It has been one of my dreams to see Vermont’s fall foliage bursting through the trees, illuminating the Green Mountains into shades of honey gold, fiery red, and pumpkin orange.
It’s still just a dream.
So far…there’s been 3 trips north…and 3 swings and a miss! Timing a trip for peak foliage is a bit like trying to predict the weather -- a year in advance.
However, luckily, Stowe in that “prefall, slightly-still-summer-stage” is full of beauty and adventure, so it doesn't quite matter if you're a little off with your fall leaf pepping predictions.
Stowe is referred to as a “four seasons” town, meaning there are plenty of things to do all year round. In the spring and summer, there’s biking, hiking, and swimming holes to explore. Autumn beckons the leaf peepers of course, and in winter you'll hear the “whosh whoosh whoosh” of skis gliding down the mountain. The town itself is charming, quaint and cute -- all rolled up into one “Hallmark movie” looking moment. This article will highlight 10 popular things to do in Stowe, Vt, including some kid-approved activities too!
Where is Stowe located?
Stowe is located in northern Vermont. If flying from another region, the closest airports are: Burlington, VT (45 minutes away) and Boston Logan International (3 hours away).
How To Get Around Stowe?
To take advantage of the area’s offerings, you'll need access to your own car. There are hiking trails, scenic drives, and food tours to experience!
During ski season, there is a free public shuttle that stops at the mountain resorts -- it's called the Green Mountains Transit. Hop on and off in between your après-ski adventures.
When Is The Best Time To Visit Stowe?
Some of the most popular activities in Stowe include skiing and leaf peeping, making fall and winter high tourist seasons. However, this town has activities all year round for families to enjoy.
Generally speaking, if you're hoping to see the fall colors, the first or second week of October are your best bets. This can vary though depending on weather and rainfall patterns in any given year. Check out the special "Fall Leaf Peeping Planning" box below.
Ski season picks up in November and runs through until mid April. Stowe Mountain Resort offers over 100 trails, and nearby Spruce Peak Village has ski rentals, restaurants, and lodging. Make sure to bundle up, as temperatures usually plummet below 32 degrees and can be even chillier on the mountain.
Lastly, summer and spring are also fan-favorites, as it’s the best time of year to enjoy all the walking and biking trails that weave in and out of the Green Mountains. It doesn’t get particularly hot in Northern Vermont (high’s in the 70’s) even in the summer, so it’s a lovely escape from the beach and city humid heat.
Fall Leaf Peeping Planning: What I've learned
With 3 trips to Vermont, and no "peak leaves" spotted yet, here's what I've learned
- Weather plays a big role - One year we visited during early October, but the colors had started to turn a week earlier, and a rain storm knocked many of the leaves off. Sometimes, you're at the mercy of the weather gods!
- Elevation matters - The areas higher in the mountains may peak sooner.
- Check the fall foliage reports - Although reporting resources won't help when you make your accommodation reservations a year in advance, it will give you a good idea of what you can expect as your trip nears.
How Many Days Do You Need In Stowe?
Don’t let Stowe’s small size fool you! This tiny town is packed with activities for families, hiking addicts, and nature lovers! We visited for 2 days and didn’t have enough time to check everything off our list, so I'd recommend 3-4 full days if you're hoping to see it all!
Read on to learn about some of our favorite activities, as well as top recommendations of the best things to do in Stowe Vermont that we’re saving for a future visit.
10 Things to Do in Stowe, VT
Stroll Through Downtown STowe
Downtown Stowe is exactly what you’re envisioning when you conjure up images of a quaint and cozy country escape. There is a small downtown Main Street, filled with boutiques and local items. Our favorite shops included Stowe Mercantile, Shaw's General Store, and Bear Pond Bookstore. They carried clothing, outdoor gear, local specialities like maple syrup, and toys for kids.
There are also a few cafes and restaurants located in downtown Stowe, including Black Cap Coffee and Beer, which had excellent breakfast sandwiches and pastries, as well as Butler’s Pantry, known for serving some of the best pancakes around.
The town was especially great for kids to explore, making it one of the best things to do in Stowe, VT. There was a miniature house art installation on Main Street – this quickly became a playhouse where imaginations ran wild! And, while there was no playground downtown, that didn’t stop our kids from created their own playground per se. The town's picnic tables and park benches transformed into an impromptu jungle gym.
