An Autumn Travel Guide
Life is funny. You’ve heard the phrase a reason, a season, or a lifetime, and sometimes a sweet and unexpected combination or repetition of these occurs.
One of my first memories of Vermont is being in Dorset, at the quaint and quintessential Barrow’s House in town. Town. As in the whole of tiny Church Street and a small strip of Route 30 from its intersection with Church and just south spanning a 12-second drive.
My older brother and I shared a bunk room with cozy wooden paneling so typical of mountain-life, and I distinctly remember the thrill of having my own pull-chain wall sconce above my bed, the dim light giving me just enough light to look at books before bed. Sure, my mom put me to bed before I could engage in such independent behavior, but we read together, and it was I, the three-year-old edition, who pulled the chain and “blew out” the light.
We stayed in Dorset several times throughout my childhood, enjoying its cozy idyllic charm by evening, cross-country skiing at Wild Wings by day.
Vermont graced me with many other memories in various parts of the state; some places I still return to today, and others call from a distance for another visit. But the place that surprised me in its swift and seemingly permanent return is Dorset. Sweet, charming, blink-and-you-miss-it Dorset.
Like many people from our neck of the woods, my husband grew up going to southern Vermont to ski in the winter and fish in the summer. Life took over and those trips ceased…until his father was remarried to a woman in town.
How ironic that promptly after we met he took me back to a place full of magic first memories I’d just short of forgotten. Five years and countless return trips in, those first seasonal memories of the Green Mountain State have actually become more vivid, growing into a lifetime of adventures not yet taken. We come up frequently to our home away from home. In the green of summer, the warm glow of autumn, and the winter white blanket of snow. Each time we come we discover new adventures to be taken, treats to be enjoyed, and sights (and sites) to be seen.
And isn’t it high time I share a few with you? Below are my all-time favorite picks for this most wonderfall time of year in the Dorset/Manchester area, just in time for peak leaf-peeping.
There is so so much to do in Southern Vermont, and this list barely touches the tip of the iceberg. Remember it’s just a true list of absolute favorites and there is so much more I haven’t mentioned. Some may be for another season, and I’m sure there are some I’ve not yet explored. Please don’t be shy about shooting me an email with any questions at all. About this little guide or any place in it, other places, or a more detailed experience…because I did not include everything, these are just my absolute faves. Side note: you could even email to say you wish there were more photos, because I get it, you’re visual and this no frills guide has left you wanting them…but I want you to see it for yourself, to simply know where to go.
I love receiving DMs on Instagram about this slice of heaven and my other travels, but my response time, clarity, and thoroughness is much better via my inbox. So please get in touch! I’d love to hear what you want more of in upcoming guides.
Scrumptious Bites, Delish Drinks, & Cozy Fires
You already heard a little about my past love for this sweet place, but it’s much more than a memory. Today we pop in for delicious seasonal drinks, ever-rotating drafts and bottles, a great meal and of course, the wood-burning fire pit. No trip is complete without a visit here, and we often stop in after our drive before going home, the perfect understated celebration of our arrival, a way to begin the weekend unwinding. The food is great, and like so many places in Vermont, there’s a focus on seasonal ingredients and local sourcing. And they have french fries that are actually gluten free! And truffle gluten free fries. Or cajun, depending on the season. For the Celiacs and hyper sensitive, they keep the frier separate so there’s no need to worry about cross-contamination. Don’t just eat, book a room and stay awhile.
THE DORSET INN
On the Green. The oldest continuously operating inn in Vermont sits right on the corner of Church Street and Route 30. It’s owned by the same group who owns the Barrow’s House, and you’ll find the same caliber of food and drink. The dining room is lovely, a quintessential New England farmhouse dining room with a fireplace that will keep you toasty all evening. We love the Tavern for it’s even cozier vibe, but it’s small so make sure to make a reservation or get there early. You’ll be staying awhile anyway.
DORSET UNION STORE
The iconic in-town general store is so much more than a perfect fall bounty photograph. Inside you’ll find wooden shelves stocked with local baked goods, pies, and products, a killer deli in the back, and a selection of wine, local cheese, gifts, and cards by local artists in the small room off the front end of the store. The selection of local craft brews and cider in the deli is on point, too. The Union Store is our go-to stop for breakfast and lunch sandwiches before we take a hike, picnic, or hit the road. And don’t forget to grab their maple creamee — they’re the best around.
