Steepled white churches with soaring spires. Lush town greens ringed by white-board fence. Centuries-old farmsteads. Stately town buildings of a bygone era. A general store, perhaps. Those ubiquitous rows of old sugar maples, turning to red, yellow, orange, brown.
The quintessential Vermont village scene.
Yet, most Vermont villages are variations on that picture-postcard ideal. Some, like Craftsbury Common, East Craftsbury or Peacham, are lovingly maintained — moneyed folk from downcountry coupled with a local sense of pride goes a long way to make a 21st century village look 100 years old.
Others are a bit worn around the edges, peeling paint, ramshackle houses, shuttered storefronts — a sad reminder of today’s preference for gas-station quick marts — but always mixed in with impressive centuries-old town buildings and churches and plenty of lovingly tended village residences.
That image of a Vermont village as a pristine, perfect place is mostly a creation of clever marketers and tourist bureaus. Vermont has always been a tough place, well-worn and lived in, hardscrabble.
So don’t be turned off as we take you on a road trip through all kinds of Vermont. Grab an old-fashioned map — it doesn’t have to be fancy, just one to get you oriented to where you’re headed and how you’re getting home — or use ours. It’s hard to get lost in Vermont. You might end up going in circles, but you’ll find your way out — eventually! Stay on main drags or get onto the dirt; either way you’ll end up seeing some great fall colors. And a whole lot more.
Close to home
Stowe is a metropolis compared to many villages in northern Vermont. A thriving, world-class ski town but one that retains its New England charm. Start in Stowe and take a slow walk around the village, where people still live and work. Notable stops include the impressive town hall on Main Street, the Helen Day Art Center and the historic Green Mountain Inn.
Then head over Smugglers' Notch to the village of Jeffersonville. The well-kept village of Jeff, as it’s known locally, is home to the Bryan Gallery, if art’s your thing, a few shops, and a great old-timey grocery store. Here you could go in a variety of directions — a loop through Pleasant Valley with its expansive views of the backside of Mount Mansfield (turn left at the Smugglers’ Notch Inn) is a pleasant diversion and a true loop — but our suggestion is to head north on Route 109 to Waterville and Belvidere.
If you’re gonna need sustenance, grab it in Jeff (the Burger Barn is a must eat) as there is nothing in Waterville and Belvidere except an overabundance of scenic covered bridges that cross a meandering stream through a narrow valley. (Short on time? Take the Waterville Notch Road to Bakersfield and its lovely town green and then head back to Jeff and Stowe on Route 108.)
For those looking for a day-long drive, stay on 109 through Belvidere. And whatever you do, don’t blink! You will miss it. (Sadly Tallman’s Store is closed now, but for decades was a must-stop just to chat with the late Myrna Tallman and peruse her eclectic array of keepsakes.)
Covered bridges abound between Jeffersonville and Belvidere — Montgomery, Lumber Mill, Morgan, Village, Grist Mill, Cambridge Junction and Jaynes. Keeping going north through the narrow valley and at the turn toward Montgomery you’ll see Belvidere Pond just ahead, which is worth a look-see.
Big valley, big views
Montgomery is home to six of its own covered bridges — most easily visible in Montgomery Village and from Route 118. Montgomery is comprised of two village centers, The Center and The Village. The Village is the more stately of the two, but the Center features a number of places to eat and a few shops. The views along routes 242 (the Mountain Road to the Jay Peak ski area), 58 and 118 are expansive, with cornfields framed by the Greens in a blaze of color, those aforementioned covered bridges and stately (and a few shabby) homes, churches and town buildings.
From here, enjoy a drive through Vermont’s scenic forestlands and Hazen’s Notch (Route 58) to Lowell.
Lowell’s heyday is in the rear-view mirror, but the architecture here is remarkable for a town in the middle of absolutely nowhere. (For a Vermont-y lunch option, try the Cajun Snack Bar, if it’s still open.)
To get back home, take Route 100 to the quaint village of Hyde Park, through Johnson to Jeff and back to Stowe via Smugglers' Notch. But we’re going in another direction.
Stay on 58 to Irasburg, named for Ira Allen, a notable figure in Vermont’s quest for its independence. Irasburg features an oversized town green, ringed on four sides by beautiful homes and official buildings. Ray’s Market is a great place to grab a sandwich to go.
Fork in the road
A dilemma now presents itself — head one way to a breathtaking glacial lake ringed by rock cliffs, an historic village notable as the home of Alexander Lucius Twilight, the first black man to serve in the Vermont House and to graduate from an American college, and the village of Glover, home to the famous and politically radical Bread & Puppet Theater and Museum. Or, mirror mirror on the wall, take me to the prettiest New England town of all.
