lake in the mountains
If you need inspiration for a road trip, this is the state for you. | Vermont Tourism
If you need inspiration for a road trip, this is the state for you. | Vermont Tourism

The Most Beautiful Places in Vermont

From crystal lakes to sky-high peaks, the Green Mountain State is a stunner.

The Green Mountain State is carpeted in 4.5 million acres of forest—which accounts for 76% of the total landscape. Named after the tree-covered range—which runs all the way north to the border of Quebec—Vermont is home to 67 mountains and peaks carved with thousands of miles of hiking trails. Rural roads are dotted with more than 100 covered bridges—the highest density in the country—that nod to the century past.

Scenes like this are what makes Vermont almost feel like it’s trapped in time. This was the first state to ban billboards, so the scenic drives aren’t marred by ads, and the quintessential general store remains a mainstay for Vermont’s 251 towns (23 of which still boast historic downtowns)—meaning big-name chains are also not a fabric of the communities here.

But that doesn’t mean Vermont isn’t modernizing in the best of ways; the wealth of revolutionary craft breweries and a commitment to sustainability and energy conservation are certainly proof. There are few places rooted in a landscape this beautiful, with communities this tightly knit, and where each season holds a different playground of the elements. Vermont is an unforgettable state—here’s a teaser of the sights that await.

people swimming in a reservoir in a quarry
Dive into the country’s first marble quarry. | Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

The first marble quarry in the country—which opened in 1785 and supplied marble for the New York Public Library—is also an arrestingly beautiful swimming hole, with smooth rock terraces rising up to ten feet above the clear water. When the weather creeps past 80 degrees, locals from this tiny town in southern Vermont plunge into a natural pool stretching 360 feet long. The Dorset Union Store—the oldest continuously operating general store in Vermont and Dorset’s communal heartbeat for more than 200 years—is a good post-swim pit stop for homemade baked goods, a bottle of wine, or lunch to-go.

gondola through forest
Take the scenic route—a gondola ride up Mount Mansfield. | Vermont Tourism

The Sunset Ridge Trail at Mount Mansfield

Towering 4,393 feet above sea level, Mount Mansfield is the highest peak in the state. Viewed from a distance, some say you can view the elongated profile of a human face, with a forehead, nose, lips, and chin cresting up from the mountain.

Hike to the 360-degree view at its summit via the Sunset Ridge Trail, a 6-mile loop punctuated by lush woodland, rock scrambles, and a rambling waterfall. During the last couple of miles, you’ll notice the steep rock face is showcased on all sides and opens up to sweeping views of Vermont below. If you’re not hoofing it, there are two other ways to get to the summit: drive slowly up the winding Auto Toll Road, or take a red gondola from the base of the mountain in Stowe.

a church spire amongst a mountain of fall foliage
Stowe: an oldie but a goodie | haveseen/Shutterstock

This tried-and-true classic is easily one of, if not the, most photographed spots in the Green Mountain State. The most iconic snaps of this tiny village tend to flaunt the community church spire overlooked by the fiery foliage that carpets Mount Mansfield each fall—which, to be sure, is the best time to come check out the sights. But come winter, you’ll be greeted by an equally impressive blanket of snow, best seen from either the aforementioned gondolas or from the Spruce Peak Resort.

a snowy, pine-tree covered mountain view
Trek along the aptly named Long Trail, the oldest long-distance trail in the U.S. | sf-dvs/Shutterstock

Mount Abraham, in central Vermont, is not the highest peak, but the vertigo-inducing wraparound view from the summit is certainly one of the most breathtaking sights in the state. Take the 5-mile out-and-back path via a chunk of the Long Trail, the oldest long-distance trail in the country. After trekking up a steady, steep incline—during which you'll pass through a cool, dense birch tree forest, over carpets of moss, and past the exposed, tentacled roots of ancient trees—the trail ends with some slight scrambling.
On a clear day at the 4,000-foot summit ridge, views stretch all the way to hazy blue Lake Champlaine on the horizon. The journey is as awe-inspiring as the reward: resting your feet on a bald rock face under the open sky, with a spectacle in every direction.

a waterfall cascading into a swimming hole
Bristol is home to one of the state’s best swimming holes. | Flickr/Bryan Pocius

On a warm day, keep your eyes peeled while driving through Bristol, especially if you’re heading back toward Route 7 after a jaunt up Mount Abraham. Just beyond Route 116, at the intersection with New Haven River, you’ll spy a line of cars pulled to the side of the road. Nearby, a dirt and gravel pathway begins to dip toward a gurgling river, which soon opens into one of the deepest and clearest hidden-gem swimming holes in the state.

