There are places you go on vacation where there’s a fine line between the tourist experience you’re provided and the reality of living in that particular place. Escaping from your secluded resort hideaway for a few hours to immerse yourself in the local culture never feels authentic as long as you have your isolated accommodations to return to. Then there are places like Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, where visitors and locals coalesce and can be indistinguishable. Visitors roll up their sleeves and experience the Kingdom like they’ve lived here for decades, and that’s what’s different about visiting the Kingdom – you don’t observe it, you experience it!
The Northeast Kingdom has been working with the National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destination since 2006 and is devoted to this practice. Tourism is integrated into the working landscape and approached in such a way that it preserves the Kingdom’s unique culture. Tourists enjoy recreating on the same trails and lakes as the locals, eating locally grown meals at the same restaurants, and even helping out around the farm if they’re inclined to get their hands dirty. The Northeast Kingdom is your place to live the country lifestyle you’ve longed for since taking that job in the city.
Picturesque landscapes, the peace of mind of a relaxed environment and a variety of activities for all ages make Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom (NEK) a can’t-miss destination for vacationers and tourists exploring New England in the summertime. From hiking and swimming, to navigating corn mazes and attending local arts festivals, the Northeast Kingdom has everything there is to offer and more for your seasonal excursion that’s “away from it all.”
Lakes in the Kingdom
No summer visit to the Kingdom would be complete without a refreshing dip in one of the many rivers or lakes. For paddlers and boaters, the lakes are ripe for exploration and fishing. Take Westmore’s Lake Willoughby for example. The state’s deepest glacial lake is surrounded by a pair of peaks, Mount Pisgah and Mount Hor, as scenic as they are challenging for hikers and climbers of all ages. The area’s chilliest lake provides boaters, swimmers and kayakers with plenty of ways to find cool solace on hot summer days. Pisgah’s peak serves as a lookout for the region’s biggest mountain resorts, Jay Peak and Burke Mountain. At the end of the day, you can rest your head under the stars at one of many nearby campgrounds, or enjoy the cozy, relaxing atmosphere and lakeside accommodations of the WilloughVale Inn.
Other lakes in the NEK include Crystal Lake state park in Barton, Seymour Lake in Morgan and Lake Memphremagog, which begins in Newport and extends over 20 miles into Canada. With the right documentation, boaters can enjoy a multicultural day of sunshine on the region’s largest water body.
The city of Newport serves as a crossroads for the United States and Canada, and brings heavy flow of border traffic. This city by the lake offers delicious local food, plentiful shopping and abundant outdoor activities (it’s 20 minutes from Jay Peak Resort). Newport’s eateries offer guests a true Farm to Table experience, including local shops like Newport Natural Foods, or restaurants like Lago Trattoria on Main Street, or The East Side, located lakeside.
Each lake’s unique experiences can be enjoyed at the highest level with the rental of a lakeside cabin or camp during these summer months. While you relax on your own private beach, your access to towns and other activities will be easier than ever, all knowing you’ve got your own home away from home to retire to at the end of a long summer day.
Derby Line, the Kingdom’s northernmost town, is home to Vermont largest international crossing. If you decide to stay in the U.S. however, you can get the best of both worlds by checking out the Haskell Library and Opera House and Canusa Avenue, a building and street split in half by our border with Canada.
Exploring the region’s food and festivals
But if the smell of lakeside barbeques isn’t your thing, the scent of freshly cut hay fields might be. Sunday drives nonexistent in an urban atmosphere are revived in northern Vermont’s rural countryside. Whether venturing out just to explore, or in search of a creemie (Vermonter for soft-serve ice cream) at one of the area’s country stores or snack bars like Derby’s L&B Snack Bar, getting lost on our back roads can sometimes be the best way to find yourself while on vacation.
Each town you cross is unique and has its own town parades, county fairs and outdoor festivals.
Arts and Entertainment
Vermont is known for its creative and crafty residents and the Kingdom is no exception. The region is home to many award-winning authors, poets, painters, sculptors and more, many of which have their work on display in downtown galleries and boutiques. Rainy days are opportunities to delve into this thriving arts community by visiting the many museums, theatres, libraries and galleries.
