It’s not much of a secret that Vermont is a full-fledged winter wonderland. The season starts early and often runs into the spring months. While skiing and snowboarding are the most recognized ways to pass the winter months, Vermont offers a wide-range of activities, festivals, and events to fend off the winter blues. Here are 15 great ways to spend a winter day in the Green Mountain State.
Vermont is well-known for its sport-fishing. Although the spring and summer months see the most fisherman, Vermont’s lakes and ponds offer exceptional cold-water angling year-round. Lake Champlain, the state’s biggest lake is the perfect place to ice fish. This 120-mile-long lake offers ice fisherman the opportunity to catch salmon, lake trout, pike, crappie, and perch. To ensure a safe and successful experience, inexperienced ice-fisherman should consider hiring a Registered Vermont Guide. The guide will be able to take you to the right spot and provide you with all the gear you will need to catch fish.
The Stowe Winter Carnival, which runs from Jan 14-28, is evidence that the community of Stowe fully embraces its identity as a winter paradise. Over this two-week period, visitors can watch skilled ice-sculptors chisel away at their seasonal masterpieces or get in on a game of snow golf or snow volleyball. This Stowe tradition started in 1921, so they take it seriously. While you’re in town, you’ll also have the chance to indulge in Stowe’s award-winning culinary offerings.
Maybe you’re not into flying down hills at breakneck speeds. If this is the case, cross-country skiing might be your winter activity of choice. While there are cross-country skiing opportunities all around Vermont, the Craftsbury Outdoor Center is a great place to start. Their facilities offer miles upon miles of unspoiled, backcountry trails. Beginners can rent equipment on site, and seasonal memberships are only $25. Once in the woods, be on the lookout for Charley’s Cabin, a rustic structure where skiers can enjoy a warm fire, hot cocoa, and cookies. What more can you ask for?
Even though the season is long, there is no shortage of wildlife scuttling and sneaking through the winter woods. At the North Branch Nature Center in Montpelier, you and your family can explore that nature first hand. They offer a variety of programs throughout the season that allow you to engage with the peaceful and mysterious natural world in ways that you may have before. In January, experience the woods under the moonlight during their full moon snowshoe hike or explore the stars and hot chocolate at their Starry, Starry Night event. The center hosts “The Super Bowl of Birding” youth birding competition at the end of January, where youth can try their luck at spotting one of the hundred-plus species of birds that inhabit the surrounding area.
If the cold is tensing you up, take a weekend to unwind at one of Vermont’s many full-service resort spas like the Essex Resort Spa. Stay the whole weekend or pamper yourself for a day with a massage, facial, and time in the sauna. Aside from the spa treatment, these inns and resorts offer visitors world-class cuisine and gorgeous settings where you can unplug from the world and reconnect with yourself.
While it's fun to go fast on snow-on skis, snowmobiles, or sleds-sometimes you want to slow down a bit. Old-fashioned sleigh rides hold an unmistakable, timeless charm. Adams Farm in Wilmington, Vermont has been offering Belgian draft horse-drawn sleigh rides for nearly 40 years. Riders cruise through maple trees and along ridgelines before stopping at a cozy log cabin to warm up, drink cocoa, and sing songs alongside a vintage player piano. Over the course of the hour and a half trip, you can gaze up at the starry night as you listen to clopping of horse hooves in the snow.
No matter how many exciting winter sports you may enjoy, no winter activity matches the sheer youthful exuberance and nostalgia of sledding down a hill on a saucer, inner tube, or classic toboggan. Nearly everyone will agree that sledding is timeless, though you may get different answers as to where the best spots are. Each town has their special spot, but if you’re looking for a hill that has a little statewide credibility, check out Casey’s Hill in Underhill, Laplatte Nature Park in Shelburne, Hubbard Park in Montpelier, or Marshall Hill in Stowe.