Hike To A Waterfall, or Two
Okay moms, I know what you’re thinking: hikes, waterfalls, toddlers…do those 3 nouns belong together? Well, good news! Both of these recommended trails are known as extremely family-friendly, making it an adventurous activity you can do with kids in Stowe, Vermont.
- Moss Glen Falls is a 5 minute drive outside the town center, and only takes about 20-30 minutes to trek to the gentle waterfall. While there is another trail that follows a more rigorous 2-3 hour hike, the short jaunt to Moss Glen Falls is beautiful and very kid friendly.
- Another recommended hike great for families in Stowe, VT is the trail to Bingham Falls. The full trail is 1.3 miles long, but is one of the shorter hiking trails in the area. It’s a popular swimming spot in warmer months for locals and tourists. However, before embarking, take note of trail conditions – this path can become quite muddy post rain, and with a steeper section at the very end, you may want to save it for a perfectly sunny day!
Get Lost in Percy's Maze
Percy's maze was one of our favorite adventures in Stowe, VT. There is a small animal farm for kids to check out, as well as a massive corn maze to venture through.
After parking next to a scenic brook, you'll cross a bridge that empties into a large green field. You can start by feeding the goats and sheep before embarking on the maze expedition. There is something about farm animals that really makes a 1 and 4 year-old wiggle their whole bodies with excitement!
When you’re finished feeding and petting the animals, it’s time to conquer the maze! I sadly won’t be sharing any Olympic record-breaking maze completion times with you, but we had a lot of fun getting lost and running around.
Tips For Maze Adventuring with a 1 year old:
- Bring a hiking carrier or baby carrier: Just throw that thing on your back, even if it’s empty to start with! The maze is estimated to take 45 min to complete, but we got lost, and it took 1.5 hours! So, a carrier is good to have for tired little legs in the group.
Drive To The Top of Mount Mansfield
Taking in the views from the top of Vermont's highest peak, Mount Mansfield, is one of the most popular things to do in Stowe. To get there, you’ll have to drive VERY CAREFULLY along the Auto Toll Road. In the 1800’s this path was used for horses, and the road is still quite narrow with many switchbacks along the way. This scenic drive is only accessible from late spring until fall, and is open from 9:30am until 4:30pm. Many people like to pack and picnic and enjoy the views at the top.
Walk The Stowe Recreation Path
One of the best ways to experience Stowe is to explore it by foot, which you can do by walking the Stowe Recreation Path. This 5.3 mile trail connects Top Notch Resort to downtown Stowe, and runs along shops, restaurants, and picturesque views of Vermont’s scenery. No motorized vehicles are allowed on the path – it is reserved for walking, biking or…piggyback rides.
Go On A Self-Guided Food Tour
There are a few highly recommended "foodie-stops" near Stowe. I’m a sucker for a free sample, and if you are too, then you’re going to enjoy your afternoon tasting some of Vermont’s finest delicacies.
- First stop: Cider Hollow Orchard. Cider Hollow Orchard is known for its' deeply delicious apple cider juice and cider donuts. You can take a self-guided tour of the facility, where you’ll see a working cider mill in action, and enjoy some samples. There's also an onsite restaurant open for breakfast and lunch if you want to keep the cider flavor going.
- Second stop: Cabot Cheese! You’ll easily find Cabot products sold all throughout Vermont, but the cheese store also includes a wide selection artisanal cheeses, as well as other specialty products.
- Lastly, it's time to visit Ben and Jerry’s ice cream store. Ben and Jerry’s Stowe location is the only factory open to the public. Tickets are required to participate in the tour and to enter the gift shop. However, if you’re not up for a tour, you can head over to the “Scoop Shop,” to taste some of the classics, or walk through the “ice cream graveyard” and pay your respects to the retired flavors.
Ride The Gondola To The Top of Mount Mansfield
If you're looking for some epic hiking that snakes across the Green Mountains, and is filled with adventure, you'll absolutely find that in Stowe.
But, if you've woken up today and have that itch to see the views, but perhaps the kids are being...kids...then there's luckily another way to take in the gorgeous scenery.
Buy a gondola ticket at Stowe Mountain Resort, and enjoy the ride up! It's a short 11 minutes, with panoramic views of the Green Mountains. This was an especially cool event for little kids -- they loved the gondola ride, running around the summit trails, and looking for Elsa up on the chilly mountain. Later, we chose to ride the gondola back down, but it's also possible to hike too. Keep in mind this trail is only open from mid-June to mid-October.
I Wish I Had Known This Ahead Of Time...
