Crunching through crusted-over snow, surrounded by towering pines and sleeping white birch, my breath comes in short, sharp puffs of white vapor. I’m making my way up to the Skyline Trail from Hogback in Putnam State Forest, ascending to the ridge that connects the Worcester Mountains, and right now, I’m feeling every step.
When I set out this morning, I just wanted to get some perspective and to see the side of Vermont that I grew up exploring. Those rugged, wild spaces where I became a stee-grade hiking, icy-river-swimming, backwoods Mowgli. But I’ve been walking — scrambling, really – for what feels like hours and my legs are getting that dull-leaden feeling.
“Another twenty steps,” I tell myself. Then another thirty. The woods thin a little. Soon, the ground starts to even out and I’m on the ridge. The gentle roll of green velvet mountains unfurls beneath the misty purple of the morning sky. This is Vermont. My first love.
Sometimes you just need to seek out solitude. And there’s no place better to burrow into the quiet side of life than the village of Stowe. Situated just three-and-a-half hours from Boston, 40 minutes from Burlington, or, if you’re feeling extra saucy, eight hours from Philadelphia, Stowe is a postcard-perfect small town tucked into the Green Mountains — with a population just shy of 4,500.
Stowe’s cultural scene punches well above its weight and it plays home to some absolutely fantastic restaurants, but the town’s real draw is all of the hiking, mountain biking, snowshoeing, skiing, and swimming opportunities found nearby. Here’s our guide to the perfect long weekend in Vermont’s loveliest hamlet.
Day One: A Stop in Waterbury and a Wander Around Stowe
On the drive from Burlington to Stowe, as the road started to get curvier and my surroundings shifted from flat farms to snow-dusted foothills, I realized that a quick stopover in Waterbury was a must. Yes, I’d just arrived, but when you’re in northern Vermont, you can’t skip Waterbury’s main attraction.
I am referring, of course, to the Ben and Jerry’s Factory. True to B&J form, you won’t have to worry about missing the turn-off: the signs are very visible and, if you’re coming from the south, there’s no excuse to skip it.
After going “full glutton” on Phish Food (in a cup, thank you very much) and wandering around the flavor graveyard, where each defunct flavor has its own tombstone and a poem, I hopped back in my car and drove another 15 minutes north on the 100 to Stowe, where I decided to stay at the Field Guide Lodge.
A 10-minute walk from Main Street and a 15-minute drive from the best skiing in the area, the Field Guide is a multi-building alpine lodge with a modern twist and, most importantly, a fireplace perfect for sitting in front of on cold evenings. Alternatively, if you’re visiting in the summer, there’s a pool, a fire pit, and plenty of outdoor seating tucked into the hillside.
After I dropped my stuff in a pile in the corner, thus ruining the hotel’s clean aesthetic, I pulled on my boots and headed back towards town. My first stop: the Ski and Snowboard Museum. It was always a place I begged my parents — neither of whom are skiers or winter sports people in any sense of the term — to take me to. Yet, it remained a mystery to me. Until now. The hours are limited, and it’s a small space (housed in the Town Meeting Hall), but the antique skis were fascinating and made me appreciate the history of the sport.
Next, I wander down the street to Café on Main, a no-frills café and bakery serving up solid coffee and a mean grilled cheese (with Vermont cheddar, of course), which I dipped contentedly in a mug of African peanut soup. In the same complex, you’ll find both a cutesy gift shop full of flannel pajamas and endearingly bad moose puns, and a women’s boutique where I 100-percent had to drag myself out of the store, lest I buy yet another gauzy sundress I don’t need.
From there I made my way, like a piece of metal being pulled by a magnet, to the white, steepled church to watch the sunset. How could I not? It is what I, and so many others before me, think of as Vermont. From a distance, it’s an unreal postcard, but up close, it towers overhead — more impressive than a simple quaint church. The steeple — visible from most locations in town — would function as my touchstone for the next few days, grounding me in time and space.
Day Two: Hike to Your Heart’s Content
When I arrived in Vermont, spring mud season was just beginning. Rain fell almost endlessly, and walking around in the valley was a matter of jumping over puddles and avoiding the deepest messes of mud. But what should have been the seasonal warm-up to spring quickly dipped into freezing territory, rain turning to snow. Just a dusting, but still. It felt like a good sign.
