Written by Sarah Galbraith
All photos by Tristan Von Duntz
With outdoor recreation opportunities aplenty and easy access from Interstate 89, Vermont’s capital city is a great choice for a weekend away. Montpelier is the country’s smallest capital – and the only one without a McDonald’s – but it has big character. I’ve been using this central Vermont locale for my adventure jumping-off point for 11 years, and think this city has everything to offer the outdoor adventurer. Spend a few days and see for yourself!
What to Do
Hiking – My favorite day hike is the Worcester Range, spanning a total of 12 miles from the climb up White Rock to the descent down Worcester Mountain. The peaks and sags in between these two summits offer miles of quiet deep-woods solitude, with serene mountain views to the White Mountains to the east and Green and Adirondack Mountains to the west.
The range is accessed by heading north from Montpelier on Elm Street and Route 12. Hikers can opt for half-day trips over a portion of the range, or can arrange to leave a car at both ends and spend a full day hiking the ridge from end to end, enjoying several summit views along the way.
The Green Mountain Club’s Day Hiker’s Guide to Vermont offers detailed directions and trail descriptions. My favorite way to map my route, however, is the waterproof trail hiking map of this range (and Mt. Mansfield on the reverse side), also produced by the Green Mountain Club. Both the guidebook and map can be purchased at Onion River Sports on Langdon Street and Bear Pond Books on Main Street in downtown Montpelier, or on the Green Mountain Club’s website (www.greenmountainclub.org).
Mountain Biking – Montpelier is centrally located to all of my favorite mountain biking, including the renowned Kingdom Trails (http://www.kingdomtrails.org/), a top-ranked network providing hours – even days – of singletrack and downhill riding. KT is about hour to the northeast on Route 2 East. To the north, in Stowe, Cady Hill Town Forest (www.stowemountainbike.org) provides miles of happy singletrack, including well-known flow trail, Florence. To the south, the Mad River Valley (www.madriverriders.org) offers plenty of intermediate and expert riding terrain. I never leave home without my statewide trails map, produced by the Vermont Mountain Bike Association (www.vmba.org). It’s cheap, supports Vermont’s active mountain bike scene, and can be purchased at Onion River Sports on Langdon Street in downtown Montpelier.
Paddling – I don’t personally own a boat, but I love the water – and I love the boat rentals and facilities at Wrightsville Reservoir. This spot is just a few miles north of Montpelier on Route 12, and it offers all-day water fun including a sandy beach, swimming, and boat rentals, including paddles and flotation, which are available from 9:30am to 7pm. Boat options include stand-up paddle boards, kayaks and canoes. And, when you’re done playing the water, there’s great spots for picnicking and grilling at the park and a fun and family-friendly disc golf course! There is a small fee to enter the park ($3.50 per adult, $2 for kids 3-12, and free for little kids).
Riders tour the countryside near Montpelier, Vermont
Where to Eat
Vermont is a well-known leader in both farm-to-plate eating and craft beer production. My favorite place to get both is at Three Penny Taproom (www.threepennytaproom.com) on Main Street. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable about the food and beer, and a sign hanging by the entrance proclaims they proudly do not serve Anheiser-Busch products! I recommend the the burger and any on tap from the Alchemist, Hill Farmstead, or Lawson’s Finest Liquids.
Other favorite eateries of mine include Skinny Pancake (www.skinnypancake.com), where they pack local meats, vegetables and cheeses into light and fluffy crepes – a delightful treat any time of day. The newest breakfast joint in town, Down Home Kitchen (www.downhomekitchenvt.com), always gets rave reviews for their southern comfort and hearty meals. They’ve just added lunch and dinner, too. The Mad Taco (www.themadtaco.com) offers tacos, burritos and more, plus a line-up of house made hot sauces labeled for heat on a scale of 1-10. Be careful, they are seriously hot! And, if you’re looking for a primo picnic spot, the green in front of the Statehouse is superb for spreading out a blanket and tossing a Frisbee.
Where to Stay
Visitors looking to rough it a little can head north on Route 12 to Elmore State Park for camping, swimming, and hiking. I love Vermont’s state parks because they are beautiful, clean, and well-maintained, and the staff is always a wealth of information when it comes to finding outdoor adventure. Or, take Route 2 East to Groton State Forest where there are five more state parks offering camping, swimming, hiking, and rail trail biking on the Cross Vermont Trail (www.crossvermont.org).
If you’re looking for more glamorous accommodations, the Inn at Montpelier (www.innatmontpelier.com), located on Main Street, offers the most incredible front porch, as well as beautiful rooms, continental breakfast, cable TV and WIFI, among other amenities. I hear they also offer homemade baked goodies in the afternoon!
Sarah Galbraith is an writer and adventurer based in Marshfield, Vermont