I admit it, I don’t know too much about the Northeast, and specifically Vermont. It just doesn’t get the kind of attention that New York or Massachusetts gets, and I think it’s a travesty. Fortunately, Tara from Back Road Ramblers is here to show me the way and to tell everyone that, indeed, Vermont is more than just fall colors and maple syrup. Let’s get started!
NOTE: All pictures are courtesy of Tara. To see more great pictures and posts, check Tara out on her blog.
Up Up and a Bear: Please tell the readers a little bit about yourself.
Tara: Let’s see – I’m almost 40, married to my one true love, and mom to two teenage boys. I love exploring the outdoors – hiking, paddling, camping, and especially taking pictures. We homeschooled our kids for years and years which enabled us to live a pretty flexible lifestyle that included lots of adventuring and traveling. Now the boys have transitioned to public high school, so we’ve had to limit our excursions to school holidays. We’re still adjusting to that. I’m also a huge dog lover, and have been raising puppies for Guiding Eyes for the Blind for the past 10 years.
Up Up and a Bear: You know what your story reminds me of? A pamphlet outlining how to live a happy life. And wow, thank you for your time and dedication for such an incredible cause. 10 years is a long time – my fiancé is actually going on 3 years volunteering at the local shelter for kitties. Speaking of a long time, congratulations on making it to 10 years in Bennington, Vermont. I understand you’ve been a traveler all your life with itchy feet, what made you settle down in Bennington?
Tara: So, I didn’t actually plan to settle down – it just sort of happened. Owning a home and a garden kind of made me fall in love with domestic life. We raised chickens, adopted a couple of cats, and started volunteering and working locally. One day I woke up and realized that I knew everyone I passed on the street. I also realized that it was the very first time in my life that had ever happened. It was a good feeling.
Up Up and a Bear: You know I woke up this morning and realized that I knew NONE of my neighbors, so you having found a tight-knit community is something I’ll have to work toward. But anyway, let’s talk a little bit about Vermont. Everyone knows that Vermont is beautiful country in the fall because of the incredible fall colors, what should they know about the other seasons as well?
Tara: Obviously winter is enchanting if you love snow, skiing, and hot chocolate, which we do. Mud season comes next, and that can be a real drag. Luckily it coincides with maple sugar season, and when the sugar shacks start cooking down sap, you can smell and taste the syrup in the air. It makes mud season almost bearable. We usually fire up our own backyard evaporator in March, cooking down 5 or 6 gallons of syrup each year. Summer is perfect in Vermont, especially if you love the outdoors. The state is full of secret swimming holes, mountain lakes, and hiking trails. The local food movement is huge, and every town seems to have a farmers’ market. I could be a summer tourist in Vermont forever and not get bored.
One day I woke up and realized that I knew everyone I passed on the street.
Up Up and a Bear: Wait; hold on… you just call spring “mud season”? And you have your own maple syrup maker? AND there are tons of secret swimming holes in Vermont? I’m not a huge fan of maple syrup but swimming in secret swimming holes is what I’m all about! I have to get out to Vermont this year. And judging from the pictures on your blog, Bennington (and Vermont in general) is full of natural beauty, is that your favorite part of living there?
Tara: That’s my favorite part – the natural beauty. It’s not exactly wild and rugged like places we’ve explored out west – instead it’s a tamed beauty. The ancient mountains are pretty well rounded and the paths are pretty well worn. I love getting to know this place on a deeper level – watching the paint fade on my favorite buildings, and the saplings grow into shade trees.
Up Up and a Bear: This is REALLY making me want to sip on some sake and compose a poem or two while gazing at the moon. It just sounds so poetic! Okay, before I get out of control… what would you suggest people do in Vermont if it’s their first time here? When would be the best time to visit?
Tara: Oh please – I could seriously be a tour guide in Vermont, so just contact me if you want to visit, but I’ll try and narrow down favorite spots for you here.
If you’ve never been to Vermont, you should start in and around Burlington and Lake Champlain, and you should visit in the summer. In Burlington, eat out as much as you can afford, stroll along the pedestrian-only Church Street Marketplace, peddle along the lake on the Burlington Bike Path, and visit the ECHO Center on the waterfront to learn about the lake’s fascinating natural history. The area was once a shallow, tropical sea and you can still visit the remains of the world’s oldest known fossil coral reef bed.
The state is full of secret swimming holes, mountain lakes, and hiking trails.
If you still have time, you should head west to the Green Mountains, where you can hike up Mount Mansfield in Stowe, Vermont’s tallest mountain. This is one of the few places in Vermont where you can experience the alpine tundra, plus the views are spectacular. Swimming holes are an institution in Vermont, so if you see a line of cars parked on a back road somewhere, be sure to pull off and check it out. We always keep towels and swimsuits in the car just in case. The Stowe area has some really good ones.
Up Up and a Bear: Okay we need to stop tempting me with these swimming holes references. I have to confess – if I could wear swimming trunks everywhere, I would. So after getting your swim on, what should people eat there beside the maple syrup?
Tara: Milk fresh from the farm. It’s unlike anything you get from the supermarket. There’s also been a huge interest in artisan cheese lately, which is really easy to find throughout the state. Ben & Jerry’s started up in Burlington back in the 70s, and you can still visit their ice cream factory in Waterbury. It’s a pretty tasty tour.
The ancient mountains are pretty well rounded and the paths are pretty well worn.
Up Up and a Bear: Vermont sounds so sweet! So to be honest, I don’t know too much about Vermont. Everyone talks about Boston or New York when it comes to the Northeast so I don’t get a lot of info on Vermont. What are some tidbits about this state that most people don’t know about?
Tara: Vermont has more dirt roads than paved roads – another reason why it has stolen my heart. Vermont’s capital city of Montpelier is the least populated capital city in the country, and the only state capital without a McDonalds. There are also more than 100 covered bridges in the state, the most per square mile in the US.
Up Up and a Bear: I’m starting to get the picture of why you love it so much there. Vermont sounds amazing! I read somewhere that 3/4 of Vermont is forest so that’s awesome for back road adventures, what are some of your favorite spots for outdoors activities?
Tara: I think I already answered that question when I talked about my favorite places to visit in the state, but I did forget to mention the Long Trail, America’s first long-distance hiking path. It’s a 272 miles trail that runs along the Green Mountains from Pownal, on the Massachusetts border, all the way to Canada. We’ve never hiked the whole thing, but we’ve covered a good portion of it.
Vermont has more dirt roads than paved roads
Up Up and a Bear: That’s awesome! That reminds me of the Pacific Crest Trail closer to home; to note, I’ve done about 10 miles out of that 2,663 miles trail. I have some catching up to do. I try to be outdoors as much as I can, and I usually end up in water somewhere. It’s clear that you and your family are an outdoor kind of family. What does that mean to you? Do you think that all the back road trips you’ve had with your family strengthened your relationships?
Tara: The natural world is fascinating, and we try to make connections with the land each and every day. The forest and mountains have always been an extension of our home, and our whole family feels really comfortable outdoors – in all kinds of weather, and for any length of time.
I do feel like our adventures have helped strengthen our family ties. When you simplify life to its most basic elements – which is what happens when we live out of a backpack or a car, there is so much more time to just be. We talk, we explore, we cook, we play games, and we make art. I can’t think of any better way to spend my days.
Up Up and a Bear: Tara, thank you so much for your candid responses and for helping to open my eyes to the wonders of Vermont. I have to find a way to get over there soon!
Want to know how to travel like a local in New York, read Brave New Yorker tells all: Manhattan is SMALL! and other local travel tips.
Travel on my friends!