Planning a Trip to Southern Vermont in Autumn
Photography By Hubert Schriebl
Experience the vibrant colors and some of the best views in Southern Vermont here in the Manchester and the Mountains area. We’ve done your fall weekend getaway planning for you and there is something for everyone. Families can enjoy the season picking pumpkins and apples and mingling with dairy goats. There are rivers for kayaking and trails for hiking, riding, and off-roading. Indulge in scenic byways and farm-to-table eats where the two could not be any closer. It’s all amongst the spectacular show of red, orange, and yellow foliage that makes autumn in Vermont unforgettable. Get outside and take it in!
To the Top
Families and scenery searchers can jump on the gondola at Stratton Mountain’s base for a ride to the top. With a 360-degree view during the 10-minute ride, the village below becomes smaller and smaller as you approach 3,900 feet above sea level. Disembark and enjoy the view of seas of color or head off on the 1.5-mile trail to the fire tower. The easy walk brings you to an intersection with the famed Appalachian Trail. Climb the steps up the 70-foot fire tower and take in the view of mountains and lakes for miles and miles.
For those more adventurous, hike up Stratton Mountain. Look for the trailhead near the base lodge and choose your route: the more challenging climb (1.7 miles from the base lodge, one way) or the gentler ascent, which is about a mile longer. Remember to turn around occasionally and enjoy the views along the way. Hike or take the gondola back down and then reward yourself afterward with a pint at one of the pubs in the Stratton Village.
In the Rough
Stratton Mountain Golf Course sits in a picturesque valley, and the ridgelines in the distance alight with a fire of fall colors. Golf Digest describes Stratton’s 27 holes, known in sections of nine each as Forest, Lake, and Mountain, as one of the top resort courses in New England. You might like to know right here and now that the eighth hole on the Forest run could go either way. The pros say to “favor the right side off the tee because the landing area slopes to the left and then try to avoid the trees, left, and the stream, right, with a very straight second shot.”
Meet for lunch on the patio at The Green Apron. Discover a Bloody Mary with a twist: garnished, in addition to the olives and celery, with a toasty grilled cheese sandwich. It’s delicious, like grown-up grilled cheese dunked in tomato soup, only better. Imagine a chewy-crusty sourdough or Italian country bread, buttered and grilled with a beautiful Vermont cheese.
On the Water
The air is cool, the water is colder, but the kayaking is always great in the fall. It is easy to rent a kayak and explore some quiet, flatwaters such as Lowell Lake, Grout Pond, and Gale Meadows Pond, or head for faster water, such as the Battenkill River or the West River. Local sports shops, such as First Run Ski Shop and Equipe Sport, can arrange for the boats, essential safety gear, pond and river maps, kayak lessons, and private guides to take you on paddling tours.
Time for a trail ride! On horseback, with a guide to lead the way. Horses For Hire can saddle up a whole herd of horses for riders of all levels. Join a group of riders and make new friends, or request reservations just for yourselves. The sweet boy named Ernie, an Appaloosa, is a friend of ours and so is the pretty American Paint named Scout. The pace at which a mildmannered mare walks is quite a peaceful way to take in the fall foliage. A three-hour trail ride takes you through Winhall Hollow and along some of the National Forest roads. Beforehand, make time to explore and have a meal at nearby J.J. Hapgood General Store & Eatery. The fresh, doughy herb biscuits on their breakfast sandwich will change your life.
Meet the Lincolns
The Lincoln Family home, historic Hildene, is where the children of President Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd, freely roamed about the gardens, fields, and trails. Now, kids can take the wagon ride around the Dene Farm and hang out at the goat dairy. It only takes about 10 seconds for them to become best friends with the affectionate, floppy-eared Nubians. In the next room, children can watch the property’s cheesemakers hard at work.
As part of a leisurely day, take advantage of every single one of the visitor options offered at this 412-acre site. Start with the house tour to learn all about Robert Todd Lincoln and the estate, then go outside to enjoy the wide-angle views of the surrounding foliage, stroll the beautiful formal gardens and farmlands, walk the woodland paths, visit the restored Pullman car, and shop The Museum Store.
Do one of the most exciting things ever on four wheels: drive a Land Rover on a mountainous off-road course. Do you know what to do when one tire is two feet off the ground and the other three are not? The Land Rover Experience Driving School shows you how not to be stuck in a rut, literally. The 5-mile closed track was purpose-built across 80 wild acres to push these vehicles to the ultimate limits of their capabilities. Maybe you already own the LR4 and maybe you would rather not steer your baby through a big ditch — here you can drive one of theirs, rain, mud, more mud, snow, or shine.
