Best Foliage Drive in New England?
Vermonters claim their state has the most gorgeous foliage of all — and the 24,000 residents of Lamoille County will tell you that what they see in their 16 towns and villages can’t be topped. Follow along on these two back-road drives through the heart of the county, and see whether you agree.
Depending on when you time your trip, the colors will be either descending toward the greener valley or brightening the lowlands as the summits turn the dun shades of late autumn.
Loop One: South Through the Pass
The village of Jeffersonville, in west-central Lamoille County, is the starting point for this 42-mile journey, which includes the steep, snaking road through Smugglers’ Notch. Take Route 108 south (Mountain Road) out of “Jeff,” climbing as you follow the swift little Brewster River. That’s Madonna Peak directly ahead on your way out of town; as you pass an open field on the right about a mile up, though, the dominant view to the south is of Mount Mansfield’s Chin — at 4,395 feet, the loftiest point in Vermont.
Toward the left, the scarlets and oranges of red and sugar maples spread across the foothills of Whiteface (a.k.a. Sterling) Mountain; farther along, near the main entrance to Smugglers’ Notch Resort, yellow birches crowd the road. If you want to enjoy the colors nearer the uppermost portions of the Notch, you’ll have to be content with more subdued hues down below, as the higher reaches of Mountain Road — and, even more, the steep slopes that hem it in — will peak a week or two earlier.
There’s a good deal of birch near the crest, and their yellow turns golden as sunlight filters down between the beetling cliffs. Beyond, as you begin the descent into Stowe, blazes of red maple spread across Mansfield’s southern flanks.
“Red maples do well on poor growing sites,” explains Lamoille County Forester Ray Toolan, “and these trees shut down and change color early.”
For a grand gaze down into the valleys and as far west as Lake Champlain, take the Mount Mansfield Toll Road to the Nose of the mountain’s recumbent profile; the entrance is roughly halfway between the crest of the notch and Stowe. Or continue into the village, forking left onto Route 100 and heading toward Morrisville. Elmore Mountain looms ahead, beyond farm fields bordered with maples.
To skip Morrisville’s bottleneck streets, shunt off left (and then quickly right) onto Cady’s Falls Road (about 1.2 miles north of the Morrisville-Stowe Airport). It skirts Lake Lamoille and its reflected hardwoods and reaches Hyde Park by way of a one-lane bridge just before the village. Bear left onto Main Street in Hyde Park and head through town; keep an eye out for a horse-chestnut tree whose leaves blaze yellow in the fall. Off Main Street is a gravel road paralleling the “Ten Bends” section of the Lamoille River; it joins Route 15, which heads through Johnson to Jeffersonville.
Loop Two: Where the Rivers flow North
A slightly longer foliage loop (46 miles) also starts in Jeffersonville. Begin by heading north out of town on Route 108; follow it across the Lamoille River Bridge, and then switch to Route 109.
This road roughly follows the river’s North Branch toward Waterville; as the views to the north open up, you’ll see color spreading down the slopes of Laraway Mountain, directly ahead. “Trees on the higher elevations change color first,” explains county forester Toolan. “The soils are poorer up there, and there isn’t as much water.”
About a mile and a half north of Waterville, the Jaynes (a.k.a. “Kissing”) covered bridge, just off 109 on the left, spans a rocky stretch of the North Branch and stands against a bright backdrop of foliage. The road starts to climb here, and when it crests and begins to descend, you’ll be treated to open views of Laraway and, opposite, the Cold Hollow Mountains. Again, depending on when you time your trip, the colors will be either descending toward the greener valley or brightening the lowlands as the summits turn the dun shades of late autumn.
Head through the cluster of homes that make up the village of Belvidere Center; if you feel like lingering awhile, Tallman’s Store here may just be the most authentically un-selfconscious country emporium in the state.
Now you’ll begin a steep climb. Bright-yellow birches light up this portion of the route, but the main event lies just ahead, as the road tops out and drops to reveal a spectacular view of Belvidere Mountain.
- Trapp Family Lodge
- Edson Hill Manor
- The Governor's House in Hyde Park
- Smugglers' Notch Inn and Village Tavern
- Smugglers' Notch Resort
- Sterling Ridge Log Cabin Resort
- TopNotch Resort & Spa
- Johnson Woolen Mills
- Stowe Craft Gallery
- Boyden Valley Winery
- The Bee's Knees
- Blue Moon Cafe
- Stella Notte Restaurant and Bistro
- The Slow Lane
Please Note: This information 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.