Vermont is equal parts myth and reality, home to a mystique that other states can only envy. A mere mention of its name, and images appear: sunlit meadows of black-and-white cows, dazzling white ski trails, tidy hillside farms, blazing red maple trees along a stone wall, covered bridges, buckets collecting sap for maple syrup.
Certainly these idyllic scenes still exist, although less picturesque plastic tubing has replaced most of the buckets, and many of the farms may now be chic B&Bs.
Another Vermont exists alongside this idealized one, represented by bustling Burlington, the outlet malls of Manchester, Killing ton’s frenetic aprons-ski scene, and Rattlebrain’s unlikely blend of gritty blue-collar and ’70s hippies grown up. Even the state’s mainstay of agriculture has a new look, as dozens of artisanal cheese makers transform Vermont’s dairy industry, and tourists eagerly follow the Vermont Cheese Trail to sample them.
Other trails lead to traditional tourist attractions: maple farms boiling sap and welcoming visitors each March, and covered bridges-seven of them in the far-northern town of Montgomery alone. You’ll enjoy both Vermont.
Discover the best things to do in this captivating state with our list of the top tourist attractions in Vermont.
1. Lake Champlain
Extending for 120 miles between Vermont and New York, with its northern tip in Canada, Lake Champlain lies mostly in Vermont, and draws visitors for its recreation, wildlife, and historical attractions. Its watershed covers more than 8,000 square miles.
Much of its 587 miles of shoreline are undeveloped; a haven for wildlife; and a playground for canoeists, haymakers, and sailors. On the Vermont side, 318 species of birds depend on Lake Champlain, and 81 species of fish swim in its waters.
According to Samuel de Champlain, for whom the lake is named, a 20-foot serpent-like creature also swims in the lake. His was the first, but certainly not the last reported sighting of what is now known as “Champ y.” You might catch sight of it from one of the several lake cruises, or even from one of the three ferries that cross to the New York side from Charlotte, Burlington, and Grand Isle.
Several wildlife reserves protect its shore and neighboring wetlands, including the Dead Creek WMA, where thousands of migrating snow geese stop to rest in late October. You can learn more about the ecology at the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center, at the waterfront in Burlington.
The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, overlooking Basin Harbor in Verges, explores the lake’s role in the Revolution and War of 1812. You can also visit Mount Independence, an important sister fort to Fort Ticonderoga across the lake in New York, and attacked in July 1777. Learn more at the visitor center and explore the 400-acre site with the help of trail maps with historical notes and descriptions.
With a covered bridge, white-spider church, weathered barns, and ski trails down the mountainside, Stowe is everybody’s image of Vermont. At the foot of Mt. Mansfield and in the heart of the state’s snow belt, it’s also the town that most personifies the glory days of Vermont’s early ski industry, a heritage that’s explored here in the Vermont Ski Museum. Although avid skiers had climbed the mountain long before that, and a rope tow was installed in 1937, things really took off in 1940, when the first chairlift was opened.
It’s not all about skiing; you’ll find shops and boutiques, art galleries, dining, and lodging of all sorts. Exhibits of works by Vermont-based artists are shown in the Helen Day Art Center. You can rent bicycles to ride, or you can walk or skate along the 5.3-mile Stowe Recreation Path, a paved multi-use route through meadows and woods alongside the river, with beautiful views of Mt. Mansfield.
Stowe Mountain Resort is still one of New England’s premier ski destinations, and the gondola that carries skiers in the winter takes sightseers to the summit for more views in the summer and fall. You can find things to do here all year.
3. Shelburne Museum
Restored historic buildings and the collections they house at this open-air museum reflect Vermont’s rich history and America’s folk and fine art traditions. You can explore a round barn; the lake steamer SS Ticonderoga (now on dry land); a lake lighthouse; a barn filled with vintage carriages and wagons; a print shop; and collections of carved decoys, American quilts, handmade hatboxes, hooked rugs, and trains, in a bucolic village setting among manicured gardens.
In contrast to the simple farms represented at the museum, you can glimpse an entirely different kind of farming in New England at nearby Shelburne Farms. The grand turreted barns and farmyard of this 1400-acre working “gentleman farm” are still in operation, and you can sample their cheese, visit the gardens, and even have tea, depending on the tour you choose.
Robert Todd Lincoln, son of the president, visited Manchester with his mother shortly before his father’s assassination. After he had become president of Pullman Company, in the early 20th century, he returned to build the Georgian Revival Hilde as his country estate.
Hildene represents a fine example of homes built as retreats for the families of wealthy magnates and is furnished with a number of pieces from Mrs. Lincoln’s family. Personal belongings of President Lincoln include his famous stovepipe hat.
Other highlights are the thousand-pipe 1908 A eolian organ, in working condition, and the elegant dining room furnished in Queen Anne style. The home remained in the Lincoln family until 1975, thus preserving the original furnishings and memorabilia. The formal gardens on the terrace overlooking the broad valley have been restored from records of original plantings.