At the top of Mount Mansfield is The Cliff House restaurant, which has a reputation of good food, and even better views. Even though we visited mid-week, reservations were completely filled with no room for walk-in guests. Next time I’ll be sure to make reservations ahead of time!
Search For Emily's Bridge...If You Dare
Did you know Vermont houses more than 100 wood-covered bridges? These beautiful structures usually attract loads of IG'ers, but I'll only share this one with the bravest of travelers out there.
One of the most popular bridges to visit is commonly known as “Emily’s Bridge.” Sadly, the story goes that a young girl took her own life on the bridge after her fiance never showed up to elope with her. Today, people think the bridge may be haunted -- unexplained scratches have appeared on cars, and some have even claimed to hear a girl’s voice inside the tunnel.
Take In Scenic Smuggler's Notch
Smuggler’s Notch is known for its expansive hiking and biking trails, as well as caves for exploring too. You could easily spend a few days just exploring the outdoors at this state park.
Compass Roam Classroom: Why is it called smuggler's notch?
Smuggler’s Notch refers to a pass between two mountain ranges in Vermont, which historically was used for cattle herding.
In 1807, President Jefferson passed an embargo act forbidding any trade with Great Britain and Canada -- this was not a great fact for northern Vermonters who relied on trade with Canada. Consequently, they began smuggling goods through this mountain pass to get across the border. Later, during the Prohibition, liquor was also traded illegally using the pass, leading to the nickname it bears today.
Relax at Spruce Peak Village
Spruce Peak Village sits at the base of Mount Mansfield, and is a full service mountain resorts with hotel rooms, restaurants, shops, and play area for kids. If you're visiting during the winter, this lodging area has direct access to the ski trails too.
Going to Stowe In Winter?
With over 100 ski trails, Stowe Mountain Resort is one of the best ski destinations on the East Coast. If you're a ski-lover, you'll want to book a room at the Lodge at Spruce Peak -- the only ski-in, ski-out resort nearby. Another popular winter activity in Stowe, VT is riding the horse drawn sleigh rides run by Gentle Giant. You’ll tour the snow covered fields and landscape, while having a warm drink and learning about the town from your guide.
Where to Stay in Stowe?
Stowe offers a number of hotel and accommodation options for various budgets, with a few luxury 4-star hotels options. We chose to stay at the Lodge at Spruce Peak, not only because of the spacious rooms, but also because the resort is located mountain-side, with plenty of access to hiking and outdoor activities.
- Lodge at Spruce Peak - The Lodge at Spruce Peak is a great base for families looking to explore the area. There is direct access to Stowe Mountain Resort during ski season, numerous hiking trails nearby, 2 on-site restaurants, a heated swimming pool, and a village with shops and boutiques. There is also a large green space used for picnics and concerts in the summer, and ice skating come winter. Lastly, they have a small playground in the "Enchanted Forest” on property too. Safe to say this was our 4 year-old’s favorite part of the hotel.
- Topnotch Resort - Located in a 120 acre wooded area at the base of Mount Mansfield lies Top Notch resort. Top Notch is another luxury alpine accommodation option in Stowe. This country retreat has a highly acclaimed tennis academy, and offers activities like hiking, horse drawn sleigh rides in winter, and swimming in the summer.
- Trapp Family Lodge - When you pull into the Trapp Family Lodge, you may refresh your phone to see if Google Maps got it wrong. Are you in Austria? Nope, you’re still in Stowe, but this 2,500 acre property with beautiful views and alpine style lodging will make you feel like you’ve transported to Austria instead!
Lodge At Spruce Peak room tip:
We stayed in room 407, a 4-bedroom penthouse suite with views of the mountains and pool area too. This room was incredibly spacious, fitting up to 12 guests. We used it as accommodation for 2 families, totaling 8, but could have comfortably fit more. There was a full kitchen, washer/dryer, and private balcony. When you book a penthouse suite, you also have access to a private lounge, where they serve a complimentary breakfast and snacks throughout the day.
Where to Eat In Stowe With Kids?
You won’t go hungry while visiting Stowe – there is something for every culinary palette over here. Although we didn’t have time to visit all of them, this list includes some of our favorites, as well as recommendations we received.
- Black Cap Coffee & Bakery - This was my favorite breakfast spot in town. It’s a small cafe that sells baked goods, breakfast sandwiches and a warm drink. They also sell local goods, such as scarves, hats, candles, and the most important product…Vermont maple syrup.
