Autumn and Art
Ten Regions — with Scenic Drives and an Abundance of Arts and Outdoors to Explore —
While Vermont is a four-season destination, it is during fall foliage that the Green Mountain State is arguably the most vibrant. Travelers who choose to visit Vermont amid the most intense colors of autumn are also greeted with a wealth of seasonal arts events. The state’s landscape both inspires and integrates the arts into its environment. In this light, the Vermont Arts Council and Vermont Tourism have partnered to provide travelers the best of both worlds: a nature escape and cultural immersion. This collection of ten regions combines opportunities to engage with the arts and the spectacular fall foliage via scenic drives and outdoor excursions.
Vermont is 76% forested and has the greatest concentration of sugar and red maples in the U.S., creating fiery red and orange hillsides that nature-lovers, plein air painters and photographers seek. Indeed, it’s a well known fact that Vermont boasts the most brilliant fall foliage colors. A lesser known fact, however, is that while 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. In essence, in Vermont the arts are as rich as its soil, vibrant as fall foliage and steadfast as hikers on its trails.
The abundance of towns with stunning vistas, unrushed roads and hidden art gems provide an immersive “arts and outdoors” vacation. Travelers can experience Vermont’s natural beauty by touring trails and byways, and also enjoy galleries, concerts, and arts festivals along the way.
Vermont Arts and Fall Foliage Destinations
North to South
1. In Vermont’s rural Northeast Kingdom, you’ll find unexpected delights. Tour the more than 50 massive and masterful sculptures by David Stromeyer amid meadows and hay fields at Cold Hollow Sculpture Park. Visit Dog Mountain, home of the Stephen Huneck Gallery. Set on 150 acres, the grounds are always open to people and their dogs. For an especially unconventional arts excursion, head to Bread and Puppet Theater. You’ll find one of the nation’s oldest, self-supporting theatrical companies and its 140-year old hay barn that has been transformed into a museum for Bread and Puppet’s exquisite collection.
Along the Northeast Kingdom Byway, additional arts centers and venues include Mountain Fiber Folk, Memphremagog Arts Collaborative, Now Playing Newport, Catamount Arts, and the Northeast Kingdom Artisans Guild, with work from more than 100 artists.
Hop off the byway and hike, or take a tram or chairlift to the top of Burke Mountain and Jay Peak. There are also scenic boat cruises on Lake Memphremagog, a perfect finish to a day of arts touring!
2. Jewels within the nation’s sixth largest lake, the Lake Champlain Islands are popular with art-lovers, boaters and cyclists. Referred to simply as “the Islands,” its 200 miles of shoreline are a prized fall vacation destination, as the milder climate brings on peak foliage later in the season than in the state’s mountainous regions.
Along the Lake Champlain Byway, visit Grand Isle Art Works. The Gallery houses an extensive collection of local arts, its cafe serves lunch and a calendar of arts and crafts workshops is available for those wanting hands-on arts activities. Island Arts in North Hero offers courses for children and adults, concerts and arts events. You’ll also find art and craft at the farmers’ market on Saturdays in Grand Isle.
In addition to outdoors exploration by bike or boat, Isle La Motte is home to Chazy Reef, the world’s oldest coral reef, with walking trails meandering along the shore and through old farmland.
3. For the last century, the villages of Jeffersonville and Cambridge have been havens for plein air painters, particularly in autumn. Travelers will be pleasantly surprised to see the region’s latest just-completed public art, two massive murals reinventing old farm silos in the village of Jeffersonville. This fall, Smugglers’ Notch Resort offers a “Painters’ Palette” acrylics workshop and a sculpting workshop with local artist Nancy Schade. Also, the Bryan Memorial Gallery and Visions of Vermont Gallery offer exceptional opportunities to appreciate or purchase the works of local artists and special exhibits. The newest arts hub in the region, Maple Ridge Center for the Arts has a shop and gallery, plus workshops for all ages.
At the top of Smugglers’ Notch, outdoor enthusiasts and photographers delight in several trail and bouldering options. One highlight is the popular Sterling Pond Trail that leads to a beautiful, high mountain pond and panoramic views. At the Resort, enjoy guided hiking that’s available daily. These gentle walks focus on nature and area insights – maple, covered bridges, apples, mushroom hunting and more.
4. Along the scenic Green Mountain Byway, in Stowe, catch a performance at Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center and walk along Helen Day Art Center’s “Exposed” outdoor sculpture exhibit that is placed on the town’s recreation path. Visit Green Mountain Fine Art on Main St. or enjoy the West Branch Gallery and Sculpture Park, a contemplative and contemporary place to explore sculpture in a natural landscape. Additional arts options include Stowe Craft Gallery, Robert Paul Galleries and Little River Hot Glass Studio.
Vermont’s highest peak, Mount Mansfield has a 4,393’ summit readily accessed by following the Long Trail south from Route 108 in Stowe. Alternatively, the Hell Brook Trail is one of the state’s most challenging hikes. Another invigorating outdoors option includes taking the gondola up and zip lining down at Stowe Mountain Resort.
