A wild ride awaits down Route 17 from Appalachian Gap through the Mad River Valley.
Photo Credit : Corey Hendrickson
VERMONT FOLIAGE DRIVE
Distance: about 60 miles one way
Vergennes, Vermont’s oldest city, is the starting point of a spectacular roller-coaster ride from west to east, slicing through the heart of the Green Mountain State. And with exceptional eateries along the way, there’s no need to pack provisions.
Begin your excursion at Vergennes Laundry, where pastries and breads are made in a wood-fired oven. If the European vibe and minimalist aesthetic—white walls, high ceilings, a few long shared tables—aren’t quite your cup of cappuccino (made to order by co-owner Didier Murat, a native of France), head down the street to 3 Squares Café, which makes possibly the best French toast in the world.
Now don’t forget to detour west, just a 10-minute drive, to visit Lake Champlain Maritime Museum in Basin Harbor. With exhibits of watercrafts, shipwrecks, working ship replicas, and boatbuilding, you’re sure to see the great lake in a new light.
Then head back east again on Route 17, as your drive winds past farmland through New Haven, climbs to views of South Mountain and Mount Ellen, and on to Bristol. Bristol’s downtown area is a National Historic District. Poke around shops like Art on Main, with works by more than 100 Vermont artists, or Vermont HoneyLights, which sells handcrafted beeswax candles. Visit the Robert Compton showroom, displaying the artist’s pottery, including fountains and aquariums, all made in one of his many self-built kilns. You might learn about the fascinating art (and science!) behind his work from Robert himself or from his wife, Christine Homer, a talented weaver, who manages the showroom.
Leaving Bristol on Route 17, you’ll climb nearly 2,000 feet in elevation to the top of Appalachian Gap. If you notice a trail of cars following, take advantage of the many pull-offs along the way. At the summit, stop and soak in views of the Mad River Valley to the east, the Champlain Valley to the west, and the Adirondacks in the distance.
What goes up must come down—and on your descent, before reaching Waitsfield, you’ll pass Mad River Glen Ski Area, home of the iconic single chair. When you reach Route 100, you might want to venture six miles south to Sugarbush Ski Resort in Warren. Take a chairlift ride to the summit for a wide-angle view of fall foliage.
Or instead, follow the Mad River on Route 100 north through Waitsfield. Still following the river, bear right on Route 100B through Moretown to reach Route 2, driving east to Montpelier, allowing for a gracious entry to the smallest state capital in the country. You’ll spot Ceres, Roman goddess of agriculture, gracing the gold dome atop the Vermont State House. Remember all the local food you ate on this trip? Well, Ceres thanks you.
You’ll find lots to explore in Montpelier: the Vermont History Museum, Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks (three miles outside town), Hubbard Park (take a short hike, then climb the Hubbard Park Tower for a view of the city), plus an abundance of shops, bookstores, and restaurants. At night, a great place to rest your head is the Inn at Montpelier. From here, you can go anywhere with direct access to Interstate 89, one of two major highways in Vermont. Or, just turn around and head back to Vergennes for a whole different view of this fun roller-coaster foliage ride, this time from east to west.
SEE MORE:Vermont Foliage Drive | Photographs