- The Bench - The Bench, a local favorite, prides itself on serving “Vermont comfort food.” I can attest that this restaurant accomplishes just that! We stumbled in after a 1.5 hour long maze excursion, and we were in the mood for something warm, cheesy, and filling. The Bench is known for its wood-fired pizza, so we ordered two, and gobbled them up before I could even snap a picture.
- Idletyme Brewing co - This brewpub and restaurant is a local favorite. They offer a quality selection of beers – everything from brown or pale ales, to Helles Lager, and their local IPA. The restaurant has a family friendly vibe and there’s something for everyone on the menu. If you’re hoping to head here, you may want to make a reservation for the beer garden outside ahead of time; when we showed up for lunch, there was a 45 minute wait!
- Alpine Hall- Alpine Hall is a beautifully decorated, light filled restaurant located in The Lodge at Spruce Peak. While we felt the service was a little slow, the food was actually quite good with generous portions! We loved the brussel sprouts, warm winter squash galette, and the roasted trout.
- Ranch Camp - Ranch Camp probably ranks as the most unusual restaurant description I’ve ever come across. This is where you can go to buy…bikes…and burritos too! An obvious combination, right? That being said, the vibe here was quite fun. We liked the nachos and loved eating them outside on the picnic tables. The kids had fun playing on the model ski lift chair and exploring the picnic area while we waited for our food. It’s a popular spot, but doesn't take reservations -- so give yourself some time to place your order.
- Butler’s Pantry - This is known as one of the best breakfasts in town. You’ll need reservations ahead of time, and from what I’ve heard, the pancakes are not to be missed.
- Skinny Pancake - Crepes offered all day long sounds like heaven to me! Not only is the Skinny Pancake known for its delicious food, but they also cook with locally sourced ingredients and help with community efforts to provide meals to those without access to quality food.
- Piecasso - Piecasso is another popular pizza establishment in Stowe – you can never eat too much pizza, right?! The Sicilian family recipes and artisanal pizza creations set this place apart -- as well as their gluten-free and cauliflower crust options. Piecasso is also focused on creating a fun and vibrant atmosphere, welcoming families with open arms. They even have a small play area for kids.
- The Alchemist - The Alchemist may just be the top brewery in town, and is actually known as one of the best in the whole country. If you’re like my husband – who loves picking up Heavy Topper’s when he’s in the state – then make sure to stop by The Alchemist.
- Doc Pond’s - While tourists and locals come to Doc Pond’s for the casual and classic food (think: fritters and wings and burgers), it’s also popular because of its unique and lively vibe. It feels reminiscent of a large beer hall, with giant tables set up on the inside, and a cozy outdoor patio to enjoy on a nice day.
- Harrison’s - Harrison’s is described as an “American-fusion” restaurant, serving dishes like sweet potato crusted salmon and parmesan toast. This is one of the more upscale options in town and is best bookmarked for a date night, or adults night out.
Tips for Planning a Trip to Stowe
- Make accommodation reservations early: Fall and winter are popular months to visit – between all the leaf peepers and ski leapers, it can get quite busy.
- How to time your trip for peak foliage? As mentioned above, I’ve had tough luck with this – we either visited a week too early or a week too late in the past. Next year may be the lucky one! However, the truth is, with different elevations across the mountainous state, the “peak foliage” time can range. Therefore, if you arrive and things aren't quite “cooking” yet, you could try taking a day trip nearby. You’d be surprised how quickly things can change in a 30 minute car ride!
- The restaurants in Stowe have unusual closure days: Many of the restaurants are closed Monday, Tuesday, and sometimes even Wednesday in this town. I’d recommend making reservations ahead of time and taking note of their hours.
- Winter tires strongly encouraged: This is Subaru and snow country folks! If you’ve decided to visit Stowe in the winter months, then you’ll want to make sure you have winter tires on your car to help with driving conditions.
That's a Wrap
Stowe is a charming town where you can leisurely spend a few days strolling Main Street, completing some hikes, and even going on a mini-food tour of Vermont’s best. While sometimes small towns offer “small itineraries,” this is not the case in Stowe – there are numerous options of things to do with kids, for adventure travelers, or even for couples looking for a laid back weekend away. It’s a lovely town to visit all year round and we’ll definitely be back for another visit in the future.
I hope this article has inspired your own family getaway to Stowe, VT. If you have any questions, or your own travel tips, please leave them in the comments below. Also, don't forget to sign up for the monthly newsletter, packed with travel tips, upcoming news, and access to FREE destination itineraries.
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