A Short Distance to Vibrant Arts
The nation’s oldest hiking trail is 273 miles long and runs across the spine of Vermont’s Green Mountains. Also chasing along these peaks are towns and villages that were first established as farming and ski communities. Some of these towns are thriving arts hubs, as the state’s valleys and dynamic mountains have both inspired and integrated the arts. The arts at the center of these communities have become as rich as the soil and steadfast as thru-hikers on the Long Trail. In this light, the Vermont Arts Council and the Green Mountain Club have partnered to provide arts and outdoors enthusiasts a collection of recommended regions that offer excellent arts and hiking opportunities.
With seemingly endless options for outdoor recreation, Vermont has become one of the healthiest states in the nation, according to the United Health Foundation. A lesser known fact is that in Vermont, you’re often in the company of artists. Vermont ranks third in the nation for artists as a percentage of its workforce, second for writers, and eighth for both musicians and photographers.
For many weekend or day hikers, the abundance of towns that have both trailheads and dynamic arts provide a perfect pairing for an immersive vacation. You can experience natural beauty by foot along the trail and explore arts hands-on at workshops, festivals and concerts.
Vermont Arts and Hiking Hubs, North to South
Near the Long Trail’s northern terminus, in the Jay and Montgomery region, you’ll find the Wooden Horse Arts Guild in North Troy and ever-changing exhibitions at the Memphremagog Arts Collaborative’s MAC Center for the Arts in Newport. Also, tune into the talent of local and visiting musicians at Now Playing Newport and explore locally made fiber arts at Mountain Fiber Folk in Montgomery Center.
For many thru-hikers, this leg of the Long Trail is a serious accomplishment; reaching the Canadian border signals the end of a long journey. But the Long Trail can also be enjoyed as a series of day or weekend hikes. Hike the Long Trail north from Route 242 to the summit of Jay Peak to see the panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. It’s a moderate climb to the summit and back (3.4 miles round trip), but worth the effort.
The villages of Jeffersonville and Cambridge have long been havens for landscape painters. Visitors often see plein air artists along the roadsides, particularly in autumn, and are pleasantly surprised to find the state’s largest murals situated here. Front and center at a busy roundabout in town, you’ll see the North and South Silos, paying homage to the region’s agrarian past and future, painted by Artist Sarah Rutherford. The Bryan Memorial Gallery and Visions of Vermont Gallery offer exceptional opportunities to appreciate and purchase the works of local artists and special exhibits. Smugglers’ Notch Resort offers various multi-age and discipline craft and painting classes and the Cambridge Arts Council is also a hub for arts classes and upcoming festivals.
Hiking through Smugglers’ Notch to Mount Mansfield, the state’s highest peak at 4,393’ is a highlight of the Long Trail. At the top of the Notch along Route 108, the popular 1.1 mile Sterling Pond Trail leads to beautiful scenery and a welcomed wading pool for hiking dogs. For an extended hike with spectacular views, continue from here on a 3.5 mile loop along the Elephant’s Head trail.
In addition to the multitude of year-round galleries and arts centers in Stowe, local arts events and major arts festivals are in high gear during summer. Catch a performance at Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center; tour the latest exhibit at Helen Day Art Center in the village, visit Green Mountain Fine Art Gallery on Main St. or enjoy the West Branch Gallery & Sculpture Park, a contemplative place to stretch your legs after a day of hiking. Some of the several additional galleries and studios to explore include Stowe Craft Gallery, Robert Paul Galleries and Little River Hot Glass Studio.
The summit of Mount Mansfield is readily accessed by following the Long Trail south from Route 108 in Stowe. Hell Brook Trail, one of the state’s most challenging hikes, reaches the summit from Route 108 in 2.1 steep, scrambling miles. Nearby on the Worcester Range, Stowe Pinnacle is an excellent day hike offering sweeping views of the Green Mountains and valley below. Before you set out on the trail, make sure to stop by the Green Mountain Club Visitor Center on Route 100 in Waterbury Center for maps and expert advice!
The Mad River Valley is the headquarters of the month-long Vermont Festival of the Arts in August and its year-round exhibit space. Bundy Modern, a mid-century modern architectural gem, is positioned on a natural plateau with incredible views of the mountainside; the perfect backdrop for its exhibits of contemporary art. Additional arts spaces include the Artisan’s Gallery, Mad River Glass Gallery, Walker Contemporary Gallery, Luminosity Studios, Mad River Antler, “natural shed antler artistry,” Waitsfield Pottery, as well as private ceramics lessons and raku at the Wilder Farm Inn.
Hikers in the Mad River Valley will enjoy steady ascents and miles of ridgeline payoffs on the 11.6 mile Monroe Skyline, a popular and strenuous gap-to-gap hike traversing the Long Trail north from Lincoln Gap to Appalachian Gap. Peaks include Mount Abraham, Lincoln Peak, Mount Ellen and General Stark Mountain. For an easier hike, follow the Long Trail south from Lincoln Gap to Sunset Ledge with views of Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks (2.2 miles round trip).
