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Scenic Drive: Vermont's Route 100

Scenic Drive: Vermont’s Route 100
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A more contemplative taste of the season is found up a steep hill on the way out of town at the Weston Priory, a community of Benedictine monks who grace the views with plainsong in the evening, wind and insects joining in for counterpoint.

The foliage takes some time to look at its reflection during the next stretch, as a string of lovely little lakes–Lake Rescue, Echo Lake, and Amherst Lake–run along the road. At the end, a feng shui expert would no doubt approve of the location of the President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site, situated atop a hill in Plymouth Notch, surrounded by a bowl of mountains that makes a visitor unconsciously start breathing a little more deeply to see it. The site includes the house (and bed) in which the president was born, the homestead where he grew up, the cheese factory his father founded, and the “summer White House,” a converted grange hall (above the general store) from which Coolidge ran the country in August 1924. More than a historical homage to the man, however, the site is virtually indistinguishable from the early-20th-century village around it, with big barns full of sleighs, carriages, and farming implements bringing alive the hard work and pleasures of the period.

After that expansive view, the commercial clutter where Route 100 briefly joins U.S. Route 4 is a bit of a shock; thankfully it’s just a palate cleanser for the stunning second half of the drive. After teasing for 100 miles, the mountains now finally shake off their shyness and step back from the highway, with fields of corn and pumpkins providing a welcome mat for the set-piece town of Rochester. True to form, the road then abruptly changes course, plunging into the intimate seven miles of dense forest along Granville Gulf State Reservation. A prime spotting ground for moose and home to some of Vermont’s remaining old growth, these woods also offer the irresistible photo op of Moss Glen Falls, a multitiered vertical rivulet visible from a wooden walkway along the highway.

After the Gulf’s cozy rock wall, the route again opens up into Vermont’s Mad River Valley. Tucked between the Greens and the Northfield Range and replete with farmhouses and covered bridges, this area has drawn carpetbaggers from New York and Boston who came to ski and never left. That makes for a cosmopolitan streak among locals, who flock en masse every Saturday to the Waitsfield Farmers’ Market–a weekly music festival, arts-and-crafts fair, community social, and organic vegetable market. Often, they go from there to gourmet pizzeria American Flatbread, to sip wine around the firepit and watch the kids fly Frisbees on the lawn while waiting their turn to sit down for clay-and-stone-oven flatbreads. (The ingredients from local farms are all highlighted with asterisks on the menu.)

Climbing out of the valley and crossing I-89, the traffic glut signals the proximity of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory tour in Waterbury, with attendant cheese and syrup shops circling the tourist chum. The town of Stowe, while just as much of a madhouse this time of year, nevertheless offers a way above the fray if you ride the Stowe Mountain Resort gondola to the top of Mount Mansfield, the state’s highest peak. The ride is most colorful up the middle slopes before the spruces take over, but the last-minute ascent up the steep peak arguably inspires more awe.

After that, the rest of Route 100 is literally a come-down, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The final stretch through the Lamoille Valley meanders through sleepy farmlands graced by Holsteins so healthy they could model for a Ben & Jerry’s pint cup. The two major rivers that cut the valley, the Lamoille and Winooski, offer a great excuse to get out of the car.

Umiak Outdoor Outfitters, for one, leads a two-hour fall foliage canoe trip framed by the foothills of the Greens–which never seem so misnamed as when they’re reflecting their foliage in the water–and a more adventurous “River & Spirits” tour, which includes a stop to sample at the Boyden Valley Winery & Farm in Cambridge.

When the road finally ends, merging into Route 105, and then I-91, some 10 miles short of Canada, the most difficult decision is the one to turn the car around and head home. The only comfort is that you get to see the whole show over again in reverse.

SLIDE SHOW: Vermont’s Route 100

Please Note: This article was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

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3 Responses to Scenic Drive: Vermont’s Route 100

  1. Diane Pouliot September 18, 2009 at 8:29 am #

    Being a Native Vermonter and co owning a motel/cabin property in Manchester Center, Vt ( just a short distance from Route 100) it has been one of my ‘to-do’ lists to travel the entire length of Route 100 from top to bottom. Proud to say my business partner (who also shared this dream) actually did just that! The beauty is not limited to fall–there are mountain meadows and stream side oasis that wait around each and every corner. Quaint Vermont towns with interesting names tucked here and there along the way and coming over the mountains is just breathtaking. Thank you for this article—it truly showcases one of the most scenic and exciting rides be it motorcycle, car, rv, truck or bike ride in the State……

  2. Rob Mehner September 23, 2009 at 9:06 pm #

    For me this is a very timely article as it coincides with my own online project to document life on and around Route 100 through the photography and stories that will hopefully be contributed by those who appreciate all that the road has to offer. While the aura of Route 66 has diminished over the years, Route 100 is still a vibrant lifeline well steeped in the Americana of days gone by. I moved here from Stamford Ct almost 14 years ago and it’s funny how Rt 100 gets it’s southern most start in a town called Stamford too. Now I live on a little dirt road off Route 100 and I sense that there is no danger that the overcrowding that occurred in my former hometown will ever happen here.

  3. Thomas Forcier October 4, 2009 at 9:58 pm #

    I would to clarify the northern most point of Route 100 for you as I did a few years ago for an article in Vermont Life about Route 100. That point is approximately 4 miles south of Lake Memphremagog at the foot of Coburn Hill in the Town of New Center at the junction of Route 105 with the start or finish of Route 100. As I grew up in Newport, Vermont at the foot of Lake Memphremagog I am very familiar with the area.

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