If you’re like me, you probably think that one of the best things about beginning of fall is that we’re just that much closer to ski season. But the fact is that early fall in Vermont’s Mad River Valley is (almost) as heavenly as winter, with fields full of wildflowers, warm days and cool nights, and all kinds of outdoor fun to be had. So just what can you do to enjoy those early fall days?
Hike or bike. Get off the highway and hit one of the Mad River Valley’s many dirt roads either on foot or a bike. The Bragg Hill loop has a semi-strenuous climb and spectacular views of both ski areas (Sugarbush and Mad River Glen) a great reminder of what’s to come. The Waitsfield Common Road also offers a magnificent mountain backdrop as well as some of the Valley’s prettiest barns to admire. If you’re looking more of a hike in the woods, climb up to Sunset Rock at the top of the Lincoln Gap; it’s easy and short enough for kids to do and the view at the end offers a spectacular reward – on a clear day, you can see all the way to the Adirondacks.
And of course, those leaves are changing, and there’s little that’s more spectacular than walking or riding through the colors of a Vermont autumn.
Play some disc golf. If you’re looking for a way to get up on the mountain and have some fun on the trails without your skis on, the two disc golf courses at Sugarbush Resort are perfect (note that after September 8, disc golf is open weekends and Columbus Day only). Walk to the lower course from the base area or buy a ticket for the Super Bravo chairlift for the more challenging course. The “holes” wind around and between the trails, offering lots of chances to climb up and down, cross water bars, and explore the woods – just like winter but without the snow.
If you don’t have discs, you can buy them at the Gate House Gear Adventure shop where you get your tickets to play.
Go for a swim. With brisk nights (and days) arriving, take advantage of the last bit of summer warmth to cool off in the clear waters of Blueberry Lake, where you might also find some late-season berries to pick. Or take a dip in one of the many natural swimming holes in the Mad River. A local favorite is the Lareau Water Hole off of Route 100 South, where a huge glacial rock and a deep eddy in the river offer the perfect jumping spot. The water can be quite chilly, but what better way to get yourself ready for winter?
Stock up on the harvest bounty at the Waitsfield Farmer’s Market. Every Saturday morning from 9 to 1 you can find a huge selection of local products on the Mad River Green. From apples to artisanal cheese, you’ll find what you crave. Sample a pastry for breakfast and pick up supplies for a picnic lunch. Or, if you’re like my kids, skip both meals and head straight for a dessert of homemade ice cream in flavors like maple bacon or ginger peach. This is also the perfect place to pick up that most local of specialties, a big container of maple syrup.
A fall visit to the Mad River Valley is a great way to get yourself psyched up for winter – and to discover just how beautiful it is there no matter what the season.