Ready for a unique April road trip? Explore the short—but sweet—maple sugar season in the great north!
Maple sugar season is short because there are just a few weeks each spring when sugar maple farmers—known as "sugarmakers"—get just the right weather (mid-20s at night, mid-to-high 40s and sunny during the day) for their maple trees to start producing the sweet sap that goes into maple syrup, maple sugar, and other products (even some adult beverages like Tap 357 Canadian Maple Rye Whisky). This year, sugarmakers are about three weeks behind because of colder-than-usual temperatures.
Maple sugar season is sweet because, well, you will not believe the taste and aroma of pure maple syrup, sugar, and candies. Whether you're looking for a fun family outing or a romantic snugglefest, there's nothing quite like visiting a forest full of tapped trees and stopping by the "sugarhouse" to see the sap boiled and processed into syrup and sugar the way it's been done for centuries. (To produce one gallon of maple syrup, sugarmakers must boil down about 40 gallons of sap.) You might even get a sleigh ride or steam train ride around the farm, and, of course samples of syrups and candies.
Some of the best places for a maple syrup road trip are:
Vermont. Enjoy fresh maple syrup in the region that Grandma Moses immortalized in her paintings—taking a tour of a sugar maple farm may make you feel like you've stepped inside one of her classic rural scenes. Stay at the historic 1857 Eddington House Inn in North Bennington, where the super-helpful staff can direct you to the best farmstands and "sugarmakers." While you're in the Bennington area, don't miss the magnificent collection of Grandma Moses paintings at the Bennington Museum, and the Robert Frost House, devoted to that great American poet's inspiring words. For a look at a local sugarmaker in action, contact Dutton's Farm Stand, in nearby Manchester.
Montreal. The Quebec province of Canada is where 80 percent of the world's maple syrup is produced. An hour's drive outside Montreal you'll find a wonderland of "sugar shacks," each offering tours of tapped trees and sugar-making activities. Families with kids will especially love the shacks that include a steam train or pony ride. Stay at Le Square Phillips Hotel & Suites, a 15-minute walk from the landmark Notre-Dame Basilica, with spacious guest rooms with kitchenettes from $133 (USD). To see a Canadian sugarmaker at work—and to take a steam train ride around the farm, visit Cabane a Sucre Bouvrette, about an hour's drive outside Montreal.
Wisconsin. Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Big Woods" are a maple wonderland! Make downtown Milwaukee your home base for this trip, at the lovely art-deco style Ambassador Hotel (from $143) and explore hight art at the Milwaukee Art Museum (stunning Picassos and Kandinskys, among other classical and modern works) and beer & pretzels at a Milwaukee Brewers baseball game. Head out into the country for tours of sugarmakers and farmstands during their busy April season. For tours and samples, contact Inthewoods Sugar Bush, about an hour and 20 minutes' drive north of Milwaukee.
I recommended maple syrup getaways recently on The Weather Channel's "Wake Up With Al." Here's a video clip of my appearance: