photo opportunities alone are worth the price of these orange icons.
Pizza and beer are a winning combo, any time of the year. The local favorite, Folino’s Pizza, is a laidback stop for some great slices, and next door, sample a refreshing beer from Fiddlehead Brewery.
If you want some more unique flavors for this area, Mizuchi Sushi is a new offering from Basin Harbor. These exciting rolls and other Japanese dishes from New York Times rated veteran chef Fumitaka Takeshita are absolutely delicious, on their own but I think they are greatly enhanced by enjoying them with a view of the lake.
Hang out at The Historic Marble Works District, Middlebury
The collegiate Middlebury is a charming town, centered around a breathtaking waterfall. Though the town feels very historic, it is also very lively. A particularly fun and innovative spot is the Marble Works District.
Here you will find a park with picnic benches, art installations, gardens and a prime waterfall view. Bring a meal or some wine, or just stop by to enjoy the fall sunshine. Even better, there are cute shops to browse and the Vermont staple, American Flatbread, which serves outstanding pizza, salads and drinks either outside by a firepit, inside in non-pandemic times or to go!
Immerse in Nature on a Hike
Crunching on the crispy leaves as you walk along the Vermont trails is truly spectacular. Get in nature and leave your phones behind. Breathe in the rich air, hear the rustling of birds and let yourself be a part of the Vermont landscape.
Learn about local farming at Shelburne Farms
One of the most exquisite farms in all of the state, Shelburne Farms not only provides a beautiful way to experience farm life, including a wagon ride, but they also serve lunch, make their own cheeses (which you can purchase) and even have an inn. During the pandemic, much is closed, save for their hiking trails but if you plan to go at other times, don’t miss their friendly cows, baby chicks and excellent cheeses from their market!
Some of my favorite moments of our week in this beautiful area of Vermont were spontaneous. We pulled over on the side of the road to take a photo of a cow near a fence or drove along old winding roads to be surprised by a stunning valley of red leaves or wandering the quaint town of Vergennes to find a delightful shop with toys and home goods (Malabar). There’s as much or as little to do as you want. And all the while, it was easy to be present in this gorgeously fleeting season, relishing every moment of its beauty while it lasts.