I had the opportunity to spend a week in beautiful, historic Vermont this month while taking part in the Escapees Club’s Escapade in Essex Junction, which was just outside Burlington. The five-day event was chock full of seminars, presentations, entertainment and spontaneous gatherings.
But, there was still plenty of time to explore the surrounding area. Because I had arrived a few days before the Escapade began, I took some time for a quick loop trip along the Vermont countryside where I discovered some interesting things to do.
Ben and Jerry’s
Politics aside, Ben and Jerry’s makes really delicious ice cream that is served in stores all over New England. But, their factory is located in tiny Waterbury, Vt., which was only half an hour east of Essex Junction along Hwy. 100.
The plant offers tours every day, but if you go during weekdays, you can see how the ice cream is made. The tour costs $4 per adult and $3 for seniors. Kids 12 and under are free.
During the 30-minute tour, you’ll learn about the founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, and how their $5 investment in some correspondence training on ice-cream making helped launch an enterprise that transforms “moo” into moola.
Following the tour, guests enjoy a free sample of whatever the “flavor of the day” happens to be. Or, they can buy a bigger treat from an outside Scoop Shop. There are several displays situated around the facility that highlight the company’s history as well as its non-traditional approach to business.
There’s also a nice gift shop where people can buy Ben and Jerry’s souvenirs and even Vermont maple syrup.
For more information, visit www.benjerry.com or call 866.257.6877.
Trapp Family Lodge
It was a beautiful summer day, so I left there to wander about the countryside. Vermont is 75 percent forest and is well known for its skiing in the winter. I opted to follow Hwy. 100 to the resort community of Stowe, Vt., thinking the scenery up there would be spectacular. I wasn’t disappointed.
However, on my way, I saw signs for the von Trapp Family Lodge, of Sound of Music fame. After the family escaped from Austria in World War II, they toured America as the Trapp Family Singers before settling in Vermont, which must bear a striking resemblance to the alps.
In 1950, the family started welcoming guests at a 27-room lodge. Unfortunately, the lodge was destroyed by fire in 1980, but the family rebuilt it as a bigger and better resort facility.
Still, it is rich in history and Maria von Trapp is buried at the resort. People are welcome to stay at the lodge or enjoy a meal and one of several restaurants. For more information, visit www.trappfamily.com.
Think snow in Stowe
From there, I followed the highway to Stowe, Vt., which is a very well-known ski area, but attracts quite a summer crowd, too, for hiking, biking and water sports.
The community is a typical tourist town with lots of little shops and art galleries as well as a plethora of restaurants, bistros and taverns. One of the resorts, Stowe Mountain Resort, offers a bird’s eye view of the surrounding area via gondola rides to the top of Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak.
The trip to the top via private gondolas that can easily fit six people, takes about 20 minutes. At the top, some people opt to hike down, others enjoy a meal at the Cliff House restaurant, while others just enjoy the cool mountain air.
More adventurous people will try their hand — or butt — at the Nosedive zip line, which takes people from the top of Mount Mansfield 4,462 feet at more than 130 feet above ground. The cost is $119 per person, or $159 when combined with the Tree Top Adventure, a collection of different aerial courses with more than 68 challenges or game elements to complete. That price does include the gondola ride.
The cost for the Tree Top Adventure is $65 per person or $42 for children 7 to 12 who opt for special kids course. Children must be 10 or older to ride the zip line.
It was getting late in the day, so I bought a round-trip gondola ticket for $28. Children 6 to 12 cost $18, or you can buy a family pack for $84 that admits two adults and two children. There is no limit to the amount of time you can spend on top of the mountain, but beware that they’re serious when they say the last gondola leaves at a specific time.
For more information, visit www.gostowe.com
Smugglers Notch — Where RVs go to die
A short distance from Stowe is the resort community of Smuggler’s Notch where families can enjoy waterparks, shopping, hiking, canoes and kayaks, zip lines and mountain biking.
The highway to Smugglers Notch is exceptionally scenic, but RVs are not at all encouraged. In fact, tractor trailers are forbidden and I suspect that any big RV trying to navigate the super curvy highway will find themselves lodged between trees and bolders at several of the hairpin turns.
However, people can pull off the highway in their cars and take advantage of several free hiking opportunities in a very lush forest area before settling down for some food or drink at one of the area pubs.
For a comprehensive list of things to do and see at Smugglers Notch, visit www.smuggs.com
Burlington — Bernie’s hometown
The drive back to Essex Junction took me to Burlington, Vt., which is where presidential candidate Bernie Sanders once served as mayor. It’s a beautiful college town located on the shores of Lake Champlain.
Hardly a weekend goes buy where some sort of festival is taking place at Burlington’s Waterfront Park. The beach area itself is massive. There’s a skate park nearby to keep kids occupied, or rent a boat for the day to enjoy some time on the lake.
There is a very nice city-run RV park located in the North Beach area. Rates are $45 per night for full hookups or $41 for water and electric only. There is a big playground within the campground, but the big draw is the beach that is located a block or two away as well as direct access to nine miles of bike paths. For more information on Burlington’s Waterfront Park, visit enjoyburlington.com/venue/waterfront-park.
There is a very nice walking and biking trail that follows the shoreline for quite some distance. Or hop aboard a ferry and take a day trip to Port Kent, N.Y. The cost is $9 for adults and $4.50 for children ages 6 to 12 — and you can bring a bike with you. For more information on the ferries, visit www.ferries.com
When the fun is done, take a quick 0.6-mile walk to the Church Street marketplace where you’ll find exceptional indoor and outdoor dining and shopping opportunities as well as plenty of places for ice cream and other treats. Public entertainers often delight people with performances, some organized and others more spontaneous.
For more information about Church Street Marketplace, visit www.churchstmarketplace.com.
Burlington, Vt., reminded me very much of my hometown of Madison, Wis. The bike-friendly community located on a lake offers plenty of opportunities for recreation or relaxation. It’s a welcome break from the bustle of big city life.