Option one takes you from Irasburg — stay on 58 for the turn for Brownington — to an amazingly picturesque Vermont village brimming with history. (Don’t miss “The World Famous Evansville Trading Post.”)
In the village cemetery, visit the Twilight family gravesite and the Old Stone House, a four-story granite building built by Twilight and finished in 1836. The Orleans County Historical Society owns six buildings in the village; it’s a fascinating glimpse back in time.
From Brownington, head back to Route 58 and on to Westmore and Lake Willoughby. There’s not much to the village of Westmore; the reward is a trip along the edge of the lake, perhaps the most beautiful lake in Vermont.
Drive down Route 5 from one end of the lake to the other, walk the shore trail at the lake’s south end if you need a stretch and then turn around and drive back to the junction of Route 16 and head toward Glover.
Glover is world-famous for Bread & Puppet Theater, created in the 1960s by Peter Schumann (breadandpuppet.org), and in more recent days, the Museum of Everyday Things.
From Glover it is south on 16 to Hardwick, a lovely old town, once the butt of jokes but now undergoing an amazing renaissance.
The other fork
But if radical theater, historic buildings and a drop-dead gorgeous lake aren’t your cup of maple syrup, from Irasburg shoot down Route 14 to one of the most quintessential Vermont villages in northern Vermont — Craftsbury Common — where you’ll encounter a massive town green enclosed by a fence of white boards. Lovely, well-maintained homes and municipal offices line the green. The town is home to two small historical educational institutions, Craftsbury Academy and Sterling College, an undergraduate college of educational stewardship and one of the country’s smallest small liberal arts colleges.
Words can’t describe The Common. It is simple loveliness.
On your way out of Craftsbury on Route 14, take the side road to Greensboro, home of Caspian Lake, lots of off-the-radar summer residents, the new Highland Center of the Arts, Hill Farmstead (one of Vermont’s best craft breweries), and Willey’s Store, described in one online comment like this: “Besides having everything you might need for a complete dinner, or re-pointing a chimney, or outfitting a chicken coop, or clothing your entire family, or redecorating your house, Willey’s provides intellectual stimulation.”
And, you’re back to Hardwick. (Of course, you can do both forks in this tour with good map-reading skills and the desire to not miss a thing.)
Dust off your maps
This road trip will take you onto a few back roads, so if your sense of direction is poor or you don’t like to make wrong turns, it might not be for you. Starting in Stowe, make your way to Morristown and take Route 12 through Lake Elmore, “The Beauty Spot of Vermont,” to Worcester. In Worcester village, turn onto Calais Road and prepare yourself for a step back in time as you discover the tiny villages of Maple Corners and Kents Corners. The road meanders through rolling hills, lush farm fields, and a mix of historic buildings and elegant homes, both newly built and refurbished. Sites include The Kent Museum, the historic Kent Tavern, Calais Town Hall, Robinson Sawmill, and the Old West Church.
From Calais, head north on 14 to Route 15 to Walden, past Joe’s Pond and the sizable and well-maintained village of Danville. With its proliferation of farms and its elevation, views from Danville are stunning, particularly in the fall. Oh, and it’s home to the Great Vermont Corn Maze.
From here, it’s 10 miles to Peacham on the Peacham Road. Peacham, is, well, Peacham, and that statement will become abundantly clear once you get there! It is said to be the “most photographed town in New England.”
Set on a hillside, the village is small, but only in size, not stature. The historical society is active and tony out-of-staters have restored many village homes. Others have kept farms working or land open, offering sweeping views in every conceivable direction.
To head home to Stowe, keep going south on Peacham Road/Minard Hill Road to Route 302 and Montpelier — the smallest capital city in the U.S. and worth a stop (hungry? Try The Mad Taco) — and then on to Waterbury, Stowe’s neighbor to the south and home to an amazing collection of historic buildings along Main Street, great dining options, and a town green and historic train depot.
For a jaunt through the Greens and Green Mountain National Forest, head south from Stowe on Route 100 to Waterbury (see above) and continue south on that fabled highway to Warren, an upscale village with restored homes and buildings, most notably the Warren Store and Pitcher Inn. The wildly scenic Mad River snakes through the village, and the small Bundy Modern art center in Waitsfield, built in the Bauhaus style, displays abstract and expressionist paintings.
From there, keep going south on this famously scenic drive through lush forests and see roadside waterfalls and mountain vistas. Go as far as Rochester, then get out and stretch before turning around and coming back the same way — or pick your own route home.