Northern Vermont is a family-friendly playground with a topography that wows: To the west, Lake Champlain’s blue-green waters create a border with New York, reflecting the towering shadows of the Adirondacks on one shore, and on the other the emerald Green Mountains. For centuries the lake served as the lifeblood of local Native American tribes and captured the imaginations of passing explorers. It was also a pivotal area during the Revolutionary War. Today the landscape is dotted with quaint burgs offering a smorgasbord of activities. Here, an insider’s guide to summer—kid-approved.
LAY OF THE LAND
Get to know the area’s rich history at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, in the town of Vergennes. Kids can board a moored replica of a 1776 gunboat, Philadelphia II, watch a blacksmithing demonstration or head out on the water in search of the lake’s approximately 300 shipwrecks—viewed in real time using an underwater robotic camera that relays information to the boat’s monitor. Break for a flaky pain au chocolat at Vergennes Laundry, a chic French bakery housed in a former launderette, and continue north toward Burlington. Along the way, treat the little ones to a tour—and maybe a new friend—at Vermont Teddy Bear Company. Just a mile north on Shelburne Road, the region’s main thoroughfare, the Shelburne Museum has exhibits that cater to kids. Check out the nearly 850 dolls in the vintage toy collection. In Burlington, see 40-pound sturgeon and 15 species of frogs and uncover the mystery of Champ, Lake Champlain’s mythical serpent, at ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center. Stop for lunch at the Skinny Pancake, which has nearly 30 varieties of crepes.
If the weather is nice, book a private keelboat lesson for the family with Lake Champlain Community Sailing. For a more leisurely experience, Lake Champlain Shoreline Cruises gives daily tours on the Spirit of Ethan Allen III.
Landlubbers can rent bikes from the Local Motion Trailside Center and pedal the lakefront’s 7.5-mile path, or tackle the rock-climbing walls and the ropes course at Petra Cliffs.
Of course, two of the best things about Vermont are its rolling countryside and its cheese, and a great place to experience both is Shelburne Farms, a 19th-century National Historic Landmark and working farm. Visitors can explore more than 10 miles of picturesque walking trails, watch cheese-mongers make artisanal cheddar with milk from the resident Brown Swiss cows, or get to know rabbits, sheep and goats in the Children’s Farmyard. For a slightly more challenging experience, consider a hike in Mt. Philo State Park, where a three-quarter mile climb to the summit provides the perfect photo op, in front of Lake Champlain and the surrounding peaks.
On the way home, swing by Archie’s Grill for a LaPlatte River Angus burger and a side of the wavy house-made potato chips. For dessert, nothing hits the spot for Vermonters like a maple “creemee” (the term locals use for soft-serve ice cream); the best swirl in town is at the lakeside Burlington Bay Café.
HOP IN THE CAR
Less than 30 miles southeast of Burlington, Highway 89 winds past Camel’s Hump Mountain to the towns of Waterbury and Stowe. At Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory, kids can see ice cream being made and indulge their sweet tooth with a scoop of the day. Continue north on Waterbury-Stowe Road for an apple cider doughnut at Cold Hollow Cider Mill, where the cider press dates from the 1920s.
Vermont can be warm, and humid, in summer. Cool down with a dip at Waterbury Center State Park, where you can also rent a paddleboard or kayak at Umiak Outdoor Outfitters and cruise the park’s 850-acre reservoir, which has panoramic views of the Green Mountains.
Back on the road, continue north to Stowe for some souvenir hunting at Laughing Moon Chocolates, which sells hand-dipped artisan confections, or head down the street to Bear Pond Books, an independent shop with an extensive children’s section. Downstairs, Stowe Mercantile, an old-fashioned country store, offers dozens of tasty samples (locally made salsas, jams and cheeses) and a selection of Vermont-made wooden ware, goat’s-milk bath products and, of course, maple syrup.
Order sandwiches to go at nearby Green Goddess Café, then follow Mountain Road up to Smugglers’ Notch State Park. This narrow pass between 1,000-foot cliffs between Mount Mansfield—Vermont’s highest point—and Spruce Peak was once a vital route to Canada. Getting to the park on the switchback Mountain Road (which closes in winter) is half the fun, and the giant boulders and caves just behind the parking lot provide an ideal spot to picnic and poke around the birch tree forest.
For a bit more excitement, you can zip down the 2,300-foot Alpine Slide at Stowe Mountain Resort, on Spruce Peak.
The hills are alive with activities at Trapp Family Lodge, home of the Sound of Music’s real-life von Trapp family, who purchased the property after emigrating from Austria during WWII and began renting rooms to skiers. Today visitors can take a Trapp Family history tour, sample Linzer torte or apple strudel, play a game of disc golf on the mountaintop course and unwind with an evening concert in the meadow—a perfect ending to a summer weekend in Vermont.
Lake Champlain Maritime Museum: 4472 Basin Harbor Rd.; 1.802.475.2022
Vermont Teddy Bear Company: 6655 Shelburne Rd., Shelburne; 1.800.829.2327; vermontteddybear.com
Shelburne Museum: 6000 Shelburne Rd.; 1.802.985.3346; shelburnemuseum.org
ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center: 1 College St., Burlington; 1.802.864.1848; echovermont.org
Lake Champlain Community Sailing: 234 Penny Lane, Burlington; 1.802.864.2499; communitysailingcenter.org
Lake Champlain Shoreline Cruises: Burlington Boathouse, 1 College St., Burlington; 1.802.862.8300; soea.com
Local Motion Trailside Center: 1 Steele St. #103, Burlington; 1.802.652.2453; localmotion.org
Petra Cliffs: 105 Briggs St., Burlington; 1.802.657.3872; petracliffs.com
Shelburne Farms: 1611 Harbor Rd., Shelburne; 1.802.985.8686; shelburnefarms.org
Mt. Philo State Park: 5425 Mt. Philo Rd., Charlotte; 1.802.425.2390; vtstateparks.com
Burlington Bay Café: 125 Battery St., Burlington; 1.802.864.0110; burlingtonbaycafe.com
Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory: 1281 Waterbury–Stowe Rd., Waterbury; 1.866.258.6877; benjerry.com
Cold Hollow Cider Mill: 3600 Waterbury.Stowe Rd., Waterbury Center; 1.800.327.7537; coldhollow.com
Waterbury Center State Park: 177 Reservoir Rd., Waterbury Center; 1.802.244.1226; vtstateparks.com
Umiak Outdoor Outfitters: 1.802.253.2317; umiak.com
Laughing Moon Chocolates: 78 S. Main St.; 1.802.253.9591; laughingmoonchocolates.com
Bear Pond Books: Old Depot Building, 38 Main St.; 1.802.253.8236; stowebooks.com
Stowe Mercantile: Old Depot Building, 37 Main St.; 1.802.253.4554; stowemercantile.com
Smugglers’ Notch State Park: 6443 Mountain Rd.; 1.802.253.4014; vtstateparks.com
Stowe Mountain Resort: 7416 Mountain Rd.; 1.888.253.4849; stowe.com
Trapp Family Lodge: 700 Trapp Hill Rd.; 1.800.826.7000; trappfamily.com