Formerly known as Dorset Rising, the group that graces Dorset with the Inn and the Barrow’s House brings great coffee, baked goods, and bread to town. Creaky wood floors, Provincial French charm, an antique hutch, and dishes that make you feel like you’re in your own kitchen make this spot feel like home in Vermont. There are a few gluten-free options available, and though they’re packaged for sale they’re made in the same kitchen on shared equipment. For Celiacs that means it’s a no-go, but I still love their coffee and there are delish breakfast and lunch options. And the atmosphere is like no place else around.
THE COPPER GROUSE
Another favorite for drinks by the fire, the Copper Grouse sits inside the Taconic Hotel. It’s one of the newest hotels in the area but also feels like it’s been there forever. It boasts stylish Vermont charm with a modern yet cozy and classic feel, and a fireplace joining the lobby and bar. The gas fire pit outside is just as inviting with globe lights strung above and rounded benches welcoming a large group.
The food is excellent, too, and we especially love the house burger. If you’re just in the mood for snack I recommend the truffled popcorn or chicken wings.
The Equinox has a reputation as one of the best places to stay in the area, and with good reason. We had the privilege to stay at one of their Inns this summer and the service was exquisite, despite being a walk for the staff. We were treated with a wine and cheese tray upon arrival at the 1811 House, and what’s more is the waiter who delivered it had to trek across and down the street, tray on shoulder, but no big deal. Fun fact: the house was once lived in by Abraham Lincoln’s granddaughter so you’ll see tons of pictures of our 16th president throughout the inn.
The Marsh Tavern is the quintessential Vermont dining room, reminiscent of Bing Crosby’s Holiday Inn, and the perfect lunch spot. Casual elegance fills the room with a wooden-top bar and Windsor chairs around the tables. The menu consists of traditional New England dishes, and is absolutely full of options for a chilly fall day. The shepherd’s pie and Monte Cristo are our usual orders, but it’s all so good — and the tater tots are to.die.for (but sadly, they are not for Celiacs). They also make the best madras in town, and we love to take a bevvie out to the gas fire pit on the patio where we can stay toasty, admire the grounds, and gaze at Mount Equinox on fire on the horizon.
French food in an unassuming spot that will leave you itching to make a reservation for your next trip up. Not only do they have gluten free options, but an entirely different menu — my kind of place! Ask for a table by the window overlooking the babbling brook below and make sure you’re ready to savor a slow meal — the way fine food is best enjoyed.
Quick and easy like-home breakfast, interesting specials daily, and the best cheddar hashbrowns around. The finely shredded kind, cooked in a crispy-on-the-outside cake you have to break part with your fork before you salt them. It’s small, however, and and always full so be prepared to wait…on the flip side I’m not sure how we’ve always been lucky to get a table quickly. I usually get the All-American with scrambled eggs, Canadian bacon and gluten-free toast — it’s just what the morning doctor ordered.
A scenic 15-minute drive north or Dorset through farmland and windy roads, is The Barn, a quaint brown Vermont barn turned restaurant and bar. The food is good but the music is better. We love to sit in the bar on Fridays either for a meal or just a drink and listen to the live music, usually a local bluegrass band. There’s something so perfectly refreshing about a banjo, a fiddle, acoustic music and folk songs in a barn in rural Vermont. Go.
Butter crunch. Fudge. All the sweet treats wrapped into the most adorable sweet shop in Vermont. Family-owned and operated, all the goodies are made right there, by hand, and you won’t want to leave without at least one visit, lots of tastes, and a few gifts. (Bonus: they ship! See the beginning of this description for my two favorite things.)
The Best Kind of To-Do List
3 PEARS GALLERY
This little gallery in an antique house on Church Street packs a real punch. Beautiful work by talented Vermont artists enlivens the walls both downstairs and upstairs, and if you’re like me you’ll find yourself wandering back through rooms already visited to catch once last glimpse of the pieces that speak to your soul. A large room to the right of the entrance features pottery, jewelry, candles, soap, cards, and knitwear by other locals and the heart that goes into everything in the gallery is nearly tangible. This time of year they have the epitome of autumn bounty welcoming you in, so at the very least take a stroll by — I guarantee you’ll be drawn right in.
DORSET FARMER’S MARKET
Held every Sunday from 10-2 year round, this is one of my favorite farmer’s markets of all time. The most beautiful produce, fabulous local cheeses, and the sweetest honey (in glass bottles sealed with wax and a cork) all meticulously displayed will send you home with everything you need to prepare a home-cooked farm to table meal. At this time of year the market is held at H.N. Williams on Route 30 south of town, but it moves indoors at the JK Adams Kitchen Store once the weather turns.
