As we walked, Greg told us about how Stowe used to be nothing but little mountain shacks that backcountry skiers would stay in during epic weekends.
Stowe, Vermont, is one of America’s most famous destinations for those who are seeking outdoor adventures. During the warmer months, the town is home to hiking, biking, and rafting. During the winter, it’s a haven for snow sports, including skiing and snowboarding. Year-round, Stowe is a destination known for excellent food and drink, being home to a large array of breweries and cideries, as well as its award-winning restaurants.
I was there for a weekend escape. I had two days to make the most of Stowe, and thanks to the town’s compact size, it’s easy to accomplish a lot on a tight schedule. Most visitors will either be flying into the nearby Burlington airport, or driving in from another destination like Boston. Because Stowe is so popular with road trippers (especially in autumn during “leaf-peeping” season), the town is loaded with decked out roadside lodges.
My group was staying at a retrofitted motor lodge called Tälta Lodge (bluebirdhotels.com). Talta was originally built in the 50s, where it served as a relaxing retreat for visitors who came to ski. Nowadays, after a hefty renovation, Talta is a sleek, clean, incredibly cozy, and friendly motel.
Upon arrival, we entered a lobby area complete with a fireplace and large sofas. Our rooms were big, bright, and comfy. A giant bed was surrounded by Birchwood upholsteries and sliding glass doors that take you right out to the lodge’s backyard.
As soon as we unpacked, it was time for our first outing. We were off to Lamoille Valley Bike Tours (lamoillevalleybiketours.com). Located in the nearby town of Johnson, visitors are able to rent bikes and e-bikes and head down the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail (which is conveniently located directly across the street). Spanning 93 miles, the Rail Trail is best experienced with an e-bike. We opted for a guided tour that took us to various breweries along the trail. Jim, our guide, led us through the Vermont wilderness, gave us insider tips along the way, and shared stories of his life in Vermont.
We began our journey with a low-level assist from our e-bikes. Many people think e-bikes are like mini mopeds that do the work for you. In some cases, that’s true, but most e-bikes aren’t that powerful, and instead simply help the bike lose speed at a slower rate when you’re not pedaling. Some might think it’s “cheating,” but when biking 25 miles along a trail, you’ll be thankful for the bike’s help.
Our first stop on the trail was Dog Head Falls. It’s a beautiful little spot along the Lamoille River. The “falls” are something between a mini-waterfall and river rapids. Fortunately, giant boulders rise out of the river, allowing you to jump, hop, and climb above the rushing water. It’s a thrilling and beautiful little slice of Vermont’s natural side that really helped set the scene for the rest of our journey.
During the warmer months, the town is home to hiking, biking, and rafting. During the winter, it’s a haven for snow sports, including skiing and snowboarding.
As we got back on our bikes, we headed further away from town, biking along a tree-lined path, through farmland, and over old railroad bridges. It was an excellent way to get acquainted with Vermont’s picturesque mixture of small towns and rugged wilderness.
The next stop on the journey was Lost Nation Brewery (lostnatoinbrewing.com). Lost Nation brews its own beers that take inspiration from European-style ales and lagers. They pair that with their homemade barbeque platters to create a mouthwatering dining experience. Best of all, the brewery sits directly on the side of the trail. Lost Nation literally has a bike rack so travelers can simply hop on and hop off the trail for a beer, a snack, or just to use the restroom. It’s little touches like those that make a place feel special. There’s a feeling of comfort, safety, and community that comes from being able to just to get off your bike and walk in for a beer.
For lunch, our platters came with barbecue chicken, coleslaw, baked beans, and mac n’ cheese. It was delicious, and helped keep our energy up for the rest of the ride.
After lunch, we were off to our next stops, Ten Bends Beer (tenbendsbeer.com) and Rock Art Brewery (rockartbrewery.com). On our way to the breweries, we pedaled through more small towns, along little creeks, and through an honest-to-god dairy farm that was filled with leisurely cows who grazed in the fields around us. It was like biking through one of those milk commercials you see on TV.
Rock Art and Ten Bends were tons of fun. Both were filled with a jovial crowd, a good variety of beers, and a friendly, relaxed atmosphere. It was an excellent way to spend a morning and afternoon and really helped us get to know the region. Also, for those who are wondering, Jim’s bike is equipped with storage so you’re welcome to buy some local beers and he will carry it back to the bike shop for you.
Before dinner that night, I took some time to explore the sprawling grounds at Talta. The lodge sits along a river and its backyard comes complete with fire pits, cornhole, Adirondack chairs, and even a hot tub! But there was also something else special about the place…people.
I can’t tell you how many times I visit a hotel and the communal spaces feel stale and barren. And it’s obvious that other guests feel the same way, because they’re normally empty. At Talta, it felt like a communal home. Guests were sitting out on the chairs, kids were playing tag, and an elderly couple was taking a walk by the river. I think seeing people enjoying themselves at the lodge was almost as impressive as the view. I loved that feeling, and I wish more properties knew how to create comfortable, accessible, and welcoming spaces like that.
For dinner, we were off to Idletyme Brewing Company (Idletymebrewing.com), located on Mountain Road, one of Stowe’s main thoroughfares. Idletyme is a restaurant and brewery that specializes in local flavors. For example, dining options include giant Bavarian pretzels (thanks to the Von Trapp’s influence on the community), poutine (thanks to Stowe’s proximity to Quebec), and cheddar fritters which uses local Vermont cheese (thanks to Vermont’s renowned dairy industry). If you’re wondering, yes, we did order all of those, and yes, they were absolutely phenomenal.
We got back to Talta around 9 P.M. It was dark, there was a chill in the air, and the fire pit was roaring. Equipped with a few bottles of wine and all the fixings for s’mores, we sat down by the fire, got to know the other guests, and had a great night relaxing outdoors underneath the stars.
The next morning, we grabbed our breakfast to-go and hit the road. We were heading to Mt. Mansfield State Forest. There, we were met by Greg and Tyler, who help run Sunshine Mountain Guides (Sunshinemoutainguides.com). They took us on a guided hike and gave us the rundown on the history of Stowe. We began our hike along a secluded creek that could have easily been in a Thomas Kinkade painting. There was even a man fly fishing, which certainly added to its picturesque feel. Light dappled through the trees and the sound of water rambling down the stream filled the air.
As we walked, Greg told us about how Stowe used to be nothing but little mountain shacks that backcountry skiers would stay in during epic weekends. From there, the destination continued to grow and grow, and once the Von Trapp Family began renting rooms in the 1940s, the destination really took off, eventually becoming the renowned destination it is today.
He also told us something peculiar, but also amazing. During the winter months, students in Stowe get Friday afternoons off of school to go skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing. The idea is that it’s physical exercise and counts as their PE credit, and it also teaches them about the outdoors and helps them learn to navigate the mountains, which are important skills to have when living in a mountain town.