There are quieter inlets to find downstream, with large, angled rocks jutting from the water perfect for relaxing after a swim. The most stunning spot, though, is where the river meets the tumbling, 14-foot waterfall—an incredible sight to see while floating on your back just beneath it.

woman and dog in canoe
Vermont has more than 800 lakes—and Champlain is one of the best. | Vermont Tourism

Lake Champlain

Burlington is the largest small city in a relatively tiny state, and it’s known for excellent breweries, restaurants, and creative community of artisans and designers. One of the most interesting aspects of this city, though, is its location on the wide mouth of Lake Champlain. As day becomes evening, the scenic pathways and parks along the Burlington Waterfront slowly fill with picnickers in the summer and bundled sunset-watchers in the winter. As the sun melts behind the enormous peaks of the Adirondack Mountains across the water, Lake Champlain—dotted with sailboats and daily cruises on the Spirit of Ethan Allen—turns soft shades of orange and red, refracting pink off the surrounding landscape. It can feel like a different country and uniquely Vermont all at once.

Beyond the Burlington Waterfront, you can enjoy Lake Champlain’s beauty at beaches and inlets along the state’s New York border, like Kingsland Bay, Red Rocks, Leddy Beach, and Oak Ledge Park—not to mention the island towns of Grand Isle, North Hero, South Hero, and Isle La Motte.

people biking along a greenery-lined road in the middle of a lake
Cycle along Burlington's 26-mile waterfront path. | Jumping Rocks/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

A paved, 26-mile waterfront bike path, the Burlington Greenway winds past the city’s skate parks and boat-lined marinas; under shady canopies of maple trees; over an old bridge straddling the Winooski river; and alongside hidden sandy beaches. Just after the Burlington Greenway turns into the Colchester Causeway (the two paths are connected), the trek offers something particularly special: biking, quite literally, across Lake Champlain on a skinny dirt pathway, surrounded on both sides by nothing but water. Back on the Burlington side of the bike path, you can finish your journey with maple-blackberry “creemees” (soft-serve ice cream) at Burlington Bay Market, or grab a drink at one of Burlington's many pubs and breweries.

a path leading through farmland to a lake
Spend the night at this 19th-century working farm. | vermontalm/Shutterstock

Just south of Burlington, this nonprofit organization rooted in sustainable agriculture is also a 1,400-acre working farm, forest, and National Historic Landmark. Picture eight circuitous miles of walking trails, a barn that houses a 50-year-old organic bakery, and one of the most striking views in the state of Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains.

The remarkably preserved Inn at Shelburne Farms feels like the place where a wealthy, 19th-century farming family might have befriended Jay Gatsby. Adirondack chairs dot the expansive lawn beside the waterfront and cocktails are shaken into frosted glasses at happy hour, which you’re encouraged to enjoy in the formal gardens. The Welcome Center and Farm Store is the best place to park if you’re looking for a quick trip to pick up the farm’s aged cheddar cheeses or maple syrup, or to stroll the regal, tree-lined pathways heading toward the inn in the distance.

people at swimming hole
Face your fear of heights. | Contributor/Boston Globe/Getty Images

This deep natural swimming hole wedged into the woods in the Mad River Valley is known for its cliff jumping—and for the series of waterfalls careening into the crystal-clear basin. Even on peak days, like mid-summer and foliage season, the falls usually have ample parking onsite in a lot located just a few hundred feet from the water’s edge. (There are no garbage cans or restrooms, and the Leave No Trace principle is well-enforced by locals.) Curiously, the most beautiful time to view the falls isn’t while treading water during a July swim—it’s from the water’s edge in the early days of spring, when the ice begins to crack, the sun splits the clouds for the first time in weeks, and the falls are completely quiet except for the gentle pummel of a waterfall.

a road stretching up into the hills
Drive all the way from southern Vermont up to the Canadian border. | LEE SNIDER PHOTO IMAGES/Shutterstock

Route 7

U.S. Route 7 runs 308 miles from the southernmost to the northernmost tip of Vermont, where it touches the Canadian border. Western Vermont holds 176 miles of the two-lane rural highway, which loops past the valleys along Lake Champlain, through covered bridges, along small college towns like Bennington and Middlebury, and near roadside farms selling produce with an honesty box for cash payment.

