From late September through the end of October, Vermont’s trees burst with color. Vibrant red and orange maples, bright yellow birch, and golden beech blanket the state with a warm rainbow that draws leaf peepers from far and wide. But you don't need to scramble to the top of one of the state’s many mountain peaks to enjoy this show. Here are some easy walks and hikes that pay off with spectacular views.
1. Otter Creek Gorge Preserve Trail, New Haven
The 2.2-mile Otter Creek Gorge Preserve Trail, part of the Trails Around Middlebury system, meanders through the woods and hills along Otter Creek. You can access the trail from State Route 7—head west down Belden Falls Road between Middlebury and New Haven and drive to the parking lot at the end. You’ll cross two suspended bridges traversing the raging waterfall to enter the forest. From there, follow the well-marked path to the left or the right—either direction works because the trail is a loop. You’ll get glimpses of the ravine formed by Otter Creek, the horse farms that border the west side of the preserve, and, of course, plenty of vibrant foliage.
2. Mad River Path, Fayston, Waitsfield, and Warren
The Mad River Path, a collection of 11 trails throughout the Mad River Valley, leads walkers through forested mountainsides, marshes, and farmland. One easy segment, the 2.4-mile West Greenway, follows the course of the Mad River through a floodplain forest with large trees and views of the color at the Sugarbush ski resort to the south. The Warren Path, which is a 2-mile out-and-back trail, follows an old logging road through a hardwood forest, past enormous boulders and hilly terrain. Stop in one of the valley’s many restaurants and cafés after your walk to enjoy the views over a drink or meal.
3. Stowe Recreation Path, Stowe
Residents and visitors alike flock year-round to the Stowe Recreation Path. This 5.3-mile paved trail roughly parallels Mountain Road as it climbs from the picture-perfect village of Stowe to the AAA Four Diamond Topnotch Resort. You can find trailheads with ample parking at several points along the path. As you stroll along the route, you’ll see the West Branch River running alongside you—or underneath you, as you cross over one of the path’s 10 bridges. The warm colors of the wooded mountains, the golden harvested fields, and the colorful trees along the rec path give this outing a true autumnal vibe.
4. Hazen’s Notch, Montgomery
Farther from the more touristy parts of Vermont, Hazen’s Notch is about 17 miles from the Canadian border. The trail system here is extensive—many trails are used for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter—and some are more difficult than others. A good one with a big payoff view-wise is the out-and-back path from the trail system entrance on Rossier Road up to the High Meadow. A quarter mile in, you’ll reach Moosewood Ponds, with a blaze of red maples, yellow beech, and birch reflected in the water’s surface. The path then gradually ascends for another quarter mile, where you emerge from the forest into a vast meadow surrounded by conifers and various deciduous trees. Take the path through the meadow to get spectacular vistas of the nearby mountains of Jay Peak, Big Jay, and Little Jay.
5. Groton State Forest, Marshfield and Peacham
Numerous miles of trails crisscross Groton State Forest’s 26,000 acres in central Vermont, from casual strolls to heart-pounding ascents. For an easy excursion through the foliage to a breathtaking Kettle Pond vista, take the 1.5-mile Owls Head Trail from the New Discovery campground. You’ll pass through marshes and hardwood forests, with rock outcropping lining the trail. The trail climbs slightly as you reach the parking lot for the Owls Head overlook, where you’ll climb a short staircase made of rocks in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. At the top, take in the wide-open panoramic views of the Green Mountains and Kettle Pond. For a longer walk, try the 4.5-mile Peacham Bog Trail. While much of this area’s unique vegetation will be past its prime by fall, the views of the surrounding landscape will be filled with color.
6. Shelburne Farms, Shelburne
Visitors to Shelburne Farms can explore its 1,400 acres—designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in the late 1880s—on one of the many trails that loop through the property. The 4.5-mile Farm Loop passes by the cedar shake–covered barn and cuts through Lone Tree Hill—which offers sweeping views of the surrounding pastures, fields, and woodland—to follow the rocky shore of Lake Champlain. On a clear day, you might even get a peek at the vibrant foliage of the Adirondack Mountains across the lake. Other trails to check out at this National Historic Landmark District are the 0.7-mile Market Garden Trail and 0.66-mile Butternut Hill Trail. Don’t forget to stop at the farm shop for some of its famous cheddar cheese.
7. Rock Point, Burlington
Located just 2 miles northwest of bustling downtown Burlington, Rock Point offers a quiet place to enjoy nature’s soothing rhythms. The trails are free of charge, though visitors are requested to get a pass—either printed or saved to your device—through the organization’s website before arriving (donations are accepted). The website also includes parking information. The well-maintained trails loop around the site’s wooded peninsula for more than 2 miles, with multiple overlooks to take in views of the lake and the Adirondacks in the distance. In several places, particularly along the Thrust Fault Trail, you can find evidence of Vermont’s turbulent geologic past. Look for the eye-level fault line between the sandy-colored dolomite and the dark gray shale: Despite being on top of the shale here, the dolomite is actually around 40 million years older. Due to the colliding land masses that created the Green Mountains, however, the layers of rock buckled and slipped out of place. It’s not every day you can kick your feet through fallen leaves next to 500-million-year-old rocks!
Pamela Hunt is a freelance writer in Burlington, Vermont, who eagerly awaits the fall foliage in the Green Mountains each year.
AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.