Photo Courtesy of Land Rover Experience at Equinox Resort
Take the family over to Equinox Valley Nursery. Everybody loves the cornfield maze. Once the kids have helped Mom and Dad figure out how to get out of the labyrinth, they can spend another hour or so shopping for pumpkins at the pumpkin patch, then warm up with quintessential New England hot apple cider and homemade apple cider donuts still warm from the fryer. Seriously memorable donuts. Paint faces on your pumpkins, paint pumpkins on your faces, and play some simple outdoor games with the crew. Pile everyone into the hay wagon for a ride around the fields and buy a second bag of donuts for the trip home.
Go for a Walk
Get dosed with a big jolt of fall color on a one-hour foliage walk — skipping and bouncing allowed too — through the woodlands along the Equinox Pond Trail. On Flatlanders Pass and Pond Loop, keep score to see who can identify maple trees, paper birches, and hornbeams. During the 1.7-mile, round-trip walk, begin a leaf collection and spot tiny creatures on the pond’s shores. To start, look for the kiosk at a designated parking lot off West Union Street in Manchester Center.
Head for the mountaintops again. Pack a snack and warm, fleecy layers and take the 5.2-mile Skyline Drive up Mount Equinox from the Toll House in Sunderland. The trip to the top is only about 20 minutes, and once there, explore the paths and places to picnic. The summit’s visitors center welcomes explorers with history and information on this, one of Southern Vermont’s highest peaks, and provides plenty of deck space from which to see all the way to surrounding states. On a really clear day, bring the binoculars and spot Mount Royal all the way north in Quebec province.
It is time to meet your guide in Manchester for a fly-fishing outing. Perhaps two or three hours isn’t exactly what you would call an expedition, but this is what Orvis Fly Fishing School is famous for: making experts out of amateurs in a short time. Learn or re-learn your curve-casting throw on the practice pond near the school, or arrange for a seasoned guide to take you to the banks of the slow and scenic Battenkill River or into the riffles and pools along the beautiful Mettawee River, which is stocked with brown and rainbow trout.
Stroll, Shop, Repeat
If you walk here and there along the sidewalks in Manchester Center while browsing some of the independent specialty stores and more than 40 designer outlet shops, is that good for you? Definitely, yes. Plus, the town is a quaint and pleasant place to meander. You’ll also want to make the short drive south on Main Street to the Village Shops at Equinox. Superb. Pro tip: save a good hour or more before you head home to wander through Northshire Bookstore and relax with a good read at Spiral Press Cafe. Scout out the used books in particular because there are usually a few bargains, especially on sumptuous coffee table books and vintage hardbound classics.
Wine & Dine
A busy traveler has to eat! Fine diners, if you’re in Manchester at the end of the day, head over to The Equinox Resort for drinks at the Falcon Bar. The patio features a warm and cozy fire pit and beautiful mountain vistas as does The Copper Grouse at The Taconic Hotel and The Reluctant Panther Inn.
Staying up at Stratton Mountain? Reserve a table at Verdé. The menu is smart. Much of the food is sourced from local farmers and the barmaid knows her bourbons.
For the more casual, Cilantro is one of New England’s best-kept secrets, until now. Who would have guessed that some of the greatest Mexican food is served here in the Green Mountains? Locally sourced and natural ingredients shine in expertly seasoned and flavorful dishes at this family-friendly (really, everyone-friendly) spot. Order the hill of beans or classic burrito.
On Sunday mornings, grab your empty shopping bags and head to the Dorset Farmers Market. You will want to be among the early birds, say around 10am. The market, with its 50-plus vendors comes to life with Vermont authenticity. This is indeed the real thing. Taste Sandy’s hot-off-the-grill, freshly made Prensados — go mild or spicy! From Earth Sky Time Community Farm’s table, pick up some Mama Ghanoush, like Baba but made with zucchini instead of eggplant. Crazy good. Don’t forget the maple products, like K & S Ruane Maple Sugar Farm maple cream. If you have never had it, you must. It is sublime on toast, waffles, or muffins. Into October, to avoid the frosty mornings, all the vendors relocate indoors to space in Dorset’s J.K. Adams, The Kitchen Store. Now is the time to stock up on fresh produce and specialty foods to take home and savor until your next visit (if you can keep them around that long).