I was desperately looking for ideas for one more family summer weekend together before my son was due to head back to his college campus and Stowe Vermont came to mind. Our family weekend this summer was originally supposed to happen in Rome, Italy (and when I say “weekend” I mean weekend– as we literally only had a long weekend for the four of us to be together – between camps, internships and work plans).
Finding a weekend destinations for all four of us to enjoy – (my kids are 11 and 21) is not easy. Rome was a wonderful option of course, but we all know what happened to our Roman plans (I want to believe they just got delayed for one year!) With its mountain views, scenic biking path, a foodie scene, and even a movie history scene – Stowe Vermont did a wonderful job of bringing us together for the family weekend.
2020 “disclaimer”: be sure to follow travel guidelines for both a state/country of origin and a state/country of your destination.
Here is how our summer Vermont weekend unraveled.
For the video version, check out our YouTube video.
Mount Mansfield Toll Road.
We started the day with a drive up the Toll Road to Mount Mansfield – the highest peak in Vermont standing at 4.393 feet (actually some family members started the day early in the hotel pool- scroll to the end of the post to find out about out hotel). For Toll Road’s current pricing and hours of operations see Stowe’s Resort site.
The Toll Road is an unpaved 4.5 mile drive up to the Visitor’s Center at 3850 feet (Parking Lot A). I have seen some reviewers complaining about the hardships of the toll road but I did not find the road too winding or scary at all – especially compared to our really scary drives to the top of Mount Washington in NH and through the Tioga Pass in Sierra Nevada Mountains of California.
From Lot A, you can hike the remaining 1.4 miles to the summit (1-2 hours depending on your speed), or you can stop after reaching Viewpoint Frenchman’s Pile (15 min hike from the Visitor’s Center).
We were told to park in Lot B – which was another 20 minute hike or walk up to Lot A- although I was at first upset with this “extra” hike, I found this nature walk to be very pleasant and uncrowded, with beautiful views of its own.
We have passed the Frenchman’s Pile and hiked a bit further but stopped somewhere half way to the summit. We could still see Lake Champlain, the Adirondacks in New York, the White Mountains in New Hampshire and (probably) all the way to Canada.
It is said that the summit of Mount Mansfield resembles a profile of a face of a man. If you begin the climb from the Visitor’s Center (the Nose), the summit will be the on the Chin (not sure you could quite see it from this photo).
Tip: As you hike the ridgeline to the summit, you come across some unique arctic plants – remnants of the ice glacier era from some eight-twelve thousand years ago. Take your time observing the vegetation but pay attention to the white blazes protecting it on the trail.
The Visitor’s Center is closed during summer 2020 but there is an attendant outside happy to answer questions. Another 2020 note: it was rather crowded on the hike so we had to wear masks most of the time.
Stowe Recreation Path
After a refreshing pool time yet again (the 3 of us in the family love heated hotel pools with attention to detail), we headed across rt. 108 for Stowe’s Recreational Path. Stowe’s Rec Path is a 5.3 mile paved biking/walking trail that starts at the Stowe Village and stretches to Top Notch resort on Mountain Road- crisscrossing the West Branch of Little River. There are mountain views and access to the river and restaurants along the way.
Our biking exercises started quite dramatically with a hungry bear (three- to be exact) sighting as we were cutting through the back of some restaurants to reach the Rec Path. My advice: stay away from restaurants’ trash bins and ride with the buddy!
It was a very hot day and I appreciated maple lemonade on the outdoor terrace of Idle Thyme Restaurant. I enjoyed the terrace and the lemonade so much that we made our dinner reservations right then and there.
We woke up with 2 thoughts: we want more pool time and more mountain time to take in the views. For the very relaxing pool time – scroll down to the hotel information at the bottom of the page.
For the mountain part our plan we selected Smugglers Notch scenic drive along rt 108 (Mountain road) and then a ride up on Stowe Gondola.
Smugglers Notch is a narrow winding pass through the Green Mountains (it is closed in winter). What made it famous? The smugglers, of course! When President Thomas Jefferson passed an embargo act forbidding American trade with Great Britain and Canada, many locals continued to smuggle their goods to Canada via the Notch (smuggling continued during the Prohibition years in the 1920s, only that time the roads got improved).
We started the drive in the center of Stowe (from our hotel) and drove west on route 108 (towards the Canadian border). We did not reach Canada of course: we drove (slowly) for about 15 miles passed the Smugglers Notch State Park Visitor’s Center. Most of the way we were driving through the wooded area noticing large boulder formations on the sides of the road. There are several areas with long range mountain views to take in and a few places to pull over for hiking trails.
Smugglers Notch hosts the longest (265-mile long) trail system in the United States called the Long Trail. It follows the main ridge of the Green Mountains from Massachusetts-Vermont state line all the way to the Canadian border, crossing Vermont’s highest peaks (Appalachian Trail-which had been inspired by the Long Trail- coincides with Long Trail for 100 miles in the southern part of the state).
Another, much shorter (2 miles steep round trip) trail we have passed on the drive – the Sterling Pond trail – is located at the top of the notch and leads to an alpine pond. We also passed the trailhead for Bingham Falls – a 1.4 mile hike leading to the falls (appropriate shoes a must).
We did not have time for these trails or the Smugglers Notch Park during this weekend but we are hoping to explore some trails on our return visit to the area (it should be gorgeous during the Foliage season here).
On our agenda for early Sunday afternoon was a ride up on Mansfield Gondola (see Gondola Skyride info here). The ride was masked but otherwise uneventful. The restaurant at the top was closed so we were glad we came prepared with some picnic supplies (we got ours at the store called Commodities Market in the center of town across the street from our hotel).
Stowe Gondola does not take you all the way to the summit; in fact, the hike to the summit from the top of the gondola is very strenuous. Instead, we chose a “lateral” walk to the side of the mountain. There are picnic tables and Adirondack chairs to relax in next to the Gondola landing . Possibly due to pandemic of 2020, it was not very crowded at the top and we were able to enjoy both the tables and the chairs.
Flavors of Vermont
We finished our Vermont weekend by visiting local Maple Farm in town called Stowe Maple Products (tasting is available) and Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream factory in Burlington. The factory tour experience is not offered in summer 2020, but there is an ice-cream store and a flavors cemetery to indulge and explore (in that order).
Where we stayed. We chose a boutique Field Guide Lodge in Stowe for its attention to detail and availability of several multi-bedroom family suites with outside entrances (be sure to request Cottage 2 – it has a large deck). With its contactless check-in, continuous (yet discreet) cleaning of public areas and general “uncrowdedness” the hotel did a great job adjusting to summer 2020 realities. They were also quick to answer any requests via text or email- from bringing extra pool towels to advising on local attractions.
More Ideas for your Summer Stowe Weekend:
- Von Trapp Family Lodge (still owned by the Von Trapp family from the “Sounds of Music” movie)
- Covered Bridge
- Sunday Farmers Market
Stowe has an informative website with updates on current health related policies and openings.
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