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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