Whether seen under blankets of snow, patchworks of blazing fall leaves or the exuberant greens of spring and summer, Vermont's blend of bucolic farmland, mountains and picturesque small villages make it one of America's most appealing states. Hikers, bikers, skiers and kayakers will find four-season bliss, on the expansive waters of Lake Champlain, the award-winning Kingdom Trails Network, the 300-mile Long and Catamount Trails, and the fabled slopes of Killington, Stowe and Mad River Glen.
Foodies will love it: small farmers have made Vermont a locavore paradise, complemented by America's densest collection of craft brewers. But most of all, what sets Vermont apart is its independent spirit: the only state with a socialist senator and the only one without a McDonald's in its capital city, Vermont remains a haven for quirky creativity, a champion of grassroots government and a bastion of 'small is beautiful' thinking, unlike anywhere else in America.
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These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Vermont.
The extraordinary 45-acre Shelburne Museum, nine miles south of Burlington, showcases the priceless artifacts, from America and abroad, collected by Electra Havemeyer Webb (1888-1960) and her parents – totalling 100,000 objects in all. The museum is renowned for the sheer variety of the exhibitions on show, which are housed in 39 buildings, many of which were moved here from other parts of New England to ensure their preservation. With the 220-ft Ticonderoga steamboat on the grounds and paintings from Manet, Monet and Degas, it is Northern New England's most significant art and history museum. History of Shelburne Museum Coming from a home with parents who were European and Asian art collectors, it is not surprising that Electra Havemeyer Webb would want to follow in their footsteps. However, from the tender age of 19, she knew she wanted to collect objects that were rooted in American History. In 1947, Electra founded Shelburne Museum as a place to showcase her family's assemblage of horse-drawn carriages. She spent several years locating 18th- and 19th-century buildings from New England and New York. Then, she had them relocated to the museum grounds as places to display the one-of-a-kind items she was curating. This unconventional museum opened to the public in 1952 with an eclectic collection that ranged from folk art to fine art and architecture to transportation exhibits. Today the museum's collection has grown to include over 100,000 pieces. After Electra died in 1960, her children built the Electra Havemeyer Webb Memorial Building. It includes a gallery of Impressionist paintings shown in six-period rooms that were relocated from her family's 1930s New York City apartment on Park Avenue. In 2013, the museum opened the new Pizzagalli Center for Art and Education. Far more modern than other buildings on the grounds, this contemporary exhibition center and learning space has two 2500 sq ft galleries, an auditorium and an education studio. Environmentally conscientious, Shelburne Museum intends to be fully powered by renewable energy by the end of 2021, when the final two solar arrays are constructed on the property. Buildings and collections Shelburne Museum's diverse collections fill its 39 exhibition buildings. Knowledgeable guides staff most of them. The impressive structures include a sawmill (1786), a blacksmith shop (1800), a one-room brick schoolhouse (1840), a covered bridge (1845), a lighthouse (1871), a luxury rail coach (1890), a classic round barn (1901), a railroad station (1915) and the Lake Champlain side-wheeler steamship Ticonderoga (1906). The horseshoe-shaped Circus Building houses the 500-ft Arnold Circus Parade with 4000 figurines. There are also hundreds of vintage circus posters, including those from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Outside, an operating 1920s carousel offers free rides every 15 minutes. Shelburne Museum Gardens There are more than 20 meticulously landscaped gardens on the museum grounds. As a result, there’s always something in bloom to admire, from the Main Entrance Garden to the Circus Building's Daylily Garden. In the early spring, the lilacs are in bloom, welcoming visitors back for the season. Several hundred peonies in 25 varieties will be flowering in the J. Watson Webb Jr. Memorial Peony Garden shortly after that. Filled with perennials, Alyssia's Garden can be found just outside of The Schoolhouse. It’s great for kids, with a swing set and slide to play on. Culinary connoisseurs, meanwhile, will enjoy the 1820s heirloom vegetable garden at the 18th-century Dutton House, the first dwelling to be relocated to the museum’s grounds. Planning your visit Allow at least half a day for your visit. Opening hours vary by season: check the museum’s official website before visiting. Shelburne Museum is a member of the North American Reciprocal Museum Association (NARM), and therefore offers free admission to members of museums that participate in NARM. The Museum is large and spread out. Buildings are accessed by paved walkways that wind their way through the grounds. There’s a free shuttle that drives around the property so you can hop on and off whenever you want. They also have wagons available free of charge to pull the kids around. Shelburne Museum hosts several concerts throughout the summer season. Everyone from Ray Lamontagne, Bonnie Rait, Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson have played on the Green. On-site dining is available at the Weathervane Café, which serves sandwiches, grilled items, and snacks. You can also bring your lunch. There are picnic tables set up near the Café, plenty of lawn space and an open-air lounge area at Shaker Shed. There are several daily tours and demonstrations at the Museum. They are free with admission, and no registration is required. Be sure to save time to check out the museum store located at the Diamond Barn.
