The Budget Travel Guide to Vermont

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Richard Strong Bowen

To fully appreciate the Green Mountain State’s myriad charms, you’ve simply got to slow down, stop to smell the flowers, or the aged cheese as it were, and bask in the quaint, quiet of it all.

During a drive in Vermont, it’s common to see simple, handwritten signs tempting with their advertisements of hyper-local goods. “Eggs for Sale,” “Maple Syrup Here” and “Fresh Produce” beckon drivers all along the state’s country roads. 

Unless you’re in a big hurry — and, if you’re driving through Vermont, where the pace is almost island-like, you shouldn’t be — you’ll want to factor in random, unplanned stops, a promising part of a visit to the quintessential New England state.

All-season playground

Nestled in between Massachusetts, New York and New Hampshire, Vermont is the second-least-populated U.S. state. It’s no stranger to visitors, however, who long ago began discovering the sweet state’s trove of treasures.

It starts with its rolling green mountains, duly cherished by skiers and snowboarders. Fans of the winter sport flock to Stowe for its European-like village and Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest mountain, and to Jay Peak, the beloved resort on the US-Canada border. Killington’s sheer vastness (1,509 skiable acres) explains its well-appointed nickname: The Beast. There’s a mountain for every level — and every interest too.

While skiing has never been a budget-friendly sport, those who wish to get in a day on the slopes will find flexibility is key for the gentlest prices. A midweek day pass offers the best value for your buck; at $146/day, upscale Stratton is on the high end, and at $93/day, Mount Snow is on the lower end. But the best deal is for those athletes who don’t need a chairlift to get up the mountain. One can experience The Beast for $35 — and plenty of grit and endurance to skin up the mountain.

Of course, Vermont’s mountains don’t disappear come summer, and for many, it’s a much more pleasant time to check out the trails.

Plus, it’s free in the off-season! Cyclists, trekkers, and ambitious trail runners will be rewarded with mesmerizing views at the top. If the state’s heavily forested landscape is something to see along the road, it’s otherworldly from this vantage point.

For those preferring water activities, Vermont’s warm-weather months offer a bevy of recreational activities. Lake Champlain comes alive in summer. Think paddleboarding, kayaking, fishing, swimming and sunning.

A visit to Lake Champlain is highly recommended, but it’s not the only way to splash around. All across the state are swimming holes, waterfalls and treks of varying degrees of difficulty, many with water crossings. 

Some top spots include Clarendon Gorge, Warren Falls, and Bristol Falls, though it’s  worth noting it is possible to find random waterfalls and swimming holes no matter where your adventures take you.

Beer is good

After you’ve worked up a sweat and cooled off in a river, it’s time for liquid sustenance. Vermont’s beer scene exploded years ago, but it’s still popping today, as evidenced by the astounding number of breweries across the state. That and the fact that you’re more likely to find a four-pack of craft brews than a six-pack of Budweiser at the local markets and gas stations has aided Vermont’s stellar reputation among beer drinkers. 

It’s never a bad idea to visit a brewery, and it’s an especially good idea when there’s a killer view to pair with your pint. Beer Naked in Marlboro, VT sits on the top of Hogback Mountain; the deck tables are worth waiting for. The rotating selection of craft brews pairs wonderfully with inventive and familiar bites coming out of the kitchen — bone marrow spread to please the adventurous eaters, and the cheese plate as a matter of course.

If you want to get a taste of several different breweries and a deeper understanding of why Vermont’s beer scene is superior, you might consider a Vermont Brewery Tour with 4 Points. For less than a hundred bucks, the tour includes pick-up and drop-off, multiple brewery stops and tastings, snacks and entertaining fodder from your guide. It’s a relative bargain, though not as inexpensive as creating your own beer trail with the help of this nifty website.

Cheese, please

You can find excellent local cheese in just about every Vermont grocery or general store. River Bend Market in Wilmington has a particularly unique selection of cheese from reputable cheese makers, including Vermont Creamery, Crawley, and Grafton, which has its own shop in Brattleboro.. 

A visit to Grafton Village Cheese, which sells wine and cheese accoutrements, may just inspire an impromptu picnic.

