7 Reasons to Drive to Manchester, Vermont

This picturesque mountain town in Vermont is the perfect weekender for New Yorkers, and you can even get there without a car.

Equinox Pond and Mount Equinox
Equinox Pond and Mount Equinox | Cherise Madigan/Shutterstock
Equinox Pond and Mount Equinox | Cherise Madigan/Shutterstock

When thinking of Vermont, a few things might come to mind: the Northeast Kingdom, maple syrup, Senator Bernie Sanders, and the Ben & Jerry’s factory. However, America’s 14th state also consists of towns that combine beautiful landscapes with history, nature, arts, and food—and Manchester in Southern Vermont is just one of our many favorites.

Located approximately 205 miles from NYC and about 4 hours by road, Manchester is the ideal weekender for New Yorkers looking to shop local, unwind within nature, and explore art and history. But if soaring gas prices are on top of mind, you can still get there via public transportation. Take a two-hour Amtrak from Moynihan Penn Station to Albany-Rensselaer Station for $36, before hopping on a $17 Vermont Translines bus for another hour and a half.

Once you’ve planted your feet there, get ready for an itinerary packed with plenty of fun activities, from waterfall hikes and forest bathing to music festivals and history lessons on the Lincoln family’s local roots. Here are seven of our top reasons to drive to Manchester, Vermont.

Photo courtesy of Equinox Golf Resort & Spa

Rest your head at luxury hotels or modernized historic properties dating back to 1769

The historic Equinox Golf Resort & Spa in Manchester Village has continuously been operating as a hotel since it was called Marsh Tavern in 1769. The property includes three different concepts to choose from: the Equinox Resort Rooms & Suites, Orvis Inn Suites, and Historic 1811 House, for an experience that provides a mix of classic New England style and modern decor within intimate settings and panoramic views. Whether you take a moment on veranda rocking chairs or a back deck with a fire pit and mountain views, expect to bask in the scenic silence. Be sure to take advantage of wellness offerings via fitness classes, yoga, and facials—and for the budget-conscious, opt for a $50 spa day package that includes the sauna, water sports, pool, and additional wellness treats.

If quaint inns are more your thing, check out The Reluctant Panther Inn & Restaurant, a small luxury hotel. It boasts twenty rooms and suites with antiques, art, and fireplaces, along with Manchester’s signature mountain views. Another charmer is the Inn at Manchester, built in the 1880s as a private abode and converted to uniquely decorated rooms with cozy common spaces, fire places, and daily breakfast.

For a true rustic Vermont stay, try Seesaw’s Lodge, which features mountain lodgings with fine dining located a short drive away in the Green Mountains. Highlights here include a fire pit, Johnny Seesaw’s Restaurant serving fine food and local ingredients with deep roots to the area’s heritage, while featuring classic New England design details like logs, cabins, and exposed beams.

Hildene | Photo courtesy of Hildene

Be one with Mother Nature

It’s no wonder Vermont is called the Green Mountain State for its scenery and foliage. Get into shinrin-yoku— the Japanese art of forest bathing—by taking in verdant nature at Green Mountain National Forest via camping, hiking, or biking. Closer to Manchester, access forest loop trails through the SVAC estate and hike to Equinox Pond or the top of Equinox Mountain where New York is visible on clear days.

At Hildene, visit the farm and walk along natural wetlands that absorb the Battenkill River flood waters to view beavers, frogs, and turtles in their natural habitat. Walk or take a scenic golf cart ride through the Hildene forest system for maple tree taps in action—Vermont produces over 50% of the maple syrup in the U.S. and the intensive process of turning maple sap to syrup is called “sugaring.” Natural maple syrup is Vermont’s heritage and the process has evolved over generations from intensive manual labor to hi-tech processes.

And for the ultimate nature immersion, the Shires of Vermont offer panoramic views of the Green and Taconic Mountains, farmer’s markets, scenic villages, and tranquility.

The Equinox, Golf Resort & Spa
The Equinox, Golf Resort & Spa

Indulge in off-roading, golf, waterfall hiking, and more

If you’re lodging at the Equinox Golf & Spa Resort, enjoy lawn games on the Lincoln Lawn like cornhole and croquet; swing into disc golf (a mix of golf and frisbee); get into actual golf at The Golf Club at Equinox; show off axe-throwing skills; borrow bikes to explore nearby trails or Manchester Village, or partake in relaxing resort wellness like aqua zumba and yoga.

For heart-pumping activities, Land Rover Experience is an hour off-roading drive over dirt roads, shallow water, and steep inclines that will test your mettle and navigation skills. For a moderate trail with a waterfall payoff at the end, hike the 4-mile Lye Brook Falls trail near Manchester Center; or for a more leisurely trail, explore Manchester Riverwalk—a river with a mini waterfall in the heart of town. For a truly serene activity, kayak on Equinox Pond and immerse yourself in the mountain scenery. Kayaking is also offered by the Equinox Resort and rental fees apply.

For a sport that will make you feel like English gentry, try Orvis fly-fishing and wingshooting offered by the Equinox Resort. Be you novice or maestro, there are levels for everyone where you learn catch and release, and proper shotgun handling techniques respectively.

