After a very, very busy July and August, Cody and I finally got around to a summer vacation in September. We chose Vermont after an afternoon of research on the couch last spring. Our first choice was one of the state parks within Groton State Forest, but they didn’t have as many camping options as we were looking for.
That led us to Smugglers’ Notch State Park a little further north. The Park is surrounded by ski trails and the mountains are dotted with luxury lodges. It’s obvious how ingrained skiing is in the culture here. Finding travel guides written about visiting in the summer proved challenging.
What ended up being so nice about Smugglers’ Notch was how close it was to Stowe. We could hike and cook breakfast over a fire, but also go out for pizza and get coffee in the morning.
We packed a lot into a long weekend, especially considering we slept 10 hours a night and never managed to leave our campsite for the days’ activities before 11.
Day 1: Road Tripping to Stowe
We spent Wednesday night at Green Lakes State Park, both because we had never been and it would get us 2 hours closer to our final destination. After a walk around Green Lake Thursday morning, we got in the car, ready for the 5 ish hour drive to Smugglers’ Notch. Most of the trip was through the southern end of the Adirondack Mountains, making for a much prettier, more interesting drive than, say, the 7 hours on the NYS Thruway/Mass Turnpike it takes to get to Boston.
You emerge from the mountains just in time to cross the New York/Vermont state line over Lake Champlain and are immediately in the prettiest farmland I’ve ever seen. We drove toward the Green Mountains, taking in the view and coming up with a game plan for setting up and getting dinner.
Our campsite was tucked back into the woods, making it feel like we were much more remote than we really were. The one downside to this was how early it got dark in the trees, but it was nice to sit around a fire every night and just listen to the sounds around us. We set up the tent, blew up the air mattress (priorities…) and took quick showers before heading into Stowe for dinner.
After three days of showers in the coin-operated Smugglers’ Notch showers, I think I’m 100% on board with the idea that a campsite should charge for hot, high pressured showers, instead of provide free lukewarm showers that don’t have enough pressure to even get the shampoo out of your hair.
Another thing I really enjoyed about the Park was how attentive the rangers were. They were easy to find if you had questions and even stopped by our campsite to see if we needed anything or were looking for trail recommendations. We ended up with extra tomatoes from the camp volunteer’s garden too, which were delicious.
We did a little bit of restaurant research before leaving for the trip, and decided Piecasso was worth checking out. Like most Stowe restaurants, they have a draft list filled with local craft brews and try to source their ingredients from local farms and producers.
It was just the right temperature to sit on the patio for the last few minutes of the sunset. Our pizza was delicious, as were our beers (Zero Gravity Strawberry Moon for me and Burlington Beer Company and Lost Nation’s Mosaic IPAs for Cody). We headed back to our site tired and full, but excited to explore more of the park and Stowe.
Day 2: Exploring Smugglers’ Notch State Park
We chose to explore the park on Friday instead of Saturday hoping to avoid some of the weekend crowds. We started with Bingham Falls, which is a short trail right outside the campground that leads to a series of waterfalls and crystal-clear pools, perfect for swimming if you don’t mind water so cold you can’t feel your legs. It wasn’t warm enough to stay all day, and we wanted to cook lunch and have plenty of time for another hike.
Our next destination was Sterling Pond. To get there, we drove through the Notch along Scenic Route 108, which was equal parts amazing and terrifying. I didn’t take a single picture during our drive because I was too distracted by the view and the blind turns. As you drive between Mt. Mansfield on one side and Spruce Peak on the other, you can definitely see how goods were smuggled though this pass before it was widened and paved for the enjoyment of nature enthusiasts. At the higher altitudes of the Notch, the leaves are beginning to change colors, hinting at how gorgeous this drive becomes each fall.
The trail to Sterling Pond from the Notch is pretty much straight up the side of Spruce Peak, but the view at the top is worth it. The trail connects to Long Trail, which reaches across the entire state from North to South. We could have reached the Pond exclusively on the Long Trail for a much more gradual hike, but it would have made for a much longer round trip than we were planning on.
We caught our breath taking in the deep blue water and watching two friendly ducks go about their afternoon. There’s a trail around the pond as well, which, if we started earlier in the day, we may have done. Instead, we headed down to continue our drive along Vermont Scenic Route 108.
On our way back to the campground, we stopped at Barnes Camp Visitor Center and walked along the boardwalk there, which winds through a wetland created by busy beavers. We were lucky enough to see a few of these beavers going about their day against the dramatic view of the Notch.