Enjoying the cold, I headed to Putnam State Forest, to the east of the village, where I started to ascend the Stowe Pinnacle Trail — a 3.7 mile trail that starts gently enough but quickly turns into a steep, almost staircase-like climb. There was plenty of old snow left over, so I was grateful to have my crampons. While I wasn’t one of the lucky ones on this trip, if the hiking gods decide to bless you, you’ll run into the trail dogs — two golden retrievers who live near the track. If you’re super lucky, the pups may even decide to accompany you to the pinnacle.
Instead of stopping and the pinnacle, I hooked up with the Hogback Trail, which took me another mile to the Skyline Trail. It’s a punishing hike, to say the least, but worth it for the views and all three trails are doable year-round. That said, the Skyline Trail isn’t very highly trafficked, so beware of moose. I didn’t see any but I did find fresh scat, so I was on high alert and I decided to head back to my car early.
When I got back to town, I grabbed a bagel and cream cheese at The Bagel, just down the road from my hotel. It was kettle-boiled and had the right snap as I tore into it, hitting the post-hike spot. After eating, I realized I wasn’t that tired, so I decided to go back to the forest.
Am I about to tell you to do two hikes in one day? Hell yes, I am. Because in Stowe, anything is possible. I went north to Sterling Falls, where I walked half a mile to find a 105-foot tall fall, several pools, and lots of solitude. If you go in the dead of winter, you can snowshoe for extra adventure points. And Sterling is even more stunning in the summer and fall. Fair warning: it’s also much, much busier.
When I was done pretending I was Henry David Thoreau, I headed back to town and ate dinner at Doc Ponds — where I treated myself to some creamy smoked bluefish dip and finished off my night with a crispy chicken sandwich slathered in sesame slaw and hoisin barbecue sauce.
Day Three: Hit the Slopes (or, if it’s Summertime, go cliff-jumping at Warren Falls)
As I was in Stowe right at the tail end of the season, I didn’t expect much in the way of good snow. But the light snowfall on my first night in town blanketed the mountain in just enough fresh powder to make me feel like I had arrived in the middle of the season, minus the crowds, of course.
I started at Spruce Peak and took the Sensation Quad up to the top of Spruce. After I was done gawking at the valley below, I headed to my left and found the packed powder of the Sterling Trail, which curved along the contours of the forest. Wind whipping in my face, I realized, this was what I had come for. Skiing solo is one of my favorite things to do in the world. The white noise of the wind, the lack of other human beings — it made me feel like I was the last human on earth, and I didn’t have to answer to anyone else. I did a few runs down Sterling and then made my way over to the west side of the slopes, alternating routes until I was exhausted. I knew it was time to head home when I was sitting slope-side with tea and didn’t have the heart to put my gloves back on.
If you’re heading to Stowe in the summer, never fear. Not only can you take the Stowe gondola almost to the top of Mt. Mansfield and take in views for days, but you can also explore all the swimming holes northern Vermont has to offer. Hit the Waterbury Reservoir and Lake Elmore, two large, well-known, Instagram-friendly spots. Or visit Bingham Falls, a half mile hike to a tall waterfall with deep pools. If you want a more adventurous experience, I recommend Warren Falls — home to a series of falls and pools which are perfect for cliff jumping.
Day Four: Relaxation Nation
Perhaps surprising no one, I was a bit sore after three days of adventure. I went and had breakfast in the lodge, and, after I sated myself with fresh croissants and all the green apple slices and swiss cheese I could handle, returned to my room to soak in the tub while staring out at the rolling hills. There was a package of bath salts waiting by the tub, crying out to soothe my aching muscles. After I soaked and read for a while, I felt better, but I also knew that I needed more.
Later in the day (there were a lot of naps and keeping track of time got hazy), I decided to treat myself by heading out to Topnotch Resort for a Thai massage. Usually I go for deep tissue, but one of my closest friends specializes in Thai massage, and nothing has helped me recover from intense exercise quite like being pulled every which way like a rag doll. I also sat in the steam room until I transcended my physical body and my mind told me it was time to head home.
There it is. Four days. Small, quiet, blissful. A true escape in every sense of the word.