The end of summer is in sight, and our Vermont summer bucket list is in the bag!
Vermont summer activities are so much fun. And let’s face it, summer here is short-lived. I like to plan my family’s sparkling summer fun so we can catch every opportunity for a good time. Vermonters are lucky to live in a place that is a summer fun destination for people from across the globe – summer planning helps make the most of our fortune.
From active vacations to artsy day-trips, from unmatched luxury to embracing your inner Earth Mother, there are so many choices for people of all ages. Even after decades of living in Vermont, I still get excited to play outside in summer. Whether you have a day or a week, dream up your own Vermont summer bucket list!
Keep cool swimming and boating
Vermont has more than 800 lakes, and 220 of them spread over more than 20 acres. From Lake Champlain’s 120 miles of shoreline to the secluded shores of Westmore’s picturesque Lake Willoughby, you’re bound to find a beach to fuel your adventure (or feed your chill).
Vermont has endless secret spots for dips in mountain-fresh water. We can even help you find some of these hidden gems, but there are even more that remain unlisted.
If you’re up for a paddle, many Vermont State Parks offer boat rentals, where you can find reasonable rates for canoes, kayaks, paddle boats, row boats, and stand-up paddleboards. Two of my favorites are Waterbury and Chittenden Reservoirs, where pristine waters, unspoiled shorelines, and dramatic skies seem to go on forever. Basin Harbor offers a gorgeous setting for a family vacation with access to all the water-based activities.
Hike and camp in parks, preserves, and mountain wilderness
Hiking options in Vermont are as varied as our terrain. City Parks offer the classic urban park experience; Oakledge in Burlington is one of our favorites, with picnic pavilions, playgrounds, trails, one of Vermont’s only handicapped-accessible treehouses, and Burlington Bike Path access.
For a quieter experience, the 28-acre preserve at North Branch Nature Center in Montpelier offers meandering trails through field and forest alongside the Winooski River. You can even bring your pup to swim at the off-leash area at Mills Riverside Park in Underhill.
Find a vast mountain playground in the Green Mountain National Forest, one of only two national forests in New England. The Forest spreads across six Vermont counties and contains three nationally designated trails, including Vermont’s Long Trail, and the Appalachian Trail which stretches from Georgia to Maine. The Green Mountain Club oversees the Long Trail and many other Vermont trail systems. Check out the Green Mountain Club for endless ideas for fun, and suggestions to stay safe while hiking or camping this summer. While you’re at it, check out these tips for campfire cuisine from professional chef and Vermont Mom Contributing Writer, Amanda Kelley.
Cycle backroads and bike paths
Whether you’re riding a tricycle or a slim-tired racer, there are plenty of Vermont summer bucket list opportunities to get out on two (or three) wheels. Relax and pedal along meandering rivers, fields, and forests just about anywhere you can find a dirt road in Vermont. If a dedicated path is more your speed, the Burlington Bike Path (also known as the Greenway) and Stowe Recreation Path are nearly world-famous for their accessibility and incredible scenery. Cycling aficionados who like to log long distances enjoy the Champlain Bikeway, which circles through Vermont, New York, and Quebec (I have to admit to only observing these folks from my car!)
For a more forested experience, the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail is New England’s longest rail trail, spanning nearly 100 miles through central and northern Vermont. The Rail Trail segments near Johnson and Danville are among my favorites, as organizers continue to connect each piece with a full-trail completion date of 2023.
Pick-your-own… you name it
Strawberries are often the first crop available for picking, and from there, cherries, peaches, blueberries, raspberries – even sunflowers! – take us through the summer.
In August, early apples begin to appear on the horizon, and that’s how we know it’s time to finish up our Vermont summer bucket list before school starts. DigInVermont has a comprehensive list of farms across the state and what they offer for picking. For day-to-day conditions and to find out what’s ripe for picking, look for updates from the farms near you; generally the cooler, hillier sections of the state will offer fruit a little later than destinations in southern Vermont or the Champlain Valley.
Did you pick more than you can fit in the fridge? This Vermont Creamery Mixed Berry Galette is one of my favorite ways to make sure our fruit is eaten (quickly!). (If you’re short on time, sub puff pastry from the freezer section of the grocery store for the crust).
Taste the bounty of Vermont
Vermont is known for its specialty food, and there is no shortage of opportunities to taste to your heart’s content. While some producers plan tasting events, or offer samples at farmers’ markets, others are simply open to the public on a regular basis. Snow Farm Vineyard and Winery in South Hero is my frequent go-to – just one of many vineyards that offer tastings as well as wine by the glass or bottle, accompanied by a sweeping view and occasional summer concerts – the perfect backdrop for a date night! Brewers, distillers, cheesemakers, bakers and so many other makers across Vermont welcome guests, often with samples, a tour, and insight into their own slice of Vermont agriculture. Don’t know where to start? DigInVermont maps more than three dozen tasting trails crisscrossing the state.