The number of half-hidden jewels located on this road is lengthy, though if you twisted this writer’s arm to call out one, it would be Vermont Cookie Love. This clapboard hut between Vergennes and Burlington sells freshly baked cookies all day, and in the warmer months, houses one of the state’s best roadside creemee stands, which includes the Vermont maple-coffee twist. A short drive away is Mount Philo State Park, where you can drive to the summit overlooking the Champlain Valley or walk the 2-mile loop to the top.

a road stretching past farms and fall trees
Route 100 skirts almost the entire length of the state. | Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock

Tracing the eastern edge of the Green Mountain range, the 216-mile scenic drive known as VT 100 travels almost the entire length of the state. During foliage season, leaves erupt into shades of orange and butter-yellow as the whole road lights up with canopies of color. In the summer, the leaves appear like a thick green awning beside the road. Winter and spring—also known as mud season—lace the birch branches with ice and snow—unless the state has been half-buried in a snowstorm, which is a beautiful thing to see once the concrete is plowed, thawed, and driving conditions are safe. Near Waterbury and Stowe, Route 100 opens up to a few well-known attractions, including Cold Hollow Cider Mill, the Cabot Farmers’ Store, and the Ben & Jerry’s factory.

a rustic barn on rolling green hills
This is one of the world’s most photographed farms. | haveseen/Shutterstock

Yet another rural treasure to add to your list, this rustic stop sits near Reading, a small town in eastern Vermont just south of Woodstock. Despite its humble surroundings—it’s located on an unassuming country road off Route 106—quiet Jenne is one of the most photographed farms in the world—it’s been featured in magazines, on a Budweiser ad, and even in Forrest Gump. As you take in the view, you’ll likely bump into someone else trying to nab a perfect shot of the 230-year-old farm’s bright red barn popping against the rolling green hills.

a road leading through fall trees
Vermont is one scenic drive after the next. | Felix Lipov/Shutterstock

This thickly wooded mountain pass slices through Mount Mansfield State Forest, separating Vermont’s highest peak from the northern Sterling Range in one twisting, serpentine road canopied by vibrant leaves, birch branches, and the arms of enormous trees. It’s an impressive ride any time of year, but peak foliage brings its beauty to another level.

a group of people skiing near a small lodge
Go cross-country skiing or snowshoeing in the mountains at Rikert. | Rikert Nordic Center

Sandwiched in the Green Mountain Range off of Route 125 sits Rikert Nordic Center: 35 miles of groomed terrain for snowshoeing, fat-tire biking, and cross-country skiing. There’s a lodge onsite for rentals and restrooms, and the trails loop their way through the many splendors of mountainside winter: snowy forests, quiet farmland, old stone walls, winding brooks frozen occasionally into spiny waterfalls of ice, and even the summer cabin of Vermont poet laureate Robert Frost.

The Nordic Center is also fully ADA accessible and channels investments into a program for adaptive fat-tire trikes and bikes. Despite snow-making and trail grooming, Rikert allows you to cruise down the mountains on a long pair of skis amidst natural surroundings that look barely touched by time.

a small roadside cabin near a lake and enormous mountain in fall
This forested stretch of New England has it all. | Jay Lyon/Shutterstock

The Northeast Kingdom—sometimes called “NEK'' or “The Kingdom'' by locals—is the deep, strange, and 80% forested northeast corner of the Green Mountain State. Each season in the Kingdom is a vision of New England weather at its most powerful and lucid: Frozen under slabs of snow in the winter, the woods as quiet as ice. Heady, humid, and vibrantly green in the summer, boats bob in Lake Willoughby as hikers climb their way up the looming presence that is nearby Mount Pisgah. Spring means mud—lots of it—and the splintering sound of land thawing. Fall should be a secret; the riot of colors mid-foliage season is heart-stoppingly beautiful. The entire Kingdom—and the three counties that comprise it—has a population of just under 65,000 people (and around 2,000 moose).

Tourists in the know already flood the Kingdom to visit destinations like globally acclaimed Hill Farmstead Brewery; the odd Bread and Puppet Theater; and gems like the general store called Willey’s (which has the largest selection of Jasper Hill Farm cheeses and offsite growlers of Hill Farmstead beer in the state). Here is a tucked-away community that welcomes visitors alongside a request: help tourism thrive while caring for the land and the people that make up this relatively isolated chunk of the country, all wrapped up in natural beauty.

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Julia Clancy writes about people and place through the lens of food and drink. She was the restaurant critic at Boston Magazine, and currently writes freelance for publications like the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, Food 52 and Craft Beer, among others.  She splits her time between Boston, Los Angeles, and Vermont. Follow her on Instagram.