The ancestral home of Mary and Robert Lincoln, who was the son of Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln, 412- acre Hildene is a working farm, museum and gallery nestled between the flanks of New York’s Taconic and Vermont’s Green Mountains. Visit the sprawling, bucolic estate to stroll the halls of Lincoln’s Georgian Revival mansion, to explore the estate’s 14 historic outbuildings, and to wander the extensive gardens and walking paths. What does Hildene mean? Literally, Hildene is a marriage of two old English words “hil” meaning hill and “dene,” meaning valley with stream. Practically, it’s a place driven to encourage Abraham Lincoln’s core values: integrity, perseverance, civic responsibility. Hildene does this through active involvement in land conservation, historic preservation, sustainability, and civil civic discourse, and striving to inspire and impact every visitor. Hildene’s history Robert Lincoln built Hildene as a summer home at the turn of the 20th century. Lincoln’s descendants owned and farmed Hildene until 1975 when the last Lincoln family member passed away and the property was purchased by a non-profit that saved the estate from developers. Tour Hildene Start your tour in the welcome center followed by a self-guided tour of Robert and Mary Lincoln's home. Keep your ears peeled for melodies from the 1,000-pipe Aeolian organ, then wander through the Formal Garden with its famous peonies, stroll the Cutting and Kitchen Gardens, which burst with brilliant blossoms and fragrant herbs all spring, summer and fall. Peek into the Pullman car Sunbeam, and wonder at Robert's Observatory. If you’re still feeling fresh, and like it’s time to get lost in nature, follow the 12 miles of walking trails, then make a visit to Hildene’s Farm goat dairy and cheese making facility. Hildene’s exhibits The estate’s exhibits, which include The American Ideal, Abraham Lincoln and the Second Inaugural and Many Voices and new this year, are also included with the price of admission. Throughout the year, Hildene offers guided tours of the property and educational opportunities in their gardens and farm facilities on everything from peonies to pond critters. The estate’s goal is that every guest leaves “feeling a profound sense of possibility.” When should I visit Hildene? Hildene is open year-round. In summer, after touring the estate’s buildings, explore the 12 miles of walking trails. In winter, the Pavilion adjacent to the Welcome Center rents cross-country skis and snowshoes and the natural and ungroomed trails are open for winter adventure. Things to do around Hildene When you’ve concluded your Hildene tour, stop in Manchester, Vermont, a classic New England town tucked into the mountains and teeming with small shops, a tasty café and restaurants. In Manchester, Orvis’ American Museum of Fly Fishing displays rods, flies and angling-related art. The Southern Vermont Arts Center hosts exhibits, performances and a sculpture garden. The active and adventurous can hike Mount Equinox on a trail that starts from town or spend an afternoon at nearby Stratton Resort’ s new lift-serve bike park, or, in winter, carving turns on the resort’s snowy slopes. Grab lunch or dinner at one of Manchester’s exceptional restaurants like Al Ducci’s on Depot Street, which has a neighborhood market vibe and cases filled with authentic, made from scratch Italian foods, or Social House (SoHo), a Mediterranean restaurant with sharing and family-style options run by two restaurateurs reloaded from New York City's French-Seafood restaurant Le-Bernardin.
In 1886 William Seward Webb and Lila Vanderbilt Webb built themselves a magnificent country estate on the shores of Lake Champlain. The 1400-acre farm, designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (who also designed New York's Central Park and Boston's Emerald Necklace), was both a country house for the Webbs and a working farm, with stunning lakefront perspectives. The 24-bedroom English-style country manor (completed in 1899), now an inn, is surrounded by working farm buildings inspired by European romanticism.
Lurking beneath US 4, less than a mile east of Quechee Village, the gorge is a 163ft-deep scar that cuts about 3000ft along a stream that you can view from a bridge or easily access by footpaths from the road. A series of well-marked, undemanding trails, none of which should take more than an hour to cover, lead down into the gorge.
Offering a crash course in Vermont food, the market has more than 50 local vendors selling cheese, free-range beef and lamb, honey, pastries, maple syrup, fruit, veggies and healthy snacks to nibble on as you wander. Live music and an active crafts scene round out the experience. From downtown, head west on VT 9 and continue 1.5 miles to the Creamery Bridge.
Burlington's pulse can often be taken along this four-block pedestrian zone running from Pearl to Main Sts. When the weather's good, buskers (licensed by the town), food and craft vendors, soapbox demagogues, restless students, curious tourists and kids climbing on rocks mingle in a vibrant human parade.
A five-minute walk from downtown, Burlington's delightfully uncommercialized waterfront features a scenic, low-key promenade, a 7.5-mile bike path, a pier for Lake Champlain boat trips and the family-friendly Echo aquarium.
In 1978 Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield took over an abandoned gas station in Burlington and, with a modicum of training, launched the outlandish flavors that forever changed the way ice cream would be made. While a tour of this factory is no over-the-top Willy Wonka experience, there is a campy video that follows the company's long, strange trip to corporate giant – albeit a very nice giant with an inspiring presence of community building and environmental leadership.
Encompassing 3200 acres of high-country meadow and forest, this sprawling farm and environmental education center offers a blissful vision of Vermont's natural beauty and agricultural heritage. The park's centerpiece is a working organic farm with animals, vegetable gardens, renewable-energy installations and a sugar house where you can watch maple syrup being produced during sugaring season. It's hidden away on a gorgeous hilltop, only 25 minutes from busy VT 7 but a world apart from Manchester's designer outlet hustle and bustle.