Every autumn it seems there are endless top 10 lists highlighting the best places to see fall foliage in Vermont. Year after year, you’ll find dozens of recommendations for fall travel that often include familiar places like Stowe, Woodstock, Manchester, Waitsfield, Grafton and Peacham. I love all of those towns, and I understand what makes them so appealing during foliage season.
But there’s more to Vermont than a handful of gorgeous towns that are popular for leaf-peeping. After all, even though Vermont is a small state, it’s also home to 251 cities and towns, each with their own interesting backstory.
Here’s my list of 12 tiny Vermont towns that are off-the-beaten path, off the radar, and very much worth visiting in the fall.
North of Putney and Brattleboro is the small town of Brookline, located in a narrow valley between Putney Mountain, a popular hiking destination, and the West River. The town was once large enough to support multiple stores, at least one hotel, two schools, and a doctor. These days, the town is a pretty quiet, beautiful place. Its most famous landmark is the Round Schoolhouse, which was built in 1822 and is the only one in the United States. The school was designed by John Wilson, a school teacher who never mentioned his previous career as Captain Thunderbolt, an infamous Scottish highwayman. Local historians believe he designed the building in a circle with windows on each side so that lawmen couldn’t take him by surprise. After he left Brookline, he started a medical practice in nearby Newfane. As for the Round Schoolhouse, it closed in 1929 and still stands today.
Getting there: From Route 30 in Newfane, travel east on Radway Hill Road to Brookline Road to Hill Road. For more information about hiking trails on Putney Mountain, visit putneymountain.org.
Monkton is one of those towns that feels remote yet close. The relatively small Cedar Pond, located in the heart of town, and Hogback Mountain, which extends almost the entire length of the town’s eastern border, make Monkton a wonderful town to visit. Monkton is easily accessible from Route 7 in Ferrisburg and Route 116 in Hinesburg.
Getting there: From Route 7 in Ferrisburg, travel east on Monkton Road for nine miles. Or from Route 116 in Hinesburg, travel south on Silver Street.
Five miles west of Wallingford is Tinmouth, a community in Rutland County with about 620 residents. Pronounced “Tinmuth,” the town is located along Route 140 – a twisty, scenic road that eventually winds its way into the classic village with a steepled church, town green and local school. On your way to Tinmouth, take a detour on East Road (go straight instead of making a hard right on Route 140). East Road offers panoramic views of the mountains and Tinmouth.
Getting there: At the intersection of Routes 7 and 140 in Wallingford, travel east for five miles on Route 140. To get to East Road, located on the way to the village, travel on Route 140 until the road turns sharply to the right.
Outside of Montpelier is the town of Calais, a small hamlet with dirt roads, ponds, and farm houses. Stop by the Maple Corner General Store, check out Curtis Pond, and see the Old West Church and the Greek revival style town hall, built in 1866. Just be careful how you pronounce the town’s name. According to Vermont Place-Names (S. Green Press, 1977) by Ester M. Smith, “In Vermont, Calais is pronounced to rhyme with “palace.” The out-of-state visitor, with map in hand, who asks a native for directions to Kah-láy is usually rewarded with a blank stare.” You’ve been warned.
Getting there: From Interstate 89, take Exit 8 in Montpelier and head north on Main Street to County Road.
Tucked away in southern Orange County, Strafford is ten miles northeast of Interstate 89 in the Ompompanoosuc River Valley. The tall, steepled Town House, built in 1799, is located on the town green in the heart of Strafford. Another notable spot in Strafford is the Justin Morrill Homestead State Historic Site, a campus of mauve colored buildings that are open from May to October. Morrill, a congressman who was born in Strafford, was the chief author and sponsor of the Land Grant College Acts, which became the most important piece of educational legislation in the 19th century. Want to see classic New England? Put Strafford on your list.
Getting there: From Interstate 89, take Exit 2 and travel east on Route 132 for about 9 miles. At the stop sign, you’ll be in South Strafford. From there, turn left onto Justin Morrill Memorial Highway, which will take you to Strafford’s upper village, where the Town House and Justin Morrill Homestead are located.