The artistic center of the Kingdom is arguably the town of St. Johnsbury, at the southeastern tip of the region. The Victorian-style building at the center of town houses the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium, a must for those looking wishing to see the history and culture of the Kingdom, its wildlife and traditions. For some inspiration to channel your inner Thoreau, visit the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum where you will be greeted with an incredible collection of literary works and breathtaking artwork. Housed in a Masonic temple built in 1912, one of the area’s most beautiful buildings, the Catamount Arts Center is as inspiring as it is entertaining. Its Community Arts Building features two movie theaters, allowing Catamount Arts to present a regular schedule of acclaimed foreign-language and independent films; two state-of-the-art classrooms, which are used for art, computer and music education; an 80-seat performance space dedicated to regular performances by local artists; and a gallery showcasing local and area artists' work.
Music is as easy to find as following your ears. If a tight-knit scene is what you’re looking for, the Parker Pie Co. in West Glover is just one of many small venues with big character. For larger concert scenes, county fairs are the place to be in the summer. From the Orleans County Fair to the Caledonia County Fair, chances are you’ll find a big-name act despite their small size.
Cooler temperatures, cooler activities
As the temperature cools and an autumn breeze replaces summer sunshine, things to do in the kingdom remain plentiful. While the brilliant foliage the NEK has become known for colors the region in various reds, oranges and yellows, hikers, cyclists, paddlers and any other outdoor lover will be beckoned to the region, simply to bear witness to the artistic capabilities of nature.
For the adventurous, rising early in the morning as Vermont’s first frost hits would be well worth it at a place like Burke Mountain Bike Park and the Kingdom Trails. As your chairlift lift rises through the early morning fog, you and your bike will enjoy a brisk ride down some of the best trails New England has to offer. Or if you prefer to pedal yourself, enjoy one of North America’s most expansive cross-country mountain bike networks. Check out the trailside Burke Bike Barn, a former barn redesigned to cater as lodging for locals and guests visiting our many bike trails, for a unique accommodation for a night out on the trail.
The Burke area offers visitors more than just bike trails in the summer, however. The Tamarack Grill is host to various concerts throughout the summer season. Nearby Trout River Brewery, located in Lyndonville, is a popular destination among locals and travelers alike; enjoy a Kingdom brewed beer while having a taste at the Trout River Pub’s various menu items made up of Vermonter favorites like their various fish-inspired gourmet pizzas.
With a large summer following, visitors to the NEK often forget about the joy of kayaking the Kingdom during the late summer and early fall months. Persevering through chilly mornings to navigate the area’s numerous rivers and lakes is undoubtedly made worth it as the sun breaks the morning fog and the beauty of northern Vermont is admired up close on the water.
Breakfast in bed
While taking pictures of our foliage can provide ever-lasting imagery, experiencing the region first-hand can create an impression that will last a lifetime. Finding places to stay like the Rabbit Hill Inn in Lower Waterford can help plant you near local fall harvest festivals, still giving you the nearby options like cycling and some of the region’s best hikes.
The rest of your refreshing, crisp-aired days can be filled with corn mazes and pumpkin harvests, while nights serve up a bounty of community suppers and other local events. A stay at a bed and breakfast like Riverbend Bed and Breakfast in Troy could even find you waking early the next morning to help out with farm chores and taking a trail down a windy northern Vermont river, all on horseback. If a less physical stay is what you fancy, the Phineas Swan in Montgomery provides one of the best stays in New England, all under the shadow of Jay Peak. Plus, they’re dog friendly!
One does not simply visit the Northeast Kingdom; one experiences it. If you’re idea of the perfect getaway entails sitting poolside with a tall fence between you and the outside world, then this isn’t the destination for you. Visitors to the Kingdom find themselves mingling with locals over morning coffee and sharing tips on fishing spots in the afternoon. In this region often called Vermont’s Last Frontier, tourism has been melded into the everyday way of life. If you’re the traveler who likes to ditch the tour and blend in with the locals, you’ll find yourself at home in this quaint corner of Vermont.
For more information on Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom and ways your can plan a trip to the region, visit www.travelthekingdom.com, the Northeast Kingdom’s source for travel and tourism information. Request an informational packet and begin planning your escape to Vermont’s final frontier.
Submitted By: Northeast Kingdom Travel and Tourism Association (NEKTTA)
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