Scenic, winding Route 100 in Vermont runs nearly the full length of the state.
Beyond the explosion of color during fall foliage autumn is my favorite season to photograph in Vermont. Fog often accompanies morning and as the sun rises over the eastern horizon mist catches its light and glows. Snow Geese pass through on their trek southward collecting in notable numbers in Addison. Moose in fall rut may be spotted with or in search of a mate.
Rolling hills are dotted with charming pastoral scenes, some quaint older homes, and stunning natural landscapes – all unencumbered by commercial billboards which are banned per state legislation. Covered bridges, pristine white church steeples, fields full of hay rolls, and farm stands with lawns of pumpkins are all possible targets for my viewfinder as I travel the roads of my native state.
While it is impossible to predict the exact dates foliage may be reaching peak color, the topography of Vermont offers some flexibility for visitors. From roughly mid-September to mid-October is typically considered foliage season. Starting in the northeast corner of the state the color change spreads down the center of Vermont along its highest elevations then creeps eastward and westward. The last leaves to turn are those along the Champlain Valley area, a western section of the state stretching from the northern tip to central Vermont along bordering Lake Champlain.
From the first tinge of color in an area to passing peak color may take several weeks, and with locations throughout the state peaking at various times, a visitor willing to do some traveling has some options. I prefer later in the season and typically use a point of origin from somewhere along the eastern edge of the Champlain Valley. Travel in different directions then offers some diversity in the stages of color all within a relatively short distance. While I personally prefer to stay off the beaten path and lose myself on dirt roads in search of photographs, here are some of the major attractions:
A distinctive example of glacial scouring can be found in the northeast: the water of Lake Willoughby runs about three hundred feet deep with the steep cliffs of Mt. Pisgah and Mt. Hor towering about its perimeter. The lake is also surrounded by over seven thousand acres of state forest. Driving Route 5A offers some breathtaking scenery and area hiking trails offer more intimate views.
Stowe is populated with businesses for fine dining and unique shopping with a local flavor. While the ski resort is a major attraction, the town is popular year round. A drive from Stowe up through Smuggler’s Notch is unforgettable. The narrow scenic byway of Route 108 is a steep, winding climb up Mount Mansfield, one of Vermont’s highest peaks. Large boulders roadside and nearby vertical cliffs compete for attention. Numerous hiking trails can be found through the pass that offer spectacular views. This area is a popular destination and can get quite congested during fall foliage. If planning a visit, I suggest a drive quite early in the morning with hopes of arriving before the crowds.
Clouds surrounding the mountain lit up at first morning light as a heavy fog shrouded the autumn landscape.
The scenic road through Lincoln Gap has views into the valley and hiking trails at the summit. The steep climb peaks at almost 2,500 feet, and the roads traveled on either side in order to traverse Lincoln Gap Road are quite scenic themselves.
Offering miles of countryside and views of New York mountains from across Lake Champlain, Addison is also home to Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area. This location attracts birders from afar, especially mid-October as thousands of Snow Geese fill the fields and sky at the goose viewing area on Route 17.
A deep bedrock chasm one hundred sixty-five feet deep can be observed from the roadway bridge crossing over it or from the hiking paths parallel to it.
There are many more possible destinations, some featured prominently in tour books, area maps or brochures. But to me, the experience of Vermont is about hundreds of locations of simple beauty. These can be found merely by driving around with an open mind for opportunities and may include fall colors or not. Blurred water of roadside streams, a single red leaf on a bed of dark green moss, sunlight filtering in rays through woodland mist, reflections in still pools of water, or early dustings of snow in the mountains are a few of the seemingly infinite possibilities. To me, the season just doesn’t seem to last long enough.
An early snow on Mount Mansfield added contrast to the foreground autumn colors.
I recommend purchasing DeLorme’s Vermont Atlas & Gazetteer, which provides detailed maps and lists among its first pages areas of unique natural features, scenic drives, covered bridges, wildlife viewing areas, and more.
When making travel arrangements, be sure to book accommodations early as autumn is a busy time in Vermont. While fall foliage brings with it a flood of visiting “leaf peepers”, major traffic can be avoided by staying in smaller towns, heading out early in the morning, and traveling off the main roads.
Even growing up in Vermont I have never tired of autumn’s ever-changing beauty. Now as a photographer I have an entirely new appreciation for the season.
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