If you’d rather gallivant around the state collecting this most delicious of souvenirs, you’ll be delighted to learn there’s a Cheese Trail Map, which lists the cheese makers who welcome visitors. In July, $50 will get you into the Vermont Cheesemaker’s Festival, which offers workshops, tasting and other cheese-centric activities around the over 200 cheeses showcased.

Non-dairy provisions

While the state deserves its cheesy (sorry/not sorry!) reputation, when it comes to wallet-friendly bites, you need not look too hard to find other delicious items. 

Charming diners, cafes and bistros can be found throughout the state, but look a little closer and you’ll start to notice a smattering of food trucks.  

Vermont’s food truck scene isn’t as diverse as Portland Oregon’s or as big as Austin, Texas’s, but it’s nonetheless an exciting one. 

Nomad Food Kitchen Trailer in Dover has weekly specials in addition to a menu rounded out by ramen. About that ramen: The prices are a little steep for this part of town, but the best thing on the menu is the $5 pork bun. Loaded with glistening meat, crispy around the edges, crunchy vegetables and sweet and salty sauce, it’s basically two (three if you’re a more delicate eater) of the best bites in Vermont. 

Healthier fare can be found at Carte Blanche in Burlington. Think eclectic soups, inventive sandwiches (pork belly with miso mayo), and kimchi-topped rice bowls. As the name implies, anything goes here. 

Further North in Jefferson is chef and owner Lea Ann Macrery’s My Favorite Things. Hailing from South Africa and Malawai, Macrery might be dishing up poutine one day and a specialty beef burrito the next.

Most of the food trucks update their Instagram and Facebook pages regularly, so check there first to make sure you know how and where to find them.

Dose of Culture

Vermont boasts a number of family-friendly activities, many of which are inexpensive or free. A top pick is Bread & Puppet Theater, where puppets perform in a barn in the middle of the Northeast Kingdom. Art can be purchased here too — and for a nominal fee.

Want to add a history lesson to your Vermont visit? The Vermont Historical Society offers an interesting look at the state’s history, including a collection depicting the early days of skiing. 

The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum also offers a history lesson with its model gallery showing the evolution of boat building in the region and The Roost, a cabin featuring stories of women on the water -- lighthouse keepers and lake explorers. 

Both children and adults will find joy in Vermont’s farms, whether picking blueberries in July or petting alpacas in the fall.

Midnight Goat Farm sells cheese and offers goat meetings in typical times. Maple View Farm sells alpacas and offers information on alpaca breeding, but you need not be in the market for an alpaca — visiting and petting opportunities are available at this farm.

Shelburne Farms is chock-full of animals and kid-friendly activities. Introduce the kids to donkeys, cows and sheep and pick up some pasture-farmed eggs if you haven’t already been lured off the road by an “eggs for sale” sign.

For many visitors to Vermont, a must is visiting the flagship Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream factory. Located in Waterbury, this is also where you’ll find the infamous Flavor Graveyard, just up the hill from the main building. Here you can grieve the flavors that are no longer.

Dog lovers traveling with Fido or missing Fido back at home won’t want to miss Dog Mountain, where dog-lover and artist Stephen Huneck, has created a haven for dog people. Roaming the grounds and visiting the chapel is free.

Goneantiquing 

Just up the road from the sprawling Grafton Village Cheese complex is Jeff’s Basement, an antique store with an impressive as well price-friendly selection of mid-century and postmodern furniture, lamps, and art.

For more fantastic vintage finds, Anjou & The Little Pear up in Burlington delights with cool glassware, snazzy art and old but gently used rugs.

For more eclectic finds and random finds, The Vermont Antique Mall has everything from the old-school bedside clock you didn’t know you needed to the mini cast iron pan.

And, finally, for rock-bottom prices and seriously sweet finds, including rooms full of toys and children’s games, there’s Twice Blessed. Located in Dover, right next to the dog-friendly Snow Republic Brewery, the cash-only shop a fine place to while away an hour or two and make good use of that twenty-dollar bill hiding in your wallet.

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