Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Stowe Vermont: What to do, where to go

The falls near Stowe's town center.
I just spent 3 days in Stowe, Vermont and I have to say, it was the best vacation since San Diego for me. Comparing it to the last time I was in Stowe, I have to say that it was a bit more built-up, which isn't all good, but the primary features that attracted me are still very much in force: beautiful mountains, great places to walk and a decent selection of food and relaxation.

Bike Trail

There is a long bike trail, accessible from many points throughout the town, and I recommend going for walks down it as often as you can. It's ideal day or night, and parallels a beautiful stream. In the fall, this is probably the most "Vermonty" you're going to get.

On the Mountain

The view from Mt. Mansfield.
We went to Spruce Peak Lodge and took the Gondola up Mt. Mansfield. This turns out to have been a high-point of the trip. The bar at the top is relatively small, and I didn't get food, so I have no idea if it would have been worth it, but just getting drinks and looking out over 70 miles of mountains (you can just see the New Hampshire Presidential Range in the distance on the horizon in the center of the picture to the right) was mind-blowing. You feel as if you're being let in on a secret, here. It's just too amazing to be the product of a $25 lift ride. We decided to walk down the mountain, which was interesting. If you do this, I have to caution: take breaks and don't rush. Also look for and avoid longer, wider grass. These are wet areas that will be very dangerous to walk on. I'd also ask the operators at the top what trails are best to walk down. You can also continue up from this point, which will take you on a winding path to the actual summit of Mt. Mansfield, which I'm told is even more impressive. We were ill-prepared, but I'll definitely do that hike next time!

Gracie's

We went to Gracie's for dinner, which happened to be right next door to our inn (Arbor Inn, a very small, and really nice little place). This is a really fabulous little place to get dinner, and lacks much of the pretense of many of the newer, touristy places in Stowe. I had a wonderful stuffed chicken breast, but the highlight of the night was the beef tenderloin tips stroganoff, which was truly fabulous. I believe I read that they welcome well-behaved dogs, but I didn't see any while I was there. Definitely recommend the place to dog-lovers, though, as the dog kitsch and puns never stop!

Waterfall

The falls off of Mountain Rd. (108) in Stowe.
The morning before we went to the mountain, we went for a much less demanding hike: a simple, 10 minute trek from the road gets you to one of the most beautiful little waterfalls I've ever seen. There are 3 main vantage points of increasing difficulty to reach. The first was the most awe-inspiring, and it's the easiest. This was a view from the top of the falls, down into the mini-canyon that has been formed by the water flowing through a large chunk of granite. This canyon is maybe 2-3 feet wide and 15 feet deep. I recommend standing well back from the edge, as there's nothing that would stop you from becoming stuck if you fell into the swiftly-flowing water. Next up, you can walk down a steep path to reach the edge of the falls at the bottom. From here you can see the actual falls and the pool they drain into as well as glimpse some of the river as it flows away down a rocky bed. Finally, you can descend the rough trail (very rough) to the river bed, below. You have to climb down some rocks, but it's short and requires no equipment (4-6 feet depending on where you do it). This brings you to a point where you can stand out in the middle of the stream bed (depending on water flow, I'd imagine) and look up at the falls. On the side, you are bracketed by a high cliff that seems to indicate that there's some substantial erosion still continuing, here. It looks like people continue on from here (lots of cairns down-stream), but we didn't venture any further down-stream.

Other Places to Eat

When we arrived, we went to The Shed, which isn't bad, but didn't excite either of us, and they over-cooked my burger (which was otherwise fine). We also visited Sunset Grille (apparently unrelated to the Boston establishment of the same name) and found it to be surprisingly local feeling. We even got a few hairy eyeballs from the locals at the bar, which made us feel just unwelcome enough ;-)

Of course, you can't get to Stowe, at least from the south, without a quick stop at the Cold Hollow Cider Mill. It's a tourist trap, but one with the best cider donuts I've ever tasted. Not too sweet, not to large. Just a good donut with a hint of cider in the mix. We also grabbed a couple gallons of cider to take home on the way out and shared them with friends when we got back.

Conclusion

If you go to Stowe, I'd suggest staying at the Arbor Inn if you don't mind a pure bed & breakfast, but if you want more developed accommodations, you might be able to get a good deal with one of the larger resorts in the area. I hear that Top Notch is having problems, so unless you can get a crazy deal there, I might avoid it until those get settled out, but I did hear good things about Stowehof.

Other than that, don't make the mistake of over-scheduling. Do whatever strikes your fancy, but don't plan more than 2-3 events if you're up there for an extended weekend. It's good to just play it by ear.