Length: About 120 miles, plus side trips.
When to go: Year-round, but winters are cold and springtimes often muddy due to snowmelt.
Nearby attractions: Montpelier, Vermont’s state capital, with museums and lodgings. Woodstock, one of the state’s earliest and prettiest towns, Rte. 4, west of White River Junction.
Further information: Vermont Dep’t. of Tourism & Marketing, 6 Baldwin St., Drawer 33, Montpelier, VT 05633-1301; tel. 800-837-6668, www.vermontvacation.com.
Even by Vermont standards, much of the northeastern corner of the state is an out-of-the-way place, wild and unpopulated. The narrow roads are weatherworn, dairy farmers live much as their 19th-century ancestors did, and the forests form a mantle of green brocade across the hills. For a rural rhapsody sampling such country charms, follow this drive through the Green Mountain State.
1. White River Valley
Two rivers and two interstate highways converge in the village of White River Junction, long a rest stop for weary travelers. Shady blocks of stately brick buildings comprise the downtown area, where the Hotel Coolidge, with its fine murals and antiques, has been offering accommodations ever since the railroad came through town in the late 1800s.
Before you head northward from White River Junction, consider a six-mile sidetrip westward on Rte. 4 to Quechee Gorge, Vermont’s Little Grand Canyon. A bridge, perched 165 feet above the gorge’s floor, offers dizzying views of the stone-strewn chasm, carved into the foothills by the Ottauquechee River. Several additional overlooks are positioned on both sides of the gorge’s rim. Or to sample the area on foot, you can follow one of several hiking trails—some lead all the way down to the river.
The bends and straightaways of the White River guide Rte. 14 north to Sharon. While lovely hilltop churches are signature sights in New England, a religious landmark of a different sort lies just a few miles north of town: the boyhood home of Joseph Smith, who was born in 1805 and, later founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A steep, tree-lined turnoff leads to his family’s farm, which today has been designated a Mormon shrine complete with a museum and a granite memorial dedicated to Smith. The site’s fields and forests, about 360 acres in all, are a walker’s delight.
The drive switches onto Rte. 132, veering northeastward through a pocket of Vermont that has largely escaped the modern world. A patchwork of rustic villages, dairy farms, clapboard dwellings, and meadows grazed by Morgan horses fills the valleys between the hills. The West Branch of the Ompompanoosuc River, a gentle waterway, runs beside the road. Scan the horizon where the views open up at higher elevations: the White Mountains crest in the east; the more rounded Green Mountains rumble to the west.
Well-kept white houses grace the peaceful small town of Strafford. One standout here is the impressive pink mansion that was the residence of Justin Smith Morrill, a three-term U.S. congressman and longtime senator. Though fond of his estate, he represented Vermont in national politics for so long—more than 40 years—that much of his time was spent in Washington, D.C. One of his proudest achievements was the 1862 Morrill Act, which granted the states federal lands in order to finance the establishment of colleges.