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.

Tara from Back Road Ramblers

Tara from Back Road Ramblers

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.

 

Woodford State Park

Woodford State Park

 

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.  

 

the famous Curtis Barbecue in Putney

the famous Curtis Barbecue in Putney

 

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.

 

a serene scene in Bennington

a serene scene in Bennington

 

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.

 

sun shining through Woodford State Park

sun shining through Woodford State Park

 

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.

 

beautiful tree reflections in Quechee Gorge State Park

beautiful tree reflections in Quechee Gorge State Park

 

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!

For more AWESOME off-the-beaten-path adventures, stories, and tips, visit and say hi to Tara at Back Road Ramblers. You can also find Tara on her Facebook Page and on Instagram @ back.road.ramblers.

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!

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Featured image is of Portland Head Lighthouse in Maine – credit to Jeff Gunn

Spring is near, ushering in new beginnings and resuscitation of the natural world. We begin to pack our bags with great expectations. Much like the natural world, we awaken and ready to experience new things. If you’re in the Northeast, the snow begins to thaw and the spring’s glow beckons. And if you’re not in the region, now might be a good time to start thinking about coming here. I’ve compiled a short list of great, lesser known gems and one that you should know about for you to fancy. Have a look.

Credit to David Brooks

Pier in Beacon, New York – credit to David Brooks

1. Beacon, New York

An hour’s drive north of New York City, Beacon plays host to many events, like the Second Saturday Night Out, which is where shops, galleries and restaurants stay open late and special attractions are set up. But no matter when they visit, travelers can look through some interesting antiques, grab a bite to eat or listen closely to live music. On Sundays you have the Beacon Farmers Market where you can pick up good quality, local produce and support the community there. A walk through the riverside lets you take in from the beautiful scenery – pay attention to the historical sites there. For example, the mysterious ruins of Bannerman’s Castle, just round the Hudson River – it once housed ammunition and military surplus (visitors can still spot the holes where cannons were placed throughout the towers).

Credit to Russ Nelson

Rondout Creek, Rosendale – credit to Russ Nelson

2. Rosendale, New York

Less than a couple of hours from New York City, Hartford and Albany, Rosendale is an idyllic small-town getaway for people of all ages. With comfy and unpretentious cafés, taverns and boutiques and the looming Catskill Mountains and Rondout Creek winding about the background, civilization and nature work in perfect harmony. Most of these buildings were constructed at the beginning of the 1900s after a major fire in 1895 destroyed half the town. Since the Woodstock music festival days, an increasing number of artists and entrepreneurs are moving from New York to Rosendale, establishing a thriving arts culture and online business community – it will be the only place to catch a form of art performance in the abandoned limestone mine. The town also hosts frequent town-wide street festivals, mixing historic attractions with new community-minded businesses.

Credit to Brian Holland

Hammondsport, New York – credit to Brian Holland

3. Hammondsport, New York

Hammondsport, N.Y., stands out as the recycling capital of America – not garbage recycling (though they do that, too). We’re talking about the vintage seaplanes restored and flown with the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum. This town knows how to repurpose: the birdhouses made out of scrap wood before the Aroma Coffee Art Gallery; the cypress panelling (repurposed from old wine barrels) in the Bully Hill Vineyard’s lower diner. It’s not just about loving history. You get the sense of who the individuals here are.

The city is full of history. For example, the Pleasant Valley Wine Company was the first inside the Finger Lakes region. Another winery, Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera’s Wine Cellars innovatively planted European grapes in the colder New York climate. Today, both those wineries—and several more—are mainstays of the landscape. Dr. Frank’s winery, for example, sits through an impossibly green chunk of property overlooking its vineyards and sparkling, Y-shaped Keuka Lake. After all these years, tastings at Dr. Frank’s are still free. In fact, many of the best things in Hammondsport are: sunbathing on condo-less Keuka Lake, kicking back around the town square for outdoor summer concerts on Thursday nights, and jam sessions in the basement of the Union Block Italian Bistro which also provides delicious meals like the linguini and clam sauce. For a place to stay, the spiral staircase, crown mouldings, and pieces of vintage wallpaper in the octagonal 1859 home converted into the Black Sheep Inn will ensnare visitors with intrigue and history.

Credit to Stanley

Ohiopyle State Park – credit to Stanley

4. Ohiopyle State Park, Pennsylvania

The South western Pennsylvania’s Ohiopyle State Park is the place to visit if you’re looking for all-inclusive activities. Looking for waterfalls? It has four! Trails? Hikers get 79 miles of them—plus 27 miles for cyclists, 11 for all those on horseback, and nearly 40 more for cross-country skiers. And why not add in a natural water slide or two? The lifeblood through the 20,000-acre park, however, is the Youghiogheny River Gorge—a.k.a. the Yough. The Middle Yough, which flows to Ohiopyle from Confluence, Pa., is the gentler section, with Class I and II rapids for rafters and kayakers; the Lower Yough, downstream, gets more aggressive as Class IV white-water runs tempt adrenaline seekers. It’s no wonder that the park attracts over a million visitors each year.

