Vermont is much more than New York’s green getaway or the nation’s lifeblood of maple syrup. It’s a state whose traditional heritage of farming has shaped its modern appreciation for food, art, and politics, giving it one of the most unique cultures in all of America. You could spend a lifetime here, but let’s just start with 2018.
Cabot and its ubiquitous cheddar is justifiably the big star here—so creamy, so sharp—but Vermont is way more than a one-man band: artisan cheese makers have expanded its offerings to brie, camembert, tomme, and blue cheese. Cheese and dairy has declined, but Vermont is still an award-winning destination for cheese, which is a major agritourism draw and such a away of life that there’s even a cheese trail map. And buying from a farmer also helps keep smaller producers in business, ensuring a huge diversity of cheese are made.
Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream
Vermont? You betcha. Chunky Monkey, Phish Food, Americone Dream—it’s all thanks to two New York natives who made the Green Mountain State their home and opened up one the country’s most recognizable ice cream brands. Founded in Burlington, the company has grown from humble roots to globally-recognized brand without losing its longstnading ethos to give back and do good (sustainable production, profits going to environmental causes). Visitors can go behind the scenes in Stowe, where the production facility offers tours.
World class breweries
The names read off like the list of some all-star cast assembled by Steven Spielberg for a new blockbuster: The Alchemist, Hill Farmstead, Lawson’s Finest Liquids, Lost Nation, Zero Gravity, Foam Brewers, Burlington Beer Company—we could go on, but you have business to attend to. Beer is a way of life here, as Vermont has more breweries per capita than any other state. But it’s neither about quantity nor pedigree: Vermont’s brewers regularly push beer boundaries, and are rewarded with news-making queues outside beverage stores.
There’s an adage in Vermont that there are as many galleries as towns—an exaggeration more sentiment than boast, and one which belies the state’s unheralded collection of folk and modern art. The Fleming Museum at the University of Vermont features pieces spanning the course of human history, while the truly unique Shelburne Museum—a collection of 150,000 items of Americana spread out over 39 buildings—encapsulates a particular era of New England. Still more spaces are dedicated to modern artists (Burlington City Arts) or photographers (Vermont Center for Photography).
The trees change color
Red and orange and yellow and…We might not be very good at thinking of adjectives for the same colors, but you can practice come this fall, basking in the glow of the nation’s most dramatic fall foliage. Come autumn, as the birds begin thinking of flocking south, a reverse migration known as “leaf peeping” of nature-starved city dwellers hops in Subarus and floods New England to see the trees change color. There’s no better spot than Vermont, where the cool nights and warm days (the same forces that make the maple syrup so good) lend an artistic touch to the forests. A profitable industry has sprouted around it, complete with a heat map of where to be and when.
The place for covered bridges
With more than 100, no state in the country has more covered bridges per square mile than Vermont, a collision of American architectural style and climatic conditions (think rain, and all that snow). Dating from 1820 through the middle of the 19th century, they range from spans little bigger than a garage to the 465-foot Windsor Cornish Covered Bridge spanning the Connecticut River separating Vermont and New Hampshire.
Despite being locked out from the sea, Vermonters are water people thanks to Lake Champlain, the nation’s sixth-largest freshwater body. Canoeing, kayaking, sailing, ferry rides, and cruises—Lake Champlain is not only beautiful, it plays a huge part in daily life.
The maple syrup
Amber, gold, or leather-hued, Vermont means maple syrup. The state produced some two million gallons of the stuff in 2016, more than half the country’s total production. Production is a major boon to the economy (there are more than 1,500 sugar shacks statewide) in the form of syrups, candies, and cream exported as far as Europe and Asia. Many syrup-makers offer samples before you buy, and are happy to chat about their livelihood.
Green mountain hiking
Vermont has untold miles of hiking trails thanks to mountain ridges that line the state and help lend it that special, vibrant green hue. The most famous is the Long Trail, a 272-mile footpath that traverses the state’s highest peaks from the Massachusetts border to Canada. With numerous campsites, stunning vistas, opportunities to see wildlife and local fauna, being outdoors is a way of life here.
Vermont gives winter lovers a reason to brave February, when the temperature plummets and every day seems darker than the next. A top destination for East Coast ski- and snow-lovers, the Green Mountain State combines the comforts of world-class resorts with short lift times, fresh powder, and fast runs. The list of household mountains is impressive: in Stowe, Spruce Peak and Mount Mansfield are connected by a lift, and it’s easy to ski both in the same day. Meanwhile, in the Mad River Valley, Sugarbush offers two main peaks and some of the steepest slopes in all of New England. Okemo Mountain, which receives 200 inches of snow annually, is good for families, thanks to many of the beginner-level runs.
Everyone buys from farmers’ markets
Whether you like fresh vegetables, eggs, meat, or even home-brewed kombucha, Vermont has a farmers’ market for you. Advocates and organizers estimate that the state boasts more than 75 farmers’ markets, a figure that grows every year as more and more residents buy into the idea of purchasing their groceries straight from their local farmer. Buying fresh food for dinner (there’s usually take-away snacks, too) is a goal in itself, but it also opens a door into a lifestyle that has defined the state since settlers first arrived here hundreds of years ago.
Even if 10-minute guitar solos aren’t your thing, it’s hard not to be infected by all things Phish when visiting their home state. From tribute bands to Ben & Jerry’s flavors, to art exhibits dedicated to their posters, Vermonters adore their local band, even if the music scene has since moved beyond the jam-band.
Seriously, the scenery!
From the forests to the mountains to the river valleys cutting through it all, Vermont’s scenery inspires a kind of repose and awe. Be it hidden waterfalls, epic hikes through the backcountry, or watching loons on a remote lake, Vermont has something for every nature-junky.