A close distance to central Vermont’s State and National Forests, the Middlebury region is well known for its college-town arts culture, with vibrant galleries, shops and craft schools established here as well. Visit the Middlebury College Museum of Art with its extensive outdoors public art collection and Mahaney Center for the Arts. Peruse group class offerings at Middlebury Studio School. Shoppers will delight in the selection of locally made arts and crafts at the town’s two Edgewater Gallery locations. At Rikert Nordic Center, the trails lead to the historic Robert Frost Summer Cabin. While hiking in this Vermont Poet Laureate’s footsteps, it’s easy to understand the inspiration this area has offered to so many visiting writers, students and athletes.
Conveniently, the Long Trail crosses Rte. 125 at Middlebury Gap. From here, hike north along the Long Trail to a spur trail 0.8 miles to Silent Cliff for excellent views of the Green Mountains and Champlain Valley. This region is home to Breadloaf Wilderness, well known for its black bear and moose populations. Day hikers will enjoy Branbury State Park and U.S. State Forest Silver Lake Campground. Visit the Green Mountain National Forest Middlebury Ranger Station for additional recommendations and wayfinding.
Descending from Killington Mountain, hikers can enjoy art along the Crossroad of Vermont Byway, Route 4, and visit Rutland’s extensive arts scene, featuring Paramount Theatre, a lively hub for national acts appearing in an exquisitely restored 1912 opera house. In West Rutland, situated at an historic marble quarry, The Carving Studio and Sculpture Center offers residencies, exhibits, workshops and public arts events. Additional arts options include Castleton Downtown Art Gallery and Chaffee Art Center. Plus, Rutland’s several downtown murals are also a delight for unexpecting travelers.
At 4,236’, Killington Peak is Vermont’s second highest summit. On a clear day, the Adirondacks and the White Mountains of New Hampshire are visible. The Appalachian Trail and Long Trail share the same footpath in this part of the state and come within 0.2 miles of the summit. A spur trail will get you to the summit and is well worth the extra climb. South of Killington, from Route 140 in Wallingford, the Long Trail passes through the White Rocks National Recreation Area and leads to a majestic garden of rock cairns. Here, you can photograph the existing collection of cairns or…. enjoy creating your own!
Campers at Jamaica State Park can head into the village and venture into Elaine Beckwith’s Gallery and dine at the Garden Cafe, a culinary-art-space and market. Or, head into Manchester to visit some of the town’s abundant arts offerings, including Southern Vermont Arts Center, an historic estate that is home to Vermont’s largest sculpture park plus gallery museums, performance halls and workshops. Explore hands-on glass blowing classes at Manchester Hot Glass, the Museum of Creative Process and Helmholz Fine Art in Manchester as well. Weston is an additional village arts enthusiasts will not want to miss, with a lively summer theater schedule at Weston Playhouse and the Village Green Gallery.
The Long Trail runs conveniently just outside Manchester Village, with trailheads on Routes 11 and 30. Hikers can walk to the summit of Bromley Mountain ( 6 miles round trip) for beautiful views of the hills and villages below. Other nearby day hikes include Stratton Mountain fire tower and the rock outcrop of Spruce Peak. Another excellent option is the Old Rootville Road trail (3.5 miles round trip) ascending from Route 30 in Manchester Center and leading to Prospect Rock; it features a waterfall and sweeping views of Mount Equinox and the village.
There are dozens of arts opportunities in Bennington and eastward heading into the mountains along Route 9, the Molly Stark Byway. See the world’s foremost collection of Bennington pottery and folk art icon, Grandma Moses paintings at Bennington Museum. In Old Bennington, catch a show at Oldcastle Theater, visit Robert Frost’s memorial and catch a bird’s-eye view from Bennington Monument, the tallest structure in Vermont. Plus, tour the extensive Native American art collection at Bennington Center for the Arts & Covered Bridge Museum and shop at Fiddlehead at Four Corners, a contemporary craft and fine art gallery in the heart of historic downtown district.
Just outside of Bennington, the Pine Cobble Trail (3 miles round trip) offers a picturesque vista of the tri-state area. For a more dynamic hike, access the Long Trail from Route 9 and follow it 1.8 miles southbound along a steep trail to an even steeper rock staircase up to popular Harmon Hill, with views of Bennington and the surrounding countryside. Continue on and in 12.5 miles, you’ll reach the Massachusetts border, also known as the southbound terminus – or for most Long Trail through-hikers, the beginning – of the Long Trail.
— top left image, Southern Vermont Arts Center
— Jennifer Williams for Vermont Arts Council
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— Amy Potter, Green Mountain Club
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