Vermont Route 100: the road to fall color

Sheep graze at the Comstock House farm in

Sheep graze at the Comstock House farm in Plainfield, Vt. (Credit: Getty Images, 2007)

Fall foliage aficionados agree: the reds, oranges and yellows just don't come any more vivid or profuse than they do in the Green Mountain State. And since such aesthetic masterpieces can be found all over Vermont, one of the most effective ways to see a continuous gallery of them is to journey right up the middle of the state on Route 100.

During the course of its 217 miles, Route 100 takes in pristine wilderness (half the route skirts the two sections of the Green Mountain National Forest), lovingly maintained farms and charming 19th century villages. And with gains in both elevation and latitude, travelers are all but guaranteed peak colors any time between late September and mid-October.

Real leaf-peepers, of course, do not live by colors alone. Adding that essential human component to nature's extravaganza all along Vermont Route 100 are scores of roadside attractions. Farm stands, art and craft galleries, general stores, sugar houses and even a winery all tempt you with their local wares, while dozens of taverns and inns beckon you inside for a leisurely meal or an overnight stay.

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While you'll have no problem finding plenty of compelling diversions yourself, here are nine recommended "pit stops," all right on or less than a mile off Route 100.

But be warned: Vermont's Route 100 is no secret. Expect to encounter plenty of fellow color seekers, especially during the first two weeks of October, which are always the two busiest of the year statewide. Accommodations are invariably easier to find midweek, and if you can continue north of Stowe, you'll be rewarded with both a road less traveled and significantly reduced prices.

The physical damage that Tropical Storm Irene wreaked along Route 100 last August has been repaired and, so far at least, predictions are for a better-than-average foliage season this year.

1. ADAMS FAMILY FARM (Wilmington)

Though most of the livestock had to be sold and agricultural activities curtailed because of financial difficulties, the popular hourlong narrated wagon ride is still offered around this sprawling farmstead that has been in the Adams family since 1865. The kids will enjoy the petting zoo and evening bonfire. Open daily through Oct. 13. Admission: $8.95 adults, $7.95 ages 2-12; 15 Higley Hill Rd., 802-464-3762, adamsfamilyfarm.com

2. VERMONT COUNTRY STORE (Weston)

Just down from Weston's Currier & Ives village green, the Vermont Country Store -- "Purveyors of the Practical and Hard-to-Find" -- was founded by the Orton family in 1946 as the nation's first restored general store. Nostalgia still abounds in both decor and merchandise, but the contemporary focus is on clothing and gourmet regional foods, with plenty of free samples. 657 Main St., 802-824-3184, vermontcountrystore.com

3. CALVIN COOLIDGE STATE HISTORIC SITE (Plymouth Notch)

More than a dozen original and restored buildings comprise the pristinely preserved town in which our 30th president was born (in a modest cabin), took the oath of office (in his boyhood home) and conducted the nation's business during the summer of 1924 (in the Grange Hall above the general store). "Silent Cal's" father was a founder of the Plymouth Cheese Factory, still operating and open daily through Oct. 14. Admission: $7.50 adults, $2 ages 6-14; 3780 Rte. 100A, Plymouth, 802-672-3773, historicsites.vermont.gov/coolidge

4. LONG TRAIL BREWERY (Bridgewater Corners)

The short, self-guided tour is an optional formality. What you really want to do at the home of Vermont's top-selling craft beer is pull up a stool at the taproom bar, a chair at the adjacent pub, or, better still, a seat on the deck overlooking Ottauquechee Brook and enjoy some of the local liquid produce, especially the fall seasonals. Admission: free; at the intersection of routes 4 and 100A, 802-672-5011, longtrail.com

5. MOSS GLEN FALLS (Granville)

While the objective is to see Vermont in its autumnal finery, it's worth remembering that Vermont has plenty of other natural beauty to offer. One of the most convenient spots to appreciate this is 35-foot-high Moss Glen Falls, just inside the Green Mountain National Forest, and less than 100 yards off Route 100. Indulge your sweet tooth afterward with some of Mom and Pop's "World's Best" maple syrup products. Their sugar farm is back in Rochester, Vt., but "Pop" Gendron sells off his truck in the public parking lot throughout foliage season. There are details and photos at newenglandwaterfalls.com; select "Vermont" and "Moss Glen (Granville)."

6. BRAND-NAME FOOD EMPORIUMS (Waterbury and Waterbury Center)

Make like a native bovine by grazing your way though a small meal at a foursome of nationally renowned factories and outlets, starting with the Green Mountain Coffee Roasters in the old train station. (Try the pumpkin spice latte.) Continue north to the Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream factory (30-minute tours) and the Cabot Cheese Annex, before concluding at the seasonally appropriate Cold Hollow Cider Mill, where the old-time presses will be running overtime (free samples) and hundreds of cider doughnuts gurgle into that familiar golden-brown shape before your eyes (waterbury.org).

7. STOWE

Not only is Stowe the East's most celebrated ski resort, it's also one of New England's most attractively set towns, nestled in the picturesque Little River Valley at the base of 4,393-foot Mount Mansfield, Vermont's highest peak (802-253-7321, gostowe.com.)

For some unforgettable bird's-eye views, drive the toll road to the 3,600-foot level ($27 a vehicle, up to six people) or ride the gondola (round-trip: $25 adults, $17 ages 6-12). Both open daily through Oct. 14. Just beyond the slopes on Route 108 lies Smugglers' Notch State Park, a boulder-strewn mountain pass towered over by 1,000 foot cliffs. Daily through Oct. 14. Day use fee: $3 adult, $2 ages 4-13. 802-253-4014, vtstateparks.com/htm/smugglers.htm

8. JOHNSON WOOLEN MILLS (Johnson)

Back when the Johnson Woolen Mills was founded in 1842, sheep were the mainstay of the local economy and the land was 80 percent deforested. The sheep are mostly gone, but the mills spin on, producing a wide variety of high-quality woolen outerwear, much of it in traditional red and green plaid patterns. The original factory now serves as the company store with plenty of bargains to stock up on before winter arrives. 51 Lower Main St., Johnson (junction of routes 15 and 100C), 877-635-WOOL, johnsonwoolenmills.com

9. NEWPORT

Four miles beyond the official end of Route 100, this ex-lumber town is not overly attractive. But Newport offers something otherwise unavailable along Route 100 -- a huge lake, even if most of 32-mile-long Lake Memphremagog ("beautiful waters" in Abenaki) does lie in Quebec. Drive along the lake, climb 3,360-foot Owl's Head (if you brought your passport), or tour the Haskell Opera House (adults $5), which straddles the U.S.-Canada border in Derby Line, 802-323-1056, discovernewportvt.com

Home, James: Newport is only two miles from Interstate 91, so you can take the only marginally less colorful -- but much faster -- interstate home.

If you go

For statewide travel information, including lodging and dining options, and twice weekly foliage reports starting the second week in September, contact the Vermont tourism department, 800-VERMONT, vermontvacation.com. For more statewide foliage information, visit foliage-vermont.com.

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