Scenic Drive: Vermont's Route 100
Photo Credit: Kindra Clineff
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Route 100 is a restless road. As it salamanders its way through the mountainous middle of Vermont, it seems perpetually on the verge of decision, only to change its mind in a mile.
One minute, it’s slaloming along a rocky riverbed through dense cover of birch and maple; the next, it’s soaring up to a sudden vista as if God has suddenly pulled away a curtain. There’s a reason this stretch of highway — some 200 miles from Massachusetts to Lake Memphremagog — has been called the most scenic in New England.
In some circles, it’s known as the “Skiers’ Highway,” since it connects Vermont’s giants — Snow, Okemo, Killington, Sugarbush, Stowe, Jay — like knots on a whip.
But the road really comes into its own in autumn, hitting the peak of fall foliage not once but many times as it traces an up-and-down course along the unspoiled edge of Green Mountain National Forest. When civilization does break through, it’s in the form of some of Vermont’s most quintessential villages. Leaf-peeping, after all, is about more than just leaves. It’s about the foliage experience — farmstands and country stores, craft galleries and hot cider — and route 100, with its many off-the-beaten-path side trips, offers all of that in one long winding package. And because the road never makes up its mind, you don’t have to, either.
After hemming and hawing a bit with some doglegs from the border, Route 100 really takes off on its northern trajectory in Wilmington, one of those towns that make travelers doubt whether Wal-Mart really exists. The downtown’s appearance hasn’t changed much from the 1930s, with the exception that art galleries and craft stores now occupy some of its historic buildings. Heading out of town, yellow beeches and orange sugar maples start painting the highway, with white lines of paper birch cutting through like scratches of a palette knife. It’s hard to believe that decades of timbering and sheep and dairy farming once reduced tree cover to 20 percent of Vermont’s landscape. Now it’s more like 80.
Even so, hard rock farms still cling to the mountainsides, and the green and yellow of John Deere is as ubiquitous come harvest time as the reds and oranges of the maples. A sputtering 1959 diesel carries fourth-generation farmer Bill Adams as he gives tours of Adams Family Farm, which has produced timber, maple syrup, sheep, and milk, depending on Vermont’s economic circumstances. Since the 1980s, the farm has expanded its seasonal sleighrides pulled by Belgian draft horses into full-fledged agritourism. Children are drawn to the livestock, while evening hayrides bring guests to a bonfire pit for s’mores under the stars and the smoky blues vocals of Bill’s daughter, fifth-generation farmer Jill.
Spontaneous fields of wildflowers and perfectly distressed barns color the highway as it cruises northward into Weston. Few gazebos are as happily situated as the bandstand gracing the town green, surrounded by spreading sugar maples that turn the meeting space into a golden-roofed amphitheatre every fall. Weston is justly famous for the Vermont Country Store, where you’ll find homespun clothing, foods, and handicrafts. (Particularly popular is the candy counter, with sweets from yesteryear: Zagnut bars, Necco wafers, and such.)