Explore Like A Local: Getting the Most of Fall in Burlington, VT

For this installment of Explore like a Local, we visited Burlington, Vermont, just as fall took hold. With its cool nights and warm days, we found this to be the perfect time of year to get outside and get after it. We packed in as many adventures as we could, but found ourselves wishing we had more time (isn’t that always the case when you’re having fun?). Given all of the possible activities in town and within a short drive, we just scratched the surface of this area—all the more reason to go back soon.

About Burlington

Located in Northwest Vermont, Burlington is nestled alongside Lake Champlain with roughly 43,000 residents, making it the most populous city in the state. The city has a distinct outdoor and progressive vibe along with a bustling restaurant scene and a busy pedestrian-only area on Church Street. The University of Vermont and Champlain College are both located here and contribute to the energy of the city. The city is served by a convenient airport and a major interstate (I-89), so getting here is easy.

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Activities

Cycling (Spring to Fall)

In Town—Activity Level: Easy

The Island Line Trail sits along the waterfront and heads north into Colchester. If you didn’t travel with your bike, head down to Local Motion and rent a bike directly on the path. The bike path is paved and almost completely flat. Approximately 35 minutes out of town, you’ll reach the amazing Colchester Bike Causeway (gravel, not paved). Ride directly out into Lake Champlain on an old rail causeway. Complete the trip out to the island community of South Hero by taking a bike ferry across a 200-foot gap, left open for boat traffic.

Stowe—Activity Level: Easy to Exhilarating

If you are seeking more challenging terrain, drive over to Stowe and the Cady Hill Forest Trail (on Mountain Road, not far from the intersection with Route 100). You’ll find a mix of beginner, intermediate, and advanced singletrack trails. The trails are generally smooth and windy, with some quad-burning climbs.
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Hiking/Backpacking (Late Spring to Fall)

Mt. Mansfield—Activity Level: Easy

For some of the prettiest views around, drive to Stowe and pay the $23 fee (+$8 per each additional passenger) to head up the Auto Toll Road. Follow the twisting road to a parking lot on the summit ridge, next to the visitors’ center. From there, hike 1.3 miles (600-foot elevation gain) along the Long Trail to the summit. Bring sunscreen, because you’ll be on exposed rocks for much of the way. Look for the geological survey marker in the stone at the tip of the summit. Fun Fact: For those who have skied at Stowe, the Green Trail “Toll Road” is actually the Toll Road that one drives up in the summer and fall!

Sterling Mountain—Activity Level: Moderate (Difficult if wet)

Sterling serves as one of the three peaks at Smugglers’ Notch Ski Resort. Hiking up the backside of the mountain in late spring, summer, or fall is a terrific way to access Sterling Pond, which sits a stone’s throw from the top of the Smuggs’ lift. The trail is steep in most spots and is slippery when wet. It’s 2.5 miles out-and-back with a 1,066-foot elevation gain. We hiked up pre-dawn with headlamps to catch the sunrise over the pond—well worth the effort, I can tell you. The views are spectacular, at sunrise and otherwise. Campers are welcome at the pond; there’s a lean-to that can accommodate approximately 10 folks, but not too many flat surfaces for tents.

To access the trail, head up Mountain Road (Rt. 108) from either the Smuggs or Stowe side and park in the parking lot at the top of the notch. The trailhead is directly across the street from the information station.

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Cave Exploring and Bouldering (Late Spring to Fall)

Both activities are accessible from the parking lot at the top of the notch on Mountain Road (same as above). Huge boulders have fallen from the mountains over the ages and are known as the Smuggler’s Notch Boulders.

Cave Exploring—Activity Level: Easy

Just steps from the parking lot, caves have been formed within the clusters of boulders. Wander in and out of the spaces and marvel at the size of the boulders. A few of the more amazing spaces require a bit of scrambling to access the interior.

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Bouldering—Activity Level: Difficult

Bring your crash pads and get after the amazing boulders of Smuggler’s Notch. Situated on either side of Mountain Road, the boulders present a range of difficulty levels. Pick your problem and go about solving it. Just make sure to have a spotter or two along for the adventure. It’s really amazing to see folks climbing the boulders just steps from the beautiful twists and turns of Mountain Road. A group of cyclists took a break to watch us and others work on the rocks.

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Rock Climbing (Late Spring to Fall)

Bolton Valley—Activity Level: Difficult

The Lower West Bolton area is a popular climbing spot in Bolton Valley, located just off Route 2 on Notch Road. It can be busy after work or on weekends in the warmer months. Take your pick between leading a route or top-roping. An easy trail leads to the top if you prefer to top-rope, and large trees and bolts are available to serve as anchors. The difficulty of routes ranges from 5.5 to 5.10b.