The quietest campsites in Ohiopyle’s Kentuck campground include the walk-in sites; however, many people have found the camp’s firm 9 p.m. quiet hours too restrictive. If your crew is likely to get livelier deeper into the night, look at a vacation rental in Hidden Valley, Pa., or Seven Springs, Pa. – both are under 30 miles on the northeast. These two ski towns have a solid selection of rental condos and homes that might be deeply discounted in the off-season.

Fort Preble, Maine - credit to Yzukerman

Fort Preble, Maine – credit to Yzukerman

5. Southern Maine

Southern Maine is the perfect spring holiday spot: have beautiful, peaceful, and well-maintained beaches with numerous coastal towns brimming with shops and restaurants. And while there, why not indulge in fresh lobster? Getting hungry yet? To get away from the popular and touristy areas, head over to Portland or Kennebunkport.

6. Philadelphia

With New York on the north and D.C. to the south, springtime vacationers often overlook Philly. The city is brimming with history, including Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed, as well as First Bank of the U.S. While there, try cheesesteaks at both Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks and pit these rivals against each other – let your taste buds do the judging.

Lion's Head Rock - credit to takomabibelot

Lion’s Head Rock – credit to takomabibelot

7. Falmouth, Massachusetts

It’s a quaint New England town with beautiful beaches and harbors, especially at sunset. It’s quiet, but there’s a lot to do here: surfing, kite-surfing, sailing, swimming, and paddle-boarding throughout the great beaches – spring might be a little too cold but you can start a polar club and get in the water anyway! Here, you’ll discover many historical landmarks such as the old house of Katharine Lee Bates, author of “America the Beautiful.” There’s also a wonderful bike path named after her here. Can you find it? The world’s first aquarium, in Woods Hole, is also be nearby. And if you wanted to get some shopping done, downtown Falmouth will surprise you with its many cute shops.

Where are you heading to this Spring? Wherever that might be, travel on my friends!

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Traveler, travelers, stay a while and listen here. I’ll tell you of a place you’ll want to hear. Outside Vancouver’s downtown limits, up north and east a short way is a place secluded from the daily toll, where the morning fog lingers at the tree line and the calm water soothes the soul. The quiet neighborhood along the waterfront basks in the morning lights. And the views – oh the views will take up all your camera’s megabytes.

Walkers, joggers, and runners, too, all beat to the rhythm of the bobbing water blue. Look! There’s a couple intertwined, walking down the pier with their hearts aligned. And in the distance a kayaker sets out to explore Deep Cove; perhaps he’ll return with loot from a treasure trove.

 

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So this was the scene which we found ourselves in early January, 30 minutes from the busy streets and bustling shops of Downtown Vancouver. The drive was smooth once we got out of the city. It seemed we were the only ones driving up here, at least at this time of the year. I’m sure in the summer Deep Cove would attract locals and tourists alike.

 

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The air was at that perfect cold temperature that refreshes you and doesn’t hurt you. We made it out to the pier as sunlight invaded the cove and stood there admiring the idyllic scenery until our faces told us to get warmth. Standing at the end of the waterfront, a kayak rental shop stayed closed. This would be an epic spot to come back in the summer, I thought.

 

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You can rent the kayaks and go deep into the cove (I guess that’s why it’s called Deep Cove). From the pier you’d be able to paddle all the way up to Croker Island and Iron Bay. I wonder what kind of natural beauty lay beyond the pier and the horizon in front of us, but I intend to find out this summer. Perhaps I could commandeer one of the boats docked along the pier but that would require me knowing how to commandeer things and how to drive a boat.

 

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vanc-32

 

We left the pier and headed to Arms Reach Bistro. The staff was very nice and gave us seating outside accompanied by warm blankets. I’ve been to Vancouver many times and have eaten in many excellent restaurants, but the spicy pasta from Arms Reach Bistro has to rank up there in the top 3 dishes I’ve eaten in the Greater Vancouver area. It’s just the right amount of spicy and the flavoring was delicious. I’m definitely coming back here.

 

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After lunch we said our good-byes to this sleepy and picturesque little town. I felt unsatisfied. That water looked too nice to be left un-swam in, un-kayaked, and unexplored. The adventurer in me will not rest until Deep Cove has been thoroughly traversed.

 

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Leaving Deep Cove, we stopped by Cates Park along the way. There are several small beaches here and a boat ramp that overlook an industrial Vancouver on the other side. We walked out on the pier and discovered that many locals had congregated here to try their luck catching crabs. They didn’t need luck at all actually. With homemade crab traps, crabbers young and old were tossing them in and reeling them back with crabs crawling all over. Most of them were thrown back because they didn’t meet size specifications, but I was amazed at how easy it was to catch one. Cates Park was a short visit but was memorable. I truly liked how people here lived. I could picture myself living in this small town atmosphere so close to the metropolis that is Vancouver.

 

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If you’re ever in Vancouver, put Deep Cove on your itinerary – you’ll be pleasantly surprised. For another side trip outside of downtown Vancouver, read Easy hike, amazing rewards – off the beaten path in Vancouver, BC.

Travel on my friends!

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