Way up in the Northeast Kingdom is the town of Brownington, home to the lovely Old Stone House Museum. Open May to October, the museum dates back to 1836 and served as a dormitory for the Orleans County Grammar School. Brownington is also where you’ll find the Prospect Hill Observatory – a tall gazebo that offers panoramic views of Lake Willoughby to the south and Lake Memphremagog to the north.
Getting there: From Interstate 91, take Exit 26 onto Route 58 east to Brownington.
If you’ve been reading this blog long enough, you’ve read many posts about Peru. The town, located off Route 11 east of Bromley Mountain, has a timeless, outdoorsy quality. It has everything you could possibly want in the fall – The Peru Fair, the J.J. Hapgood General Store and Hapgood Pond. The town is also home to the Green Mountain National Forest and Hapgood State Forest, which surrounds the summit of nearby Bromley Mountain.
Getting there: From Manchester, follow Route 11/30 east for about six miles to Route 11 east. Past Bromley, turn left to Peru Village.
Lincoln is on my must-list every fall. In particular, I love West Hill Road, where you’ll see the most beautiful views of the Green Mountains. Lincoln is also where you’ll find Lincoln Gap Road, a beautiful mountain pass – closed in the winter — that takes you over to Warren near Sugarbush Resort. The Long Trail crosses Lincoln Gap, where you can enjoy an easy hike to Sunset Ledge or take a more challenging hike to Mount Abraham, which stands at 4,052 feet and is the state’s fifth tallest peak.
Getting there: From Route 116 in Bristol, head south on Lincoln Road. Follow to York Hill Road and West Hill Road to see dramatic views of the Green Mountains. To get to Lincoln Gap, take Route 116 to Lincoln Road to West River Road to Lincoln Gap Road.
Do you love covered bridges? Montgomery is home to six covered bridges that were built between 1863 and 1890. (Up until the 1940s, the town was home to 13 covered bridges.) Not far from the town is Hazen’s Notch and Jay Peak Resort. Hike to the 2,700 summit of Burnt Mountain in Montgomery and enjoy an open summit with panoramic views of Hazen’s Notch and Jay Peak, Mount Mansfield, and Lake Champlain. Whether you want to see covered bridges or get out for a hike in Montgomery, you don’t be disappointed.
Getting there: Take Route 108 north to Enosburg Falls and travel east on Route 105 to East Berkshire to Route 118 in Montgomery. For hiking, contact the Hazen’s Notch Association.
Even though I grew up less than 10 miles away, I had never spent much time in Sandgate. Last fall, I took a drive through the town, located in the foothills of the western side of Mount Equinox. Along Sandgate Road, you’ll see the town hall, a Methodist church, and a few houses. The Manchester-Sandgate border was the site of a now deserted mountain hamlet, known as Beartown or Beartown Notch. An old road that passed through the notch, went north of Mount Equinox and into Manchester, is open to the public for hiking and off-road driving.
Getting there: From Manchester, take Route 7A south to Route 313 west. Look for signs for Sandgate on your right.
A few miles north of Woodstock is the scenic town of Pomfret, home to the Suicide Six Ski Area. The town is also where you’ll find beautiful barns, open fields, the Amity Pond Natural Area, and the Appalachian Trail. I find something incredibly special about the small, rolling hills in this part of Vermont. Most of the town’s topographical features are named for townspeople: Dana Hill, Howe Hill, and Seaver Hill. The town’s Bunker Hill got its name because Revolutionary War veterans took up land there. Whether you’re a history buff or not, put Pomfret on your list.
Getting there: From Woodstock, take Route 12 north and look for Pomfret Road on your right.
East of Middlebury on Route 125 in the heart of the Green Mountains is the remote town of Ripton. The town center includes the Chipman Inn, Ripton Country Store, and Ripton Town Hall. Wind your way up 125 and you’ll come across the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail and the Middlebury College Bread Loaf School of English Campus. Both are worth exploring during the fall season. For many years, Robert Frost lived in Ripton and was instrumental in establishing the Breadloaf Writer’s Conference. His cabin – now an historic site – is owned by Middlebury College.
Getting there: From Route 7 south of Middlebury, take Route 125 toward Ripton.
What other small Vermont towns do you recommend visiting this fall?