We had grand plans of taking in part of the Stowe Jazz Fest after dinner, but that never happened. Instead, we got another 10 hours of sleep, which felt way better.
Day 3: Drinking Our Way Through the Green Mountains
Vermont feels almost synonymous with craft beer. Stowe and nearby Morrisville have more than enough breweries to fill a day with. However, we started at Black Cap Coffee (which actually also sells craft beer, although you can’t drink it in the shop).
We brought our bikes with us to Vermont and until this point, all they had done was sit in the truck bed. We finally put them to good use on the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail. This trail runs across the state in two long sections, one of which conveniently goes directly behind Lost Nation Brewing.
Lost Nation Brewing
After a short ride, we were ready to find a new favorite beer or two. We took a seat on the covered patio at Lost Nation among bikers much more serious than us and ordered a pint each. My blueberry gose, The Wind Blue, was delicious.
Our one complaint was how refined the food was. Maybe it’s because every brewery in Buffalo has chicken wings and pretzels on the menu, but we were looking for a snack to tide us over and nothing on the apps menu was calling our names.
Ten Bends Beer
We weren’t originally going to stop here because it seemed out of the way, but we realized it was only five minutes from Lost Nation! The location would remind Buffalonians of 12 Gates; Ten Bends shares a building with a reuse store and has picnic tables in the parking lot. Just like our first trip to 12 Gates, we drove right by the brewery before realizing we went too far down Main Street.
The beer list was small but impressive, there was a dog to pet when we walked in, and the bartender had really good suggestions. Cody and I split a flight, considering we still had a lot of stops and the nearest Lyft was in Burlington. I was recommended the Cream Puff War because, despite its IPA style and 8.3% ABV, it was fruitier and less bitter than the blonde ale. The iteration on tap when we stopped was peachy, which I loved.
Rock Art Brewery
Rock Art only offers pints once a week, so we settled for a tasting of each of the brewery’s beers. Nothing here was super impressive, but I do have to say they get points for creativity.
Idletyme Brewing Company
We headed back to Stowe, very ready for lunch. Idletyme was more restaurant than brewery, but the food was delicious and the biergarden was exactly what I wanted a Vermont brewery’s outdoor space to be, filled with flowers, tomatoes and hops.
I tried both the Danube and Pink N’ Pale before settling on the later, a grapefruit-infused American-style pale ale. After lunch we sat in the sun in Adirondack chairs before heading off to our next stop.
Cody was more excited for this tap room than I was because of The Alchemist’s reputation for their IPAs. (Heady Topper anyone?) This was another brewery that only offered samples, but it wasn’t stopping people from walking out with dozens of cans.
Because of Jazz Fest, the grounds and tasting room were packed, but the atmosphere was great and views were amazing. We walked through the vendors before heading back to the car.
von Trapp Brewery
We weren’t really planning on having time to make it to the von Trapp Brewery, but because we didn’t order pints at very many places, we still had plenty of time before the sun went down. I ordered an Oktoberfest Lager and we grabbed a picnic table with an amazing view of the mountains and sinking sun. While this beer wasn’t our favorite, the weather was perfect and there was a cozy buzz of conversation around us.
Hindsight is 20/20. If we were to do it again, I think we’d start at the von Trapp Brewery and then head to Idletyme for lunch. Next would be Ten Bends, and then we’d bike before hanging out at Lost Nation for the afternoon. The tastings at Rock Art and The Alchemist weren’t really worth the stop, considering we didn’t buy any cans.
Lost Nation was by far our favorite. They had a great mix of beers and a relaxed, not too busy atmosphere. Because it was our first stop and we were getting a little hungry, we only had one drink here. It set the bar really high, but no one else quite lived up to that expectation.
Stowe Ice Cream
Nothing like fueling your body with a dinner of ice cream after a day filled with beer… But hey, we were on vacation. The homemade ice cream at Stowe Ice Cream is delicious, and the view of Main Street from their Adirondack chairs is darling.
Saturday night was another low key evening. We burned the rest of our wood, showered and put on enough layers to sleep through the 40° night. Sunday morning we packed up and hit the road for the 7 hour drive back to Buffalo.
This four day trip was exactly what I needed after a summer of constant motion. It felt so good to catch up on sleep and start our day at 11 am instead of 6. I was worried we wouldn’t have enough to keep us busy in Stowe and the State Park, but I don’t think we even scratched the surface. That just means we’ll have to go back someday, hopefully soon!