Day 1: Burlington, Vermont
Arrive in Burlington and transfer to our hotel. Depending on your arrival time, explore a bit of this lively small city on Lake Champlain before our welcome dinner this evening.
Day 2: Birds of Vermont Museum / Double Gap Loop / Shelburne Farms
Take a private tour of the Birds of Vermont Museum this morning and look for abundant local species during a bird walk on the grounds. Then it's up into the Green Mountains on one of the most spectacular drives in Vermont, crossing Appalachian Gap and Lincoln Gap, two of the state's highest passes. On this winding foray through mountain hardwood forests, we'll stop for scenic vistas and a walk in the woods. Descending to the Champlain Valley once again, end the day at Shelburne Farms, a non-profit organization whose mission is to inspire and cultivate learning for a sustainable future. On original Abenaki, land, the 1,400-acre farm and woodlands are a National Historic Landmark. After a short hike on the property and a tour to learn about the farm's heritage and conservation mission, dinner is served at Shelburne’s farm-to-table restaurant, where dishes feature farmstead cheddar cheese, pasture-raised meats and organic fruits and vegetables.
Day 3: Optional Hot Air Ballooning / Lake Willoughby
Early risers may choose a sunrise hot air balloon ride (additional cost) — there is simply nothing like seeing the variegated colors of Vermont’s forests and Lake Champlain from the air. Those not ballooning will enjoy a leisurely morning in and around Burlington with a chance for a short local hike. This afternoon, we travel to Vermont’s most rural sector, the Northeast Kingdom. This three-county region is a heavily forested area lying between the Green Mountains on the west and the Connecticut River on the east. Along the way we’ll stop at an artisan farm, and we'll visit with renowned Vermont landscape painter Eric Tobin at his studio and gallery in Johnson before arriving at Lake Willoughby, our destination for the next three nights. Depending on what time we arrive, we may have a chance for a short introductory hike or canoe outing from our historic farmhouse inn, once the centerpiece of a lakefront farm where Robert Frost and his family were summer guests in 1909.
Day 4: Canoeing / Jasper Hill Farm / Hiking in Groton State Forest
After breakfast at the inn, we’ll canoe the clear, cold waters of Lake Willoughby, which fill a deep gap between Mt. Pisgah and Mt. Hor, with Willoughby State Forest wrapping the lake’s southern end. While this is a less-visited part of Vermont, its dense woodlands and mountains offer prime foliage viewing. We then head to Jasper Hill Farm to tour its cheesemaking operation. Local pasture-fed Ayrshire cows provide milk for 12 varieties of award-winning handcrafted cheese including the original soft washed-rind Willoughby. After lunch, continue to a location where the fall colors are most vivid—perhaps Groton State Forest for a walk among the hardwoods and evergreens, with blazing leaves contrasting against the dark spruce. Return to the inn with time to relax before dinner.
Day 5: Fall Foliage Viewing in the Northeast Kingdom
Our itinerary today is flexible, in order to pursue “leaf peeping” where the colors are best. We may explore nearby Willoughby State Forest, or head north or south depending on how the foliage is transitioning. Several scenic overlooks promise dramatic vistas. We’ll likely have another chance to canoe on Lake Willoughby at some point today, too. By now, we have come to relish the quiet pace in northeast Vermont, reveling in autumn's exuberant beauty away from crowds.
Day 6: Maple Sugar Farm / Franconia, New Hampshire / Kancamagus Highway / Bethlehem
This morning we depart for New Hampshire, traveling south to Franconia. We avoid major highways for peaceful backroads, stopping en route at a maple sugar farm to learn how trees sap is turned into syrup each spring. Vermont is the nation’s largest producer of maple syrup, generating 2 million gallons a year, nearly half the U.S. annual production. Maple sap is a precious commodity, with 44 gallons required to make just one gallon of real maple syrup. Once we reach Franconia, we stop for lunch with time to browse the small town before checking in to our contemporary boutique hotel in nearby Bethlehem. Later this afternoon, drive a portion of the famous Kancamagus Highway, one of New England’s most acclaimed fall foliage routes. This National Scenic Byway traverses the White Mountain National Forest, paralleling two rivers and passing numerous waterfalls. We stop for a short hike away from the road and enjoy “golden hour” light at sunset, when most travelers have moved on.
Day 7: Mount Washington Cog Railway / Crawford Notch State Park
Today holds one of the major highlights of our New England adventure: a train ride to the top of Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast. An engineering feat when it was completed in 1869, the Mount Washington Cog Railway climbs 3,719 feet from the base station to the 6,288-foot summit. With an average grade of 25% (some sections approach 38%), it is the second-steepest rail line in the world. The journey to the top takes just under an hour, and the weather can change drastically along the way as we pass through three climate zones. Keep your eyes open for moose and black bear sightings as we climb. Once we reach the top, there’s time to explore subarctic tundra environment and admire the 360-degree view from the observation deck. Adjacent to the visitor center is the historic Tip Top House, the original summit hotel built of granite stones in 1853, when only intrepid hikers were rewarded with a stay at the wind-buffeted outpost. This afternoon, we explore Crawford Notch State Park, one of New Hampshire's top fall foliage destinations. Countless trails wind among the cliffs, streams and waterfalls in the park, offering an intimate encounter with nature. This evening, we gather for a farewell dinner at a special restaurant in Franconia before returning to our inn for the night.
Day 8: Bethlehem / Bath / Burlington / Depart
Our New England autumn sojourn comes to a close today as we complete our loop back to Burlington to meet departing flights this afternoon. But the foliage viewing doesn’t end, as we have a scenic 2.5-hour drive to enjoy more spectacular leaves. Following Highway 302 along the Ammonoosuc River, we make a rest stop in Bath to admire the classic 1832 Bath covered bridge and take a peek inside the famous Brick Store, the nation’s oldest continuously operating general store, opened in 1790. Then cross the Connecticut River once more to re-enter Vermont. Continue across the Green Mountains through the capital of Montpelier to reach Burlington by late morning, where our trip concludes at the airport. Guests should not make flight arrangements prior to 1:00 pm.
Physical Rating: Moderate