5. The Mad River Valley is home to several arts spaces, including Bundy Modern. Featuring the clean lines of the International Movement, Bundy Modern is positioned on a natural plateau with incredible views of the mountainside; the perfect backdrop for its exhibits of contemporary art. Nearby, Mad River Antler offers “natural shed antler artistry” in the form of chandeliers, lamps, wine holders, and more rustic home decor. Other options to explore include the Artisan’s Gallery, Mad River Glass Gallery, Walker Contemporary Gallery, Luminosity Studios, Waitsfield Pottery, and raku ceramics at the Naked Potter. Waitsfield is also the headquarters of Vermont Festival of the Arts Gallery, which hosts a year-round gallery.
Several additional arts and outdoors excursions are recommended along the Mad River Byway. Some options include scenic chairlift rides during foliage at Mad River Glen or Sugarbush. Or, speed things up with a canopy zip line tour or mountain biking. Hikers in the Mad River Valley will enjoy steady ascents and miles of ridgeline payoffs on the Monroe Skyline, a “gap-to-gap” hike traversing the Long Trail north from Lincoln Gap to the Appalachian Gap.
6. Along the Crossroad of Vermont Byway, visit Killington Arts Guild before touring 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 & Sculpture Center offers residencies, exhibits, workshops, and public arts events. Additional arts options include West Rutland Art Park, 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 the Vermont’s second highest summit. On a clear day, the Adirondacks and the White Mountains of New Hampshire are visible. Enjoy a hike, thrilling SkyeRide, 30mph birds-eye mountain tour or take the gondola to the summit.
7. The Middlebury region is brimming with arts offerings a close distance to State and National Forests. Visit the Middlebury College Museum of Art, with its extensive outdoors public art collection and Mahaney Center for the Arts. Explore and shop at Edgewater Gallery’s two locations; Edgewater Gallery on the Green and Edgewater Gallery at the Falls. Both are hosting fall exhibitions.
Home to Breadloaf Wilderness, this region is well known for its black bear and moose populations. Day hikers and campers will enjoy foliage reflecting on calm water at Branbury State Park and U.S. State Forest Silver Lake Campground. Visit the Green Mountain National Forest Middlebury Ranger Station for additional recommendations.
8. Along the Shires of Vermont Byway, in Manchester, you’ll find the village itself is an arts hub with galleries and museums in multiple nearby towns. At the Southern Vermont Arts Center, tour the historic mansion and art gallery; see a performance in the Arkell Pavilion and explore the grounds, home to the largest sculpture park in the state. Visitors to the Museum of the Creative Process will find a center of creative discovery and intellectual retreat. The Museum is dedicated to “understanding the psychological properties of creativity, bridging art and science.” Additional nearby arts options include Weston Playhouse, Dorset Playhouse and the Marble House Project, offering artists residencies and cultural programming. For additional information, visit Hills Alive, an online collection of cultural events in the area.
Fall foliage hikers enjoy the summits of Bromley Mountain and the 70’ firetower atop Stratton Mountain for their beautiful views of hills and villages below. The resorts also offer lift service and a variety of outdoors, adventure and wellness excursions – from alpine coasters to yoga and tennis clinics.
9. There are several arts opportunities in downtown Bennington and more yet, heading eastward into the mountains along Route 9, the Molly Stark Byway. See the defining collection of 19th-century Bennington Pottery and the largest collection of paintings by great American folk artist, Grandma Moses at Bennington Museum. Additional options include Oldcastle Theatre, visiting Robert Frost’s memorial, and catching a bird’s’-eye view from Bennington Monument, the tallest structure in Vermont. Tour The Bennington Center for the Arts and stop in to Fiddlehead at Four Corners, a gallery in the heart of the historic downtown district.
Just outside of Bennington, Pine Cobble Trail offers a picture-perfect vista of the tri-state area. For a more dynamic hike, follow a steep trail to an even steeper rock staircase on Harmon Hill, offering views of Bennington and the surrounding countryside. In addition to hiking, fly fishing for “trophy trout” along the Walloomsac River is a popular outdoor activity in this region.
10. The arts and outdoors-rich West River Trail begins in South Londonderry and runs south along Route 30 into Brattleboro. In Brattleboro, join a jam session or see a first-rate jazz ensemble at the Vermont Jazz Center. Give trapeze swinging a try at the New England Center for Circus Arts or see a circus performance by students from across the globe. Additional options include a stay at the art deco Latchis Hotel and Theatre, meeting artists in residence at the Vermont Performance Lab, and touring three galleries along Main Street: Gallery in the Woods, Vermont Artisan Designs and Mitchell • Giddings Fine Arts, which offers exhibition openings, artists talks and events.
In the greater West River area, see the talents of internationally acclaimed glass blowers Randi Solin and Robert Dugrenier. Visit Elaine Beckwith’s Gallery in Jamaica and dine at the Garden Cafe, a culinary-art-space in Londonderry, also home to Martha’s Folk Art and Mountain Painters & Artisans Gallery.
Outdoor enthusiasts will appreciate that the West River Trail has multiple entrance points; hikers can walk a few miles or a few days along its 36 miles of historic and new footpath, on old roads and railroad beds. An especially picturesque hike is at Jamaica State Park; walk to Hamilton Falls to see a gorgeous 125-foot waterfall cascading into dynamically carved potholes.
Top left image: “The Muse” at the Southern Vermont Arts Center
Second from top left image: Detail from Kate Owen’s “Hieroglyphics” in Middlebury