Find (a) summer play
As Vermont recovers from a two-year performance hiatus due to COVID, the curtains are opening once again on summer theater in Vermont. This summer Highland Center for the Arts in Greensboro features a diverse slate of indoor and outdoor performances for kids and adults alike, including a ragtag Cirque-Us, and the capstone performance a Shakespeare play as part of their “Get Thee to the Funnery” theater camp. The Stowe Theatre Guild is performing three decidedly date-night adult shows over the span of this summer, while Northern Stage in White River Junction highlights Sondheim in June and July. In southern Vermont, Dorset Theater Festival presents a lineup of shows throughout the summer. Bread and Puppet, a political theater nonprofit, is a Vermont staple. The shows are spectacularly low-tech and the artistry of the crude, handmade puppets is quite spectacular. If you can’t find a show that fits your schedule, the museum in Glover is donation-based and open daily. Vermont summer theater and day camp productions are everywhere – check out your community forums and try something new!
Travel just beyond your own backyard
Have you ever wondered what life is like in the opposite corners of Vermont? You may find something new. Plus, staying close to home helps cut down on the cost of gas and the stress of traveling with kids. Many of Vermont’s most famous attractions are rooted in Vermont’s agricultural traditions, and destinations like Shelburne Farms in Shelburne, Rokeby Museum in Ferrisburgh, Ben & Jerry’s Factory in Waterbury, Billings Farm and Museum in Woodstock, and Hildene, The Lincoln Family Home in Manchester offer a fun, educational, and tasty experience all in one. (While in Manchester, check out this Vermont Mom rundown on finding fun with a full day in the region!)
If you think that you could find your groove traveling around Vermont, look into Vermont’s 251 Club, which encourages people to visit the 251 cities and towns in the state of Vermont.
Find your rush at Vermont’s ski and summer resorts
Vermont’s winter resorts are adapting to climate change in so many ways. In the last decade, most larger Vermont ski and snowboard mountains have become four-season destinations. In another take on the Vermont staycation, Vermont’s ski resorts offer many different types of vacation packages that include accommodations or day passes at fun-magnets like pools and waterparks, life-served mountain biking, disc golf, guided family hikes and bike trips, zip line adventures, aerial parks, and alpine slides. Some of our favorites for summer thrills are Jay Peak Resort, Smugglers’ Notch Resort, and Bromley Mountain.
Eat outside the box
Vermonters love to eat outside in the summer. From fancy to casually quick, there are so many opportunities for outdoor dining at restaurants, great food to go, food truck festivals, or packing a picnic to enjoy just about anywhere. Wherever you choose, it’s always fun to cap off a summer day with a Vermont creemee. It’s not hard to catch a creemee and find great mountain views, too… Here are Vermont Mom’s favorite creemee destinations in the Champlain Valley. Some of our other favorites are Morse Farm in Montpelier, Bragg Farm in East Montpelier, and Shelburne Sugarworks in Shelburne, which offer some of the “coolest” Vermont summer ice cream treats around!
While creemees are quintessential Vermont, hard ice cream has a spot in our state’s narrative too. I mean, come on- Ben and Jerry’s started here, in a gas station in Burlington. Visiting their shop on Church Street is a must and everyone loves their factory tours.
But if you want to try small batch, homemade ice cream that relies on seasonally available fruits, you have to try a favorite, Sisters of Anarchy Ice Cream in Shelburne. Almost all components of this ice cream are local and the flavor speaks for itself. If you’re not local, you can mail order these tasty treats. The not-too-sweet, deliciously fresh sorbets are not to be missed. And throughout the summer, you can have dinner, ice cream, and music on select Sisters of Anarchy summer “Food Truck Fridays.”
Fair and festival fun
Fairs and Festivals abound during the summer in Vermont. Vermonters spend long winters getting creative with their events. Jam to music of all types, cruise into classic car shows in Waterbury or Stowe, or try garlic ice cream at Bennington’s Garlic Fest… the possibilities are practically endless.
As harvest season draws near, we always make sure to visit at least one Vermont country fair. The Tunbridge World’s Fair is my personal favorite – I have gone every year for 25 years (with the exception of 2003, when my son was born just days before!).
Featuring rides, games, animals, and agricultural displays and contests, fairs and field days team up with organizations like Vermont 4-H to offer a snapshot into Vermont’s vibrant and innovative farm life.