Skiing (Winter)

Activity Level: Easy to Exhilarating

There are five terrific options for skiers (four for riders) within an hour’s drive from Burlington. Stowe Mountain Resort is the largest of the bunch and draws the most visitors per year. With 116 trails and 485 acres of skiable terrain, Stowe has something for everyone. Smugglers’ Notch backs up to Stowe and covers three mountains. The main draw for Smuggs, as it is affectionately known, is the wonderful children’s program. Top-notch instruction, coupled with wholesome and educational entertainment, has earned Smuggs a well-deserved reputation as a top destination for families.

Mad River Glen caters to a different crowd with their “Ski it if you can” mantra. With some of the toughest terrain in New England and a skier-only policy (sorry, boarders), Mad River Glen has a cult following among experienced skiers.

Less well known is the terrific and affordable Bolton Valley. Only 25 minutes from town, it boasts 71 trails over three peaks. The closest resort to town is Cochran’s Ski Area. While it’s the smallest of the five, it’s perfect for families with small children. It’s only 15 minutes from downtown Burlington and serves as a learning mountain for little and big ones alike.

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Dining

The Skinny Pancake ($)

For breakfast and brunch, you need to visit The Skinny Pancake. I have two words for you: Noah’s Ark. Just order it. Trust me on this one; I wouldn’t steer you wrong (you’re welcome). The good folks at The Skinny Pancake have developed an ingenious menu, centered around crepes, that features sweet, savory, and healthy offerings, allowing this establishment to stay busy from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Vermont Pub and Brewery ($$)

Comfort food writ large. Find all of the classics (shepherd’s pie, wings, meat loaf, etc.) paired with terrific beers brewed on site. The house-made, flavored seltzers were a hit, as well. Just what you need after a long day of adventure, without breaking the bank.

The Farmhouse ($$$)

For a top-notch meal, look no further than The Farmhouse. Order communal appetizers and watch them disappear in mere moments as people figure out how damn good everything is. Better not be in the bathroom! Our visit in late September corresponded with local Oktoberfest celebrations, and The Farmhouse had filled three chalkboards with different types of märzen lagers for the occasion. And, speaking of chalkboards, we may or may not have taken over one of the boards and added a little #goEast artwork.

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Explore Like a Local: Summertime Fun in Lake Placid, NY

The name Lake Placid immediately conjures images of winter sports, given that the Olympics have been held in this beautiful Adirondack town not once, but twice. Even today, it’s such a winter staple that numerous U.S. Olympic teams train regularly in the area. Summertime in the area can be overlooked, but the lack of snow and ice hardly diminishes Lake Placid as a destination, and you definitely don’t need to be an Olympian to take advantage of it all. With a plethora of hiking, climbing, paddling options, and more, Lake Placid is a true year-round outdoor destination.

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Warm-Weather Activities

Hiking & Trail Running

With 46 High Peaks, or peaks originally thought to be over 4,000 ft., along with numerous lakes, the Adirondacks have many different trail types to choose from, particularly near Lake Placid. One popular, family-friendly hike is Cobble Hill, which is visible from town and just across Mirror Lake. A family with kids can make the summit in under an hour and enjoy views of town and the High Peaks area.

If you’re up for a longer hike and are looking for a big payoff, set out for Indian Head, a low summit with truly amazing views of Lower Ausable Lake (pronounced awe•SAY•ble). The land is part of the privately owned Adirondack Mountain Reserve (AMR), but hikers are allowed to access the three-plus mile dirt road that leads to the trailhead. Allow for at least five hours round trip and bring plenty of water! Public parking is available in the St. Huberts parking area on Route 73, south of Lake Placid.

The Ausable Chasms are a natural wonder of the Adirondacks, and hiking the area’s trails is well worth the $17.95 admission price ($9.95 for kids).

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Rock Climbing

The Adirondacks have over 250 climbing areas, and Keene Valley, just south of town, serves as the epicenter, given its wide variety of climbs. Just a short drive away, the Beer Walls await both beginners and experts alike. Route 73 has convenient parking, and it’s a quick hike to the top of the climbing area. All the routes here can be led, but top-roping is the standard means of access. Climbing routes range in difficulty from 5.4 up to 5.13, and the views of Keene Valley are spectacular.

The EMS Climbing School guides lead climbing trips to all of the local spots and for all different levels of expertise. The school is located in the lower level of the town’s EMS store.

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Paddling

Let’s face it: This is Lake Placid. Whether you set out on Lake Placid proper or Mirror Lake, which abuts Main Street, this is one spectacular spot to hit the water. Surrounded by mountains in all directions and the town on one side, these lakes are remarkably beautiful. At dusk and dawn, prepare to be thrilled by the call of the loon and other indigenous creatures. Lake Placid allows motorized boats, while Mirror Lake is reserved for human-powered crafts (electric motors are allowed but rarely seen).

