Driving through Vermont is a scenic experience in any season, but the state’s fall foliage is an international favorite. Visitors come to delight in the bright colors that the trees display as they prepare for winter. Vivid scenes of mountains and trees can be enjoyed from either of the two highways in the state or while navigating the back roads.
The foliage generally begins to change in mid-September, and the fall color areas remain until mid-October, depending on numerous factors, including spring and summer weather, fall winds, and rain and nighttime temperatures. Updated fall foliage reports are available online throughout the season for Vermont and neighboring states.
For many Vermonters, it is actually the season after ‘peak foliage’ that offers the best scenic drive. The days are getting shorter, and the low light in November can almost create mirages through the open trees, illuminating rarely seen mountain views in shades of browns and oranges. Often referred to as “value season” by Vermont inns and bed and breakfasts, many lodging properties offer deep discounts in late October through Thanksgiving. Some even extend these agreements in early December.
Whether you choose the fall tourist season or Vermonter’s value season, Vermont’s Scenic Byways are a great place to start. Details of specific routes and their attractions and access to updated maps can be found on the Vermont Byways program website.
Scenic Route 100 Byway
The Scenic Route 100 Byway really begins when you follow Route 8 from Clarksburg, Massachusetts north across the state line to Stamford, Vermont, or when you take Route 105 east from Newport and join Route 100 at the Northeast Kingdom. Possibly one of the most scenic routes in the state, it’s also the longest – it takes more than five hours without stops to traverse the entire length. Route 100 is thus divided into several shorter regional scenic drives between shopping malls where Vermonters conduct their non-tourism business.
- The Green Mountain Byway runs from Waterbury on Route 100 north to Stowe and includes portions of Routes 100 and 108 further north.
- The stretch of the Killington Region Scenic Route 100 Byway runs from North Ludlow to Pittsfield.
- Mad River Byway Horseshoes from Middlesex Village on Route 2 South on Route 100B to Route 100 in Waitsfield, then down to Warren and back north to Route 17 and up to the Appalachian Gap.
Connecticut River Byway
The Connecticut River Byway on the eastern side of the state connects Vermont and New Hampshire across both banks of the Connecticut River. The trail flies from Putney north to Rockingham, using both sides of the river on Route 5 in Vermont and Route 12 in New Hampshire, with charming stops in small river towns on either side. You can even drive across the longest covered bridge in New England – the Windsor-Cornish Covered Bridge spans the Connecticut River.
Byway Molly Stark
The Molly Stark Byway connects the southern Vermont cities of Brattleboro in the east with Bennington in the west via Route 9, which is rural with the exception of the quintessential town of Wilmington. Another scenic drive from east to west is the newly designated Crossroad of Vermont Byway. Follow Route 4 through the state between White River Junction and West Rutland, stopping at Quechee, Woodstock, Killington, and Mendon with a detour to scenic Jenne Farm if time permits.
Shires of Vermont Byway
The Shires of Vermont Byway begins on Route 7 in Pownal after arriving in Vermont from the Berkshires, and then connects to Historic Route 7A in Bennington, continuing through Arlington and into Manchester Center. Here, it connects to the Stone Valley Byway, which takes Route 30 into Manchester through Dorset past Lake St. Catherine and up to Castleton, covering much of the ground of the state’s slate and marble quarry stories.
Lago Champlain Byway
The Lake Champlain Byway runs largely along Lake Champlain, beginning north on Route 2 in the Champlain Islands and south to Route 7 near Burlington. Continue through the Lower Champlain Valley to Middlebury, where you can choose between two different units. Route 30 South past Whiting and then to Orwell on Route 73 turns onto Route 74 near the New York state line and back to Middlebury via Shoreham and some of Vermont’s most glorious farmland.
Route 125 to the Green Mountain National Forest leads through the wooded town of Ripton and over the Middlebury Gap to Route 100 in Hancock. While not a designated trail, a jewel in Vermont’s fall foliage crown takes you south on Route 100 from Hancock to the town of Rochester, then onto Route 73 – the highway that leads to Brandon Gap with high cliffs, wooded path trails and occasional moose sightings. Then head down to the artsy town of Brandon.
For another memorable fall driving experience, start early with breakfast in Montpelier, the capital of Vermont, then head to the Northeast Kingdom on Route 12 or Route 14. When you reach Route 15, continue north, get lost and find yourself in Vermont countryside with the most eclectic collection of small towns and country shops. Don’t forget to bring a T-shirt… and a GPS.
About the Author: Rachel Carter, our guest writer, is an entrepreneur and owner who works in the Vermont travel, agriculture, public relations and journalism industries.