I love road tripping. I always have. It probably dates back to when I drove cross country to Montana to work at a luxury dude ranch (hello Triple Creek Ranch) when I was 18. My dad drove out with me in my Burnt Orange Pearl Honda Element. It was a sight to be seen, really. Road tripping with my dad after my spur-of-the-moment decision to go live and work in Montana was one of the best “vacations” of my life.
When you drive cross country as a young driver, you really learn the rules of the road. How to avoid double (or triple) tracker trailers. That even in Montana where there’s no speed limit, you shouldn’t really drive THAT fast (ahem, elk). You learn to always fill up when you see a gas station when you’re at a quarter tank. You also come to appreciate the time driving gives you to think… The endless stretches of road that force you to take in the new sights around you… You meet new people…. You share inside jokes with your traveling companions… like that time my dad and I bought two bags of Wisconsin cheese curds and the gas station attendant told us we were going to get, “all bound up.” (We still chuckle about that.)
Road tripping is about the memories for me, the experiences, the people, the scenery, the places. And Vermont is my favorite state in which to road trip, especially during the fall.
Fall Road Tripping in Vermont
As a Realtor in Vermont, I spend a lot of time traveling around the state. I need to sign up for the 251 Club as my travels recently have taken me to tiny Vermont towns I had previously never heard: Calais, Woodbury, Washington. With the colors fall brings, there’s no denying that it’s the best season for going for a drive, just for the hell of it, in Vermont.
This season, whether you’re following along my Vermont Fall Bucket List, coming to Vermont for the craft beer, or simply some R&R, here are some of the best fall scenic drives in Vermont to take in the best fall foliage in the world.
A friendly reminder to the Leaf Peepers out there: Yes, you still need to obey the laws of the road! You can’t stop in the middle of the road to get the best shot. No, you can’t drive so slowly that traffic gets backed up for miles and road rage sets in. (Road rage is an uncommon occurrence in Vermont. So let’s keep it that way!). Yes, you should also keep an eye out for animals: moose, bear, deer. You don’t want an encounter with one of them ruining your leaf peepin’ road trip.
Scenic Fall Drives in Vermont
Scenic Byway 100 is the most well-known scenic drive in Vermont. And for good reason; it really is stunning. Scenic 100 runs almost the length of the state, from the south to central Vermont for 146 miles. Known as Vermont’s Main Street and the “Skier’s Highway,” Route 100 is the most popular foliage drive in Vermont.
I particularly love the section of 100 from Bethel to Stowe. You’ll weave in and out of quaint little towns and take in some serious color and barn porn (yes, that’s a thing) along the way. Stop in Warren for lunch at the Warren Store and don’t miss the Moss Glen Falls for some serious natural beauty (and a three mile hike, if you need to stretch your legs).
Smuggler’s Notch Road, which closes in the winter due to its impassability with snow cover, runs 18 miles from Jeffersonville to Stowe. Perhaps it’s best well known for the tracker trailers that, every year, think they can manage to successfully pass the windy road and get stuck… They end up shutting down the road down for hours and hours.
Smuggler’s Notch Road takes you over Vermont’s highest mountain, Mount Mansfield, and has lush forest and rock formations along the way. From Jeffersonville, this road is called Route 108. From the Stowe side, it’s known as the Mountain Road. End up in Stowe and walk the five-mile bike path or settle in for some lunch and a beer at Idletyme Brewing or Von Trapp Brewing.
The Molly Stark Scenic Byway runs from Bennington in the west to Brattleboro to the east of the state. The Route 9 corridor runs for 48 miles and is the southern-most Byway in the state. This route is named after the wife of General John Stark, who is well-known Vermont figure for his victory at the Battle of Bennington.
This Byway takes you through the Green Mountain National Forest and through notable Vermont towns that are rich in history and the arts. Throughout the region, you’ll hear popular Vermont names, like Robert Frost, Grandma Moses, and Ethan Allen, along with the Starks, of course. On the route, you’ll pass through Woodford, which is the highest village in Vermont at 2,215 feet.
The Champlain Islands
In any season, driving through the Champlain Islands is one of my favorite road trips. You can’t beat the combination of the foliage and the beauty of Lake Champlain as you drive along the Lake Champlain Byway. To locals, they’re known as simply, “The Islands.” This route, even in the summer months, is uncrowded. The relativeness baren-ness of the Islands is refreshing and will take you back to simpler times.
Start in South Hero and wind up through the Islands, past Grand Isle and North Hero. At the route’s northern-most point in Alburg, you’ll be within 10 minutes of the Canadian border. Stop along the way and take explore some of the 200 miles of shoreline. The Islands aren’t chock full of amenities, so pack your lunch and stop at one of the parks to enjoy it. If you are looking for a few stops, check out Hackett’s Orchard in South Hero for a cider donut or to pick your own apples. In Grand Isle, don’t miss the Hyde Log Cabin, the oldest log cabin in the country, dating back to 1783.
The Appalachian Gap + The Middlebury Gap
Make it a two gap day and enjoy windy roads and tons of color. From the north, head south on Route 116 from Williston and pick up the Appalachian Gap (Route 117) in Starksboro. Take the App Gap from Starksboro to Waitsfield on the other side. At the top of it, spend some time taking into the long vistas. Or, if you have ample time, hike some of the trails at the top.
In Waitsfield, stop at the Mad Taco for some sustenance in the form of the best smoke meats and Mexican food you’ll find in Vermont. From the bottom of AppGap in Waitsfield, head south on Scenic Byway 100 and take it 20 miles to pick up Route 125 in Hancock – the Middlebury Gap. If you have extra time, turn off and explore Texas Falls in the Green Mountain National Forest for some stunning waterfalls. Or drop by the Ripton General Store for a classic Vermont country store (penny candy and hunting accessories, anyone?).
Looking for more information on all of Vermont’s Byways? This is a great resource for learning more about the 10 designated byways in Vermont.
What are your favorite fall drives in Vermont? Share in the comments below to keep the conversation going!