Our EMS store on Main Street backs up to Mirror Lake, and we rent kayaks, tandem kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards (SUPs) directly on the water. Seriously, you can launch a boat from the back of the store. How cool is that? Click here for more info.

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Swimming

In addition to the lakes, the area has other wonderful places to swim. A particularly scenic spot is at the base of the Flume Falls on the Ausable River, north of town. Park in the Wildfire Flume Trailhead lot, and walk a short ways down the river to the base of the waterfall. There, you’ll find a bucolic swimming hole, surrounded by small cliffs from which to jump. Folks have been known to string up an illicit rope swing, and the Department of Environmental Conservation dutifully cuts it down a few times per season.

Mountain Biking

Whether you want to ride the Olympic Cross Country trails, bomb down Little Whiteface, or hit technical single-track trails, Lake Placid has it all for beginners and experts alike. You can access some trails right from town, so pick up a local trail map to find the course that best suits you.

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Camping Options

“Options” is the optimal word. The area surrounding Lake Placid offers traditional tent campsites, cabin rentals, canvas cabins, and lean-tos. As one convenient option close to town, the ADK Wilderness Campground sits alongside a lake and offers multiple camping options, along with restroom facilities, or hike into the wilderness itself for free camping with fewer facilities.

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Dining

There are plenty of good post-hike food and drink options in the area, but as soon as you arrive in Lake Placid, head straight to Smoke Signals (campsite set-up or hotel check-in can wait). Choose a spot in its exposed brick interior or on the patio overlooking Mirror Lake; then, order marbled Brisket and a side of Mac & Cheese. You may not be hungry for a day afterwards, but you’ll thank me. If, however, that looks like too much to handle, the barbecue Tacos Trio, the Hanger Steak, and the BBQ wings are all terrific. Other excellent dinner options are Lisa G’s and The Cottage.

Assuming that you’re hungry the next morning, The Breakfast Club, Etc. awaits just down the street. As the restaurant is known for its hearty fare and Bloody Marys, you may have to wait a bit for a seat on busy weekends. I recommend the BC Röstis (pronounced ROOST•ee—it’s Swiss!). Picture a cast iron skillet on a slab of wood, filled with hash browns covered with bacon, covered again with cheese, and topped off with two eggs. Side effects include loss of appetite, rapture, and, in rare cases, food coma (easily cured by a nap).

As one compelling reason to visit in the summer, Donnelly’s Soft Ice Cream is only open Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day. You pick the size and a cone or cup; they, however, pick the flavor. That’s because they make one flavor a day, always twisted with vanilla. There will be a line, but it moves fast. Donnelly’s is a bit of a drive (14 miles or 25 minutes) from Main Street in Lake Placid, but that gives you time to digest your lunch or dinner! Emma’s Ice Cream in town is also very good, and they allow you to choose your flavor.

Roundup

All that and nary a mention of the area’s winter activities? You’d be hard-pressed to find a better spot for a summertime mountain getaway. Swing by the EMS store while in town to get local beta, upgrade your gear, pick up camping supplies, rent a kayak or SUP, or take a climbing adventure through the school. We hope to see you soon.


Explore Like a Local: The Outdoor Mecca of North Conway, NH

For those seeking the perfect launching pad for outdoor activities, look no further than North Conway, NH. Located at the edge of the White Mountains, the town is surrounded by a wealth of natural wonders and offers visitors terrific après adventure options.

NEARBY ACTIVITIES:

Rock Climbing

Situated just a few minutes from the end of the main drag, Cathedral Ledge and White Horse Ledge loom over the surrounding area. They offer some of the best climbing on the East Coast, from beginner level (a 5.3-rated climb at White Horse Ledge) to advanced (a 5.14a-rated climb on The Mordor Wall at Cathedral Ledge). Take a class with the certified pros at the EMS Climbing School (learn more here), and send famous routes like Thin Air, Fun House, and Toe Crack.

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Leaf-Peeping

Every year from late September until the end of October, tourists from around the world drive the famous Kancamagus Highway (Rt. 112) for its breathtaking vistas and unparalleled fall foliage. The 36-mile stretch from Conway (just south of North Conway, as you might expect) to Lincoln, NH, traces the Swift River and offers many spots to pull off the road. Caves, waterfalls, mountain vistas, and hiking trails (and, of course, the foliage) are just a few of the abutting attractions.