You can stay in another of these elegant mansions built in Manchester by wealthy industrialists. The Inn at Worms Hill, near Hildene, is now an elegant bed-and-breakfast.
5. Church Street Marketplace
In the heart of downtown Burlington, Church Street is only four blocks long, but it forms a wide, traffic-free space for public events and a lively street life even in Vermont’s cold winters. Along with the festivals scheduled throughout the year, it’s a place for sidewalk cafes, benches, and public artworks, and the buildings alongside it are filled with shops, restaurants, and boutiques. In the summer, when everyone is outdoors, it has the feel of an Italian piazza.
A mural, Everyone Loves a Parade! by Canadian muralist Pierre Hardy decorates a wall, and other artworks include a life-sized statue of a local jazz artist and a fish fountain crafted of metal. It’s no wonder this has been named one of the Great Public Spaces in America; it’s also listed as a National Register Historic District.
You can stay close to the action, only a block away at the Hotel Vermont. This hip, modern inn has a local community ethic and lovely views of Lake Champlain from its upper-floor guest rooms.
6. Mount Mansfield and Smugglers Notch
Mountain Road climbs out of Stowe and up the shoulder of Mount Mansfield, past Stowe Mountain Resort, where a gondola carries skiers and sightseers to the summit. Beyond the resort, the road narrows to snake through Smugglers’ Notch, one of Vermont’s most engaging natural attractions.
The road through this pass between Mount Mansfield and Spruce Peak is so tight and narrow as it winds upward that at some curves only a single car can pass through the openings between the giant boulders.
Snowplows can’t get through it in the winter, when the road closes just past the ski area. The rest of the year, you can park the car and walk the paths among this massive jumble of glacial rock and discover the caves where 19th-century smugglers once hid. The caves and gigantic boulders were formed when the glacier stalled here during the last ice age, smashing the mountain ledges and dropping them into the notch, where they were carved and tumbled by more glacial action.
Mansfield is Vermont’s highest mountain, and at its top are sweeping views and more than two miles of ridge-top hiking above tree line. This is one of only two places in Vermont where rare arctic-alpine tundra exists. A number of routes reach its summit. The Long Trail crosses Route 108 at the foot of Smugglers’ Notch, climbing steadily for 2.3 miles to the ridgeline.
Close to the point where the Long Trail crosses Route 108 at the base of Smugglers’ Notch, Topnotch Resort is a luxurious base for exploring the area, with mountain views, three pools, a full-service spa, and a fine-dining restaurant.
7. Ben & Jerry’s
Unquestionably Vermont’s most popular tourist attraction for children, Ben & Jerry’s factory tour is a favorite experience for adults, too. On the 30-minute guided tour of the factory, you’ll watch workers as they make and package ice-cream, while a guide explains the process.
On days when the factory is not operating, you’ll still see inside it, but a movie will show it in action. Of course a sample of the day’s flavor is included, and you can sample more flavors before choosing your favorite at their scoop shop.
The gift shop sells B&J goods, and you can take ice-cream with you in insulated carriers. Be sure to visit the Flavor Graveyard to mourn the loss of their “dearly de-punted” flavors and to smile at the past tongue-in-cheek names.
8. Bennington Battle Monument and Museum
The 306-foot-high obelisk, visible for miles around, commemorates the 1777 battle fought about five miles west of Beginning, which turned the tide against the British by splitting British General John Burgoyne’s forces in half, making the final American victory possible. You can bypass the monument’s 412 steps by taking an elevator to the top for views.
The nearby Beginning Museum is best known for its extensive collection of works by primitive folk artist Grandma Moses, along with her schoolhouse painting studio.
The museum is also especially strong in its collections of Beginning pottery, furniture, toys, American glassware, and Victorian quilts. You’ll also find fine art and artifacts from the colonial and Civil War periods.
9. Brattleboro Farmers’ Market
In a region known for its small farms and agriculture, Rattlebrain’s is the poster child of farmers markets. More than a place to buy fresh-picked vegetables and fruit from small independent local farmers, it is a social event, a meeting place, a Saturday lunch stop, and part of the weekend routine for southern Vermonters.
You’ll find old favorite vegetables and all the trendy new varieties, along with flowers, artisanal breads, farm cheeses, handmade soap, local honey, maple syrup, pottery, jewelry, smart scarves, and French pastries. Plan to be there around lunchtime, when there will nearly always be live music and maybe Morris dancers on the shaded lawn.
Some vendors sell prepared foods to eat at picnic tables under the trees. You may find savory stews from Mali, Thai noodles, Lebanese dolmas, even Breton crepes. In the winter, the market moves indoors to a Main Street location.
Celebrator itself is a cultural and social phenomenon, one of Vermont’s few towns with an industrial past, but also one where back-to-the-lander settled in the 1960s and ’70s and never left. The arts flourish here, and on any night of the week, you’ll find a choice of gallery openings, performances, classes, community action meetings, concerts, public forums, and other activities.
10. Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium
Exuding all the charm and fascination of an old-time Victorian museum, without the mustiness, the museum endowed by the owner of Fairbanks Scales covers subjects from Vermont wildflowers to the mysteries of the universe.
The 1891 building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, exhibits many of the usual things you’d expect-mounted birds and animals, Native American stone tools, Civil War memorabilia-as well as many delightful surprises. Take, for example, the bizarre collection of Victorian portraits of Washington, Lincoln, and others formed entirely of bugs and beetles.
Vermonters love visiting the live broadcast studio for their favorite weather report, Eye on the Sky. Downstairs is a hands-on nature center with wasp hives, frogs, iguanas, and creepy things kids love. Planetarium programs examine the sky above St. Johns bury and beyond.
Across the street is the St. Johns bury Athena, whose Art Gallery was added in 1873, making it the oldest art gallery in the United States still in its original form. The collection features American and European artists from the late 18th- to mid-19th century. These and other outstanding examples of Victorian architecture on Main St. are described in a walking tour map of the street, available at the museum.
11. Mont shire Museum of Science
“Do touch,” seems to be the motto of the Mont shire, where each of its 125 exhibits begs for hands-on interaction. Kids can make soap bubbles grow bigger than they are, understand how movies are made by creating their own, experiment with light beams, navigate a labyrinth powered by air, watch a live boa constrictor, or see leaf cutter ants at work demolishing foliage.
Even the building is designed for curious kids, with color-coded ventilation ducts and exposed construction supports. Nature trails explore the 110 acres of grounds alongside the Connecticut River.
12. Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park
The only National Park to concentrate on land stewardship in America incorporates both a working farm and a Victorian mansion on the hill above, set in formal gardens designed by several foremost landscape architects. Both rail magnate Frederick Billings, and later, the Rockefeller s were dedicated to land conservation and used this property to put it into practice.
At the farm, you can tour the home of the farm manager with its downstairs dairy, visit cows in the barn, and tour a museum filled with lively exhibits on farm and rural life. Tours of the art-filled Rockefeller home and grounds include themes of gardening, forestry, and their relationship to conservation.
Moderately priced and family-friendly, Woodstock’s 506 On The River Inn has modern rooms and verandahs overlooking its six-acre grounds.
13. Green Mountain National Forest
Vermont’s vast National Forest lies in two sections along the mountain chain that forms the state’s spine-and makes east-west travel a challenge. Nearly every route across these mountains leads over a gap, a mountain pass that may be good for viewing the scenery, but not so good for winter travel. In fact, some of these roads close entirely during the winter.
Follow these the rest of the year to discover waterfalls, National Forest campgrounds, scenic places to picnic, trails to hike, and a world of nature. The Appalachian Trail crosses through the southern section of National Forest, and the Long Trail follows the chain the entire length of the state from the Canadian to the Massachusetts borders.
Route 100 weaves back and forth among the mountains as it makes its way north, connecting many of Vermont’s ski areas, from Mount Snow to Stowe and Jay Peak. Route 9 crosses the Green Mountains in the south; Route 73 traverses Brandon Gap; Route 125 climbs over Middle bury Gap (passing Texas Falls); and Route 17 climbs Appalachian Gap, the highest that is open in the winter, at 2,356 feet.
14. Quechua Gorge
Vermont’s deepest gorge was formed by glaciers about 13,000 years ago, and has continued to deepen by the constant action of the Ottauquechee River, which you will see flowing 165 feet below. The best place to view the gorge is from the walkway along the arched iron bridge that carries Route 4 across the top.
A trail leads through the woods beside the rim to the bottom of the gorge, where you can see the lower part of it from water level. Close to the gorge, also on Route 4, is the excellent Vermont Institute of Natural Sciences (VINS), a nature center where injured raptors are rehabilitated and returned to the wild.
15. Rock of Ages Quarry and Hope Cemetery
Granite quarries were founded at Barre after the War of 1812 and are still operating today. You can visit the Rock of Ages quarry, a staggering hole in the earth, and at 550 feet wide, a quarter mile long, and 450 feet deep, the world’s largest quarry.
Barre granite’s exceptionally fine grain makes it the preferred stone for finely detailed, durable outdoor sculpture, such as monuments and architectural detail. While there, along with touring the quarry and workshops, you can sand-blast your own granite souvenir, and go bowling on what is believed to be the world’s only outdoor granite lane.
Barre drew expert stone workers and carvers, many from Italy, and as you might expect, you can find their work in public sculptures and in Hope Cemetery. This is filled with elaborate carvings by early-20th-century stone cutters, highlighted by some remarkably lifelike sculptures and by symbols of employment or favorite pastimes: a soccer-ball, an oil truck, or an outdoor scene with a fishing rod.