There are so many ways to get out and interact with Vermont’s rugged winter beauty. Riders of all levels, even those with no experience at all, will have a blast with Snowmobile Vermont. Snowmobile Vermont is the state’s oldest snowmobile touring and rental company. With locations at Mount Snow, Okemo, Killington, and Stowe, you’ll never be too far away. Snowmobile Vermont offers a variety of packages that include training, rentals, and guided tours through Vermont’s pine-studded winter wilderness. The tour at the Mount Snow location goes through Green Mountain National Forest. According to Snowmobile Vermont, if you can drive a car, you can drive a snowmobile.
Hiking is not just a summer thing. With a little help from snowshoes, you can do it year-round. If you’re a hiking enthusiast, a winter hike lets you see the landscape differently and keeps your legs strong. A jaunt up the Lye Brook Falls trail, near Manchester, rewards hikers with a view of Vermont’s tallest waterfall, frozen in mid-air. The bare trees and blanketed forest will light up under the winter sun and make it easier to track and see wildlife. If you’re looking for a vista, the Sterling Pond trail northeast of Mt. Mansfield provides unobstructed views of Smuggler’s Notch. You don’t have to look too far to find a quiet trail in Vermont.
Sugarbush in Warren is perhaps the most extreme of ski resorts in Vermont. This six-peaked facility is the place to go for an adrenaline-packed day. What sets Sugarbush apart is the sheer variety of ways that you can enjoy the slopes. Those seeking the most extreme adventure can take a guided tour that includes cliff jumps and tree-skiing. Aside from your usual lift and ski routine, you can hike up to Allyn’s Lodge for a luxurious meal before skiing down the mountain after nightfall. With a big enough group, you can even reserve one of the slopes, Mount Ellen, for yourself.
You can skate in a rink any time of the year. When the cold sets in, why not take advantage of Vermont’s many frozen lakes and ponds? While it’s always important to check current weather conditions to make sure the ice is thick enough, there are endless opportunities to experience the freedom and splendor of a wide open, frozen lake. Lake Champlain is a solid bet. Despite its size, you’ll generally find a great place to skate somewhere not too far from Burlington. If you’re looking for something even more unique, try the Nordic skating trail on Lake Morey—a four-mile, beautifully maintained ice trail, inspired by the Scandinavian skating tradition.
Vermont is all about the outdoors, but sometimes you just want to get out without having to be outside. Higher Ground in Burlington is one of Vermont’s best music venues. The venue is intimate enough to ensure a memorable experience, but big enough to attract some great national talent. The venue’s three bars offer up a full range of tasty libations to warm your core. What better way to spend the night than to be packed into a toasty, energized club, taking in some local music heroes or discovering tomorrow’s major talent?
If your family is looking to get right into the holiday spirit, the Wild Lights Festival at ECHO Aquarium and Science Center is a promising option. The festival begins on Nov. 28 and goes until Jan. 3. It kicks off with the lighting of 7,500 individual LED bulbs. While this is a wonderful, festive event, what sets it apart is its educational slant. Visitors will enjoy a variety of demonstrations, including the lightening and darkening of the night sky, snowflake exhibit, and polar vortex exhibit. Reindeer and other winter animals will also be on hand throughout the festival.
On a cold, winter day, a hearty bowl of chili is about as good as it gets. The Vermont Chili Festival, which takes place on March 12, in Middlebury, is sure to warm you up. Last year over 5,000 people filled the streets, trying chili concoctions from restaurateurs and caters from around the state. The streets are closed to make way for live music and other festivities. The local bars offer great drink specials to wet your whistle as you eat your way through town. All proceeds benefit local charities.
If you’re into rock climbing, you’ll feel the same rush and get the same full-body workout scaling alpine walls, ice slabs, and frozen waterfalls. The guides at Vermont Adventure Tours will be more than happy to get you ready to go ice climbing. They offer outings in Central Vermont, Lake Willoughby, and Smuggler’s Notch and can accommodate climbers of all skill levels from experienced mountaineers to first-time climbers. They are also able to provide you with the tools that you’ll need to stay safe and have a great time.