Hiking

Trails abound in the vicinity of North Conway. The Appalachian Trail passes just north of the town along the Presidential Range, encompassing nearby Mount Washington. If you are traveling by car, you can head up the Auto Road (read more about Mt. Washington below), and park in a small lot where the AT intersects with your route. From here, take the Madison Gulf Trail (part of the AT) a mere 0.2 miles to the Lowe’s Bald Spot side trail (0.1 miles) for terrific vistas from atop the Bald Spot, a group of rocks overlooking the Great Gulf Wilderness. For more accessible options, head to the Kancamagus Highway, and select one of the many trailheads along the scenic road.
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Trail Running

Many of the hiking trails serve well for trail runs. A particularly appealing option is Boulder Loop Trail, along the Kancamagus. It’s a 3.5-mile loop of moderate difficulty that leads to terrific views of the surrounding mountains. As an added bonus, there’s a historic covered bridge leading to the trailhead.
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Paddling

The Saco River runs parallel to White Mountain Highway, which serves as the town’s Main Street, and offers easy access to paddling adventures. Whether you are kayaking, tubing, canoeing, or paddleboarding, the Saco is a terrific option, given its average three-foot depth, meandering path, scenic views, sandy beaches, and rope swings along the way.

Camping

Not surprisingly (we work for EMS, after all), we highly recommend camping in the vicinity of North Conway. There are many wonderful spots, but Fourth Iron Campground is a particularly appealing option. Open year-round on a first-come, first-serve basis, it’s a walk-in tent site near where the Saco meets the Sawyer River. With parking nearby, the campground features eight sites, each with its own bear box.

Another good choice is Barnes Field Group Campsite. As its name implies, this is a larger site well-suited for groups. It’s situated north of town at the foot of Mount Washington and has easy access to hiking and cross-country skiing trails. Keep in mind there’s a fee mid-May through mid-October, and reservations are recommended. By winter, the site remains open on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Mount Washington

A trip to the top of Mt. Washington is an unforgettable experience. Whether you take the Auto Road in warmer months, ride the old-fashioned Cog Railway, or hike to the summit, the subarctic environment and incredible winds at the peak are something you’ve got to see at least once.
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The EMS-sponsored Mt. Washington Observatory sits at the top (a 6,288-foot peak) and conducts climate research year-round in what is acclaimed as the world’s worst weather. The fastest wind speed of all time (231 MPH) was recorded at the summit, and the average daily wind speed is a brisk 34 MPH. Visibility can extend to 130 miles on a clear day.

With these factors in mind, be prepared for cold weather when you get to the top, regardless of the month. The local EMS store in North Conway can outfit you with everything you need to be comfortable.

Mountain Biking

The proprietor of the local ice cream shop (see below) told us that he moved to North Conway for the excellent mountain biking, accessible from downtown. The East Side Trails are a network of bike trails with easy, moderate, and difficult options. West of town, there are other easier routes that are informally known as the Marshall Preserve trails.

Skiing

If you’re visiting in the winter months, be sure to try out a few of the seven ski resorts surrounding North Conway. Attitash, Cranmore, Wildcat, Bretton Woods, Pine Mountain, Black Mountain, and Loon are all nearby.

Ice Climbing

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced ice climber, the EMS Climbing School offers personalized instruction to fit your needs. Available seven days a week, our guides will take you to an appropriate site, such as Cathedral Ledge or Frankenstein Cliffs in nearby Crawford Notch State Park.

Conway Scenic Railroad

Nursing an injury? Sore from too many outdoor adventures? See the White Mountains from the comfort of a scenic rail trip. Tours ranging from approximately one to five hours depart daily from the town’s center. A dining car is available on select outings.

DINING

Speaking of dining, start your day at Peach’s on Main Street, a terrific spot for breakfast, brunch, or lunch. Think family home converted into a restaurant: Dining tables are spread throughout the small rooms, and the back of the house looks out over woods. And the food! An EMS colleague summed up the experience well when he said, “Man, these pancakes are LEGIT.” The same could be said of everything else we ordered.

Skip lunch. Instead, go straight for ice cream at #PieWholeStuffer (aka 18°C) right in the center of town on White Mountain Highway. Made out of simple ingredients and spun right on the premises, it’s absolutely the best ice cream I have ever tasted. The selection changes daily, depending on what’s in season, so I would recommend covering your eyes and pointing randomly at the display case. You can’t go wrong.

For the ultimate in après adventure dining, I would recommend firing up your JetBoil MiniMo at the campsite and enjoying Good To-Go’s dehydrated Pad Thai (you need those if you don’t have them).

But, if beer on tap is an important consideration for you, then spend an evening at the Red Parka Steakhouse & Pub in nearby Glen (just a few minutes north of North Conway). The steaks and ribs are excellent, but the main attraction is the pub itself. The old-school ski theme sets just the right mood for reliving the activities of the day. The Red Parka isn’t the only game in town, though. Horsefeathers, Moat Mountain, and the Muddy Moose are just a few of the local spots that will take care of you after a long, active day.
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SHOPPING

Eastern Mountain Sports is located right on White Mountain Highway, and there are some other stores in the area (hey, I’m biased).
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LODGING

Choose from the Velocity, Refugio, or Big Easy series of EMS brand tents. Very comfortable. Oh, there are plenty of fine hotels in the area, but this is North Conway: Do it up in style, and camp like you know you want to!