Remember the movie You’ve Got Mail? I dreamt of being a children’s book shop owner after seeing that, and Northshire is proof that the fictional Fox’s and Amazon alike can’t take this level of small-town goodness away. There are so many places to wander, so many nooks to hide in, and the smell of wood shelving and printed paper fills the air. Local crafts and unique gifts tucked around the shop keep your eyes on the lookout for more than your next page-turner. And for the record, the children’s section up the wrought iron staircase is actually still my favorite section. (As a nursery school teacher, can you blame me?) Grab a coffee, bring the dog, and feel good about shopping small.
If you have kiddies in toe (or even if you don’t), stop by their flagship store, head to the back and pop a quarter into the gum ball machine filled with fish food. Just outside the door is little trout pond and it’s a hoot watching them gather round while they wait for you to toss it in the water.
Fly-fishing on the Mettawee River is at its peak, but it ends come October 31, so take advantage of the best time of year for trout-fishing. The brook and brown trout are spawning so the males are revealing their brightest colors and they’re absolutely stunning to see, even swimming beneath the surface. My husband is about as keen on getting out there as doing anything else, and the more aggressive fish are the most fun to catch. Check the latest fishing and game report here. And, if you like clay-shooting sports, there’s no better place to learn or practice than Orvis.
Take a Hike (or a Walk)
We love to hike, but often prefer to make a little less arduous morning of it. The gondola is open every day during the fall, so we sometimes ride it up while taking in the extra pretty views and then take our pick of the trails and head on down. (It’s still great exercise!)
At the bottom, be sure to stop in to Bar 802 for a beverage (and if you can, snag a seat on the leather couches up front). You’ll love the cozy ski lodge feel, and if you stay while, there are great bites there and at the Market connected to it, too!
LYE BROOK FALLS
It’s less a true hike and more a shaded, peaceful (but sometimes well-trodden), out-and-back 4+ mile moderate walk through the woods depending on your fitness level. There are roots and lots of rock underfoot but since the terrain is basically flat to start it’s super easy to navigate and get adjusted to. You’ll be eased into a moderate ascent for the second half of the trail, and at the end are the Lye Brook Falls: modest but tall and serenely beautiful—and totally relaxing. Have a seat on the rocks below and listen to the sound of the rushing water with a sandwich and chips. Don’t be shy about taking a little catnap either. Get there early as the trail starts to get busy late morning — and wear good shoes for those rocks.
We walked the Pond Loop at the Equinox Preserve for the first time this summer, but don’t let the name of the walk fool you — you don’t actually see the pond for most of it. Still, it’s beautiful. Nestled in tree tunnels for the majority of it, you begin to near the pond shore toward the end and there are a few narrow trails to pop in and take in the views. If you’re there on a sunny day, the clouds’ shadows dance on the mountains over the water so beautifully, you’ll definitely want to stay while. You can’t park near the pond, but there are a few places to park and then walk to the loop. Be sure to click here for more information.
When you want a little farm fun, to stroll beautiful mountain farmland (and see the cutest animals!), to take a hike, or even camp in a lean-to. Or all of the above. Merck Forest & Farmland is about 10 minutes from Dorset and offers way more than hiking. The annual Harvest Festival takes place in mid-September and is a perfect kick-off to the season with open barns, opportunities to pet the animals, press fresh cider, and ride on a wagon pulled by horses or a tractor. Hike the trails, take in the vistas, or throw a blanket down in the small apple orchard near entrance road. It’s autumn peace, with great views and lots to learn, too.
What would a trip to Vermont be without scenic drives? I’m not going to get too specific here in terms of what you’ll see and where (because isn’t being surprised half the fun?) but I’ll share a few of my favorite roads just north of Dorset and heading south for idyllic scenery, leaf-peeping delight, beautiful vistas, weathered barns, covered bridges, or all of the above. No matter where you catch each one, you’ll have hopped into a painting, if not just for a moment.
Rupert Mountain Road (Rupert-Dorset)
Danby Mountain Road (Dorset)
Dorset West Road (Dorset)
Overlook Drive (Manchester)
Manchester West Road (Manchester)
Equinox Mountain Skyline Drive (Manchester. Stop at the toll house and grab a token — the view at the top is worth every penny. Bring a picnic. And your camera.)
Route 7A & Main Street (Manchester. Walk the strip from the Equinox south to River Road and bask in the splendor of tree-lined streets and beautiful homes.)
River Road (Manchester-Arlington)