Photo by Paul Moody
As we make efforts to minimize our carbon footprint, the Traveler’s Notebook presents the greenest road trips in North America, trips that offer maximum activity options with a minimum amount of driving. As opposed to interstates, which typically bypass local communities (depriving them of the economic support they’d otherwise receive from travelers), the roads you’ll travel here traverse some of the best towns and terrain you’ll find anywhere.
Be it outdoor adventure or world-class restaurants and shopping, Vermont caters to every interest. This 220-mile loop takes you to some of the state’s deservedly popular attractions while letting you discover your own.
As Vermont’s biggest city, Burlington is more than just a convenient starting point. Before you head out, make sure to sample the shop wares and eatery menus on pedestrian-friendly Church Street. If you find you’ve enjoyed your dining experience a little too much, work up a sweat on the scenic seven-mile bike path that runs north through several recreational parks along the Lake Champlain shore.
When you’re ready to depart, follow Route 7 south out of town. Though congested at first, it soon narrows into a pleasant byway, with good views out to the lake and Adirondack Mountains beyond.
The Shelburne Museum, just seven miles south of Burlington, should be your first stop. You’ll find everything from impressionist paintings to a restored 200-foot steamboat at this indoor/outdoor depository of American folk art and artifacts.
In the fall, Shelburne Orchards offers apple picking (including organic apples) near the shores of Lake Champlain. Farther south, Middlebury is worth a look. Beer connoisseurs should check out the tour of Otter Creek Brewery.
Swing east onto Route 4 in Rutland and venture into the heart of the Green Mountains. If winter snows are falling, spending a couple days around Killington—arguably the Northeast’s best skiing—is definitely recommended. World class hiking and mountain biking opportunities can also be found in the area, most notably where the Appalachian and Long Trails intersect at the Inn at Long Trail near Sherburne Pass.
After Sherburne Pass, Route 4 leads back down to lower elevations and the village of Woodstock. From here, turn onto the little-traveled Route 12 and wind your way north. In mid-November, it’s worth stopping in Northfield to check out Cabot Hosiery Mill’s‘ annual sock sale. It sounds about as riveting as watching the Vermont cows graze, but it’s truly a great way to learn about and support the local economy. The mill’s very existence is rather fascinating, considering it’s one of only a few such American operations still resisting the move overseas.
Another ten miles on 12 will bring you to Montpelier. With about 8,000 residents, it’s the country’s smallest capital, and the only one without a McDonald’s. Instead, there are several choice dining options just past the attractive capitol building on State Street.
Route 2 takes you to Waterbury, where you can enjoy a pint at the Alchemist Pub and Brewery. From here, make your way north along Route 100. You’ll pass the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory, a Cabot Creamery, and the Cold Hollow Cider Mill, all fun places for a quick stop. The latter two offer tasty free samples.
Smuggler’s Notch, a pass on the eastern slope of Mt. Mansfield–Vermont’s hightest peak–is an exceptional drive (although closed in winter) with numerous recreation activities including hiking, canoing, fishing, and mountain biking, and snow-sports and ice-climbing in wintertime. To get there, follow Route 108 as it weaves its way among sharp cliffs and fallen boulders.
The mountain town of Jeffersonville lies at the end of your descent from the pass, from which it’s a an easy jaunt back to Burlington via Route 15.
Unfortunately there isn’t much in the way of alternative transportation for this loop. It might be possible to cover some segments by Greyhound bus, but service would likely be costly and sparse. For those with mighty legs and a sense of adventure, cycling is an option. Keep in mind that traffic throughout the state can be heavy in autumn, when travelers from around the globe flock to New England to watch the leaves turn crimson.
Interested in contributing a Green Guide to the Traveler’s Notebook? Check Matador’s Bounty Board for information on how to contribute.