Length: About 220 miles, plus side trips.
When to go: Popular year-round; fall foliage is especially beautiful in early to mid-October—newspapers have color reports.
Words to the wise: Book reservations early for fall foliage tours and accommodations. Mountain roads may be closed in winter. Some attractions are seasonal.
Nearby attractions: The Bennington Museum, Bennington. Village of Newfane. Vermont Historical Society Museum, Montpelier. Maple Grove Maple Museum (featuring exhibits on maple sugaring), St. Johnsbury.
Further information: Vermont Dep’t. of Tourism & Marketing, 6 Baldwin St., Drawer 33, Montpelier, VT 05633-1301; tel. 800-837-6668, www.vermontvacation.com.
Mountain Road (Rte. 108)
Setting out from the charming resort town of Stowe, Mountain Road leads northwest through a string of stunning attractions, beginning with Mt. Mansfield. The toll road or a gondola will take you most of the way up, but you’ll have to hike the final distance to the spectacular summit. From there you can see Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks to the west, Canada to the north, and the White Mountains of New Hampshire to the east. Farther along, at Smugglers Notch, a dramatic pass flanked by high walls of silver rock, you can hike the Long Trail to lovely Sterling Pond or cool off in the dank recesses of Smugglers Cave. Descending from these high, rocky places, the drive breezes past a series of enticing picnic spots before arriving at Jeffersonville.
Chartered a quarter century before America won its independence, tiny Wilmington once hewed its living from the surrounding forests. Today, this white-steepled village on the banks of the Deerfield River plies instead the Yankee innkeeper’s trade, serving a cluster of nearby ski resorts.
Gen. John Stark passed this way during the Revolutionary War as he led his troops in 1777 to the Battle of Bennington, where he swore that the British would be defeated “or tonight Molly Stark sleeps a widow.” Stark not only survived, he triumphed, and in tribute to him and his wife, Rte. 9 is now called the Molly Stark Trail.
Follow the trail east out of Wilmington for about three miles, and you’ll arrive at Molly Stark State Park, where a path leads to the summit of 2,415-foot Mt. Olga. The most appealing views are off to the east, toward the rolling hills of New Hampshire, but in early autumn the mountain’s own cloak of crimson maples and canary-yellow birches easily surpasses the lure of the distant horizon.
2. Green Mountain National Forest
Ever since it was settled by southern New England colonists hankering for elbow room, Vermont has meant many things to many people—survival on hardscrabble farms, the lonely grandeur of the Green Mountains, the sun’s sparkle on freshly powdered mountain slopes. Rte. 100, wending its way north from Wilmington, visits all of these various Vermonts.
Within its first 10 miles north of the Molly Stark Trail, the drive links two of the state’s many skiing meccas, Haystack and Mt. Snow—the latter named not for its stock-in-trade, but for the Reuben Snow farm that occupied this site until 1954. Farming was once far more widespread in the unforgiving uplands of Vermont. Much of the territory that makes up the nearly 400,000-acre Green Mountain National Forest, which Rte. 100 enters just beyond West Dover, was cleared of trees a century and a half ago. Today two great swaths of the state’s rugged heartland comprises the national forest, established in 1932. A vast resource of timber, it also shelters species as diverse as the peregrine falcon and the eastern coyote (a resourceful predator that has expanded its range in recent years).
3. Townshend State Park
Tucked next to an oxbow bend of the West River, West Townshend lies one mile east of Rte. 100’s convergence with Rte. 30 at East Jamaica. Two miles to the south at Townshend, you’ll find the entrance to Townshend State Park. Nearby, the river is spanned by two very different structures—the Townshend Dam, built in 1961, and the Scott Covered Bridge. Dating to 1870, this bridge is one of the longest and handsomest of the state’s 100-plus surviving wooden spans. Contrary to legend, these shedlike structures were enclosed to protect timbers and roadbeds from the elements, not to prevent horses from balking at river crossings. Today, these quaint bridges are as much a symbol of Vermont as dairy cows and cheese.
Townshend State Park serves as the trailhead for a path that leads to the summit of Bald Mountain. The trail meanders past an alder swamp, across a murmuring brook, and through a hemlock wood; it then ascends nearly 1,100 feet in less than two miles. The reward at the top is a splendid panorama of farms and forests along the West River valley.
4. Jamaica State Park
Returning to East Jamaica and Rte. 100, head north three miles to Jamaica State Park. Here, where the West River loops eastward around the great granite bulk of Ball Mountain, you can cool off at an old-fashioned swimming hole, watch as white-water canoeists and kayakers negotiate the river rapids, or hike to Cobb Brook’s 125-foot plunge over the smooth chutes and jagged precipices of Hamilton Falls.
Though no sign of its untamed past lingers, this idyllic woodland was once at New England’s western frontier. One day in 1748, as a party of Colonial scouts was returning to a fort on the Connecticut River from Lake Champlain, they were ambushed by Abnaki Indians at the foot of Ball Mountain, and six of their number were killed.
5. Scenic Mountain Loop
Once you reach the hamlet of Rawsonville, you can proceed in one of two ways: north on Rte. 100 or west on Rte. 30. Rte. 100 passes through meadows and valleys punctuated by the streamside village of South Londonderry.
Rte. 30 opens a scenic highland circuit that passes through Green Mountain National Forest and the heart of southern Vermont’s ski country. Just to the west of Rawsonville is the access road to Stratton Mountain, a giant alpine resort that features a gondola ride to the windy summit, where visitors are treated to views of four states. Past Stratton, turn right onto Rte. 11 and continue past the ski trails of Bromley Mountain, which presides over a 10-mile valley vista.
Before you get back to Rte. 100, you’ll pass a turnoff leading to the toylike village of Peru—a handful of houses, a white church, and the venerable, squeaky-floored J. J. Hapgood Store, established in 1827 and still offering everything from penny candy to fishing line.