Photo courtesy of Southern Vermont Arts Center
Sculpture Park and Gardens at Southern Vermont Arts Center

Enjoy arts, museums, and festivals

The Manchester Music Festival is a mix of classical music, concerts, jazz, and orchestral events beginning in July and running to early September while held at various locations within town. For 2022, there will be a digital concert hall featuring live streams, young artists, and recitals, for music connoisseurs unable to visit IRL this summer.

Mixed-media can be found at Southern Vermont Arts Center (SVAC), which promotes local Vermont art. Situated in the historic Yester House on the 120-acre Webster estate, the collective began in 1922 with an exhibition of local artists and progressed over decades to annual exhibitions and concerts. In 1958, Louis Armstrong, the legendary African-American jazz musician, performed at SVAC and was welcomed in the artistic community at a time when discrimination of African-Americans was very common. Current exhibitions on display until September are RELATIONSHIPS: hot, cold, intricate by artists working with wax; and MASKED, an installation created by twenty-two Vermont artists living with disabilities. SVAC also hosts Broadway in Vermont, a series from July to September where Broadway plays and musicals are performed by Broadway stars.

The piece de resistance at SVAC is its Sculpture Park and Gardens with hundreds of giant abstract and cultural pieces scattered across the estate (think of it as the Vermont version of Storm King in New York’s Hudson Valley).

Manchester has many unique galleries, including Tilting at Windmills, featuring art by local and international artists. From abstract and acrylic to still-life, stone, and watercolor, find your artistic preference here. For the unusual, pop into the American Museum of Fly Fishing for exhibitions on angling, art, and nature. Lastly, try a glass-blowing class at Manchester Hot Glass and make your own paperweight or any glass object.

Hildene | LEE SNIDER PHOTO IMAGES/Shutterstock

Learn how the Lincoln’s are connected to the local history

Many people might be surprised to learn the Lincoln family has a historical connection to Manchester. In 1864, special suites were built for President Abraham Lincoln at The Equinox (now the Equinox Golf & Resort Spa) in anticipation of an 1865 visit after the First Lady and two of their sons previously visited Manchester. According to local historians, Manchester Village most likely made such an impression that Lincoln’s only surviving child, Robert Todd Lincoln, constructed a massive estate, Hildene, nearby.

Hildene was built in 1905 and sits on 412 acres of verdant land bound by the Green Mountains to the east and the Taconic Mountains to the west, with the Battenkill river flowing through. The estate boasts of fourteen buildings, goat and alpaca farms, a forest, an observatory, and a Georgian Revival mansion with original furnishing. It continues to produce maple syrup and goat dairy for sale, and tours are available of the mansion’s twenty-four rooms, President Abraham Lincoln’s archives depicting Civil War history and memorabilia, and manicured English gardens blooming with summer florals and stunning mountain views.

An unusual attraction at Hildene is Sunbeam, a restored and self-contained Pullman train car. Robert Lincoln—Abraham Lincoln’s only surviving child to reach adulthood—was President of the Pullman Company from 1897 to 1924 and a board member until his death in 1926, and it was during his era that the Pullman Porters—African-American men hired to serve passengers—fought for unionization until success in 1937. Visitors can expect a small, but informative, exhibit of this history at Hildene.

Chop House
Chop House | The Equinox, Golf Resort & Spa

Feast on fine dining, burger joints, cafes, and cozy gems

Chop House at the Equinox Resort offers a fine dining experience in a modern setting, and is open to non hotel guests as well. Before or after dinner, whet your whistle at the resort’s Falcon Bar or Marsh Tavern. Bite into juicy meat and impossible burgers at Depot Street Burgers; try Copper Grouse for hearty cuisine with local ingredients like Duck Confit Potato Hash; and for an artsy vibe, curATE cafe at SVAC offers brunch, lunch, and dinner of fine dining and regional cuisine.

Taste authentic Jamaican food at Jamerican Cuisine food truck (4180 Main Street); pass time at Bonnet & Main Cafe next to Northshire Bookstore; get a slice at Sam’s Wood-fired Pizza Co. with outdoor oven and seating; check out the LGBTQIA+ friendly Gringo Jack’s for Mexican; Moonwink for Burmese cuisine; and several cozy cafes with mountain views. The beauty is in exploring as some spots don’t have an online presence and are open certain days a week.

Northshire Bookstore
Northshire Bookstore

Stroll downtown and shop from its local businesses

Manchester has a small downtown area concentrated around Historic Main Street and Depot Street. The stores here include Italian Market purveying salami, sausages, and pasta sauces; Above All Vermont offering locally made maple syrup and other products in a country store setting; Mother Myrick’s Confectionery for caramel, fudge, and Bernie bars; Marketplace on Main Street for Vermont souvenirs; and independent Northshire Bookstore for reading and stationery material.

Take in downtown views from the seating area in front of Northshire Bookstore and grab a refreshing gelato while marveling at the unique upcycled metal sculptures sitting on benches; follow the sound of rushing water for a behind-the-fence view of part of Manchester Riverwalk if you don’t wish to walk the trail. Walk Depot Street for Manchester Designer Outlets in the Manchester Square Shopping Center.

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Kemi Ibeh is a contributor for Thrillist.