The riot of color extends as far as the eye can see, covering the hills and reflecting in the deep, cold ponds and lakes that dot this beautiful landscape. It’s like finding yourself in an oil painting, where each stroke is perfectly placed. Only this isn’t a painting – it’s the natural masterpiece that is Vermont as the leaves begin to change.
Droves of visitors come from all over the United States (and the world) to witness the changing of seasons from summer to fall in New England. We may be a bit biased, but Vermont (our stomping grounds when we’re not out on the road in our Airstream) is home to the best fall foliage viewing – period, exclamation point. There is something magical up here, as the trees shed their leaves with the promise of preparing for a new life come spring.
We set out on a mission to find the best fall foliage in our Green Mountain State (and the best places to pit stop while doing so). Along the way, we discovered delicious eats, made new friends, and remembered why we moved to Vermont in the first place.
Here’s how our adventure unfolded, starting in northern Vermont and following the foliage timeline south.
1. The Northeast Kingdom, VT
Yes, it is really called the Northeast Kingdom. Can’t tell you why, exactly, but trust us, it’s still very Vermont-y. We found ourselves at the infamous Lake Willoughby. A picturesque body of water, hugged by mountains dripping with trees. In the fall, these trees are laced with oranges, reds, yellows, and all colors in-between. We found an amazing campground that was right on the water’s edge called White Caps Campground. After spending the day driving around, exploring, we felt honored to sleep at the foot of this majestic lake. White Caps Campground is small, quaint and homey. The staff is more than welcoming and they even have hot coffee in the AM. Most of the spots have lake views and there’s plenty to rent in terms of kayaks and canoes.
2. Danville, VT
From the Northeast Kingdom, we drove further south to Danville, VT – another hot spot for foliage viewing. Our journey to Danville took us down narrow Vermont back roads exploding with color. Our home base in Danville was nothing short of an RV resort. Sugar Ridge RV Village Campground was fully equipped and very professional. Their 150 spots (over 68 acres) all had character, were mostly secluded and we felt as if we were the only people there. Tucked away amongst the trees, we had the perfect launching point for our foliage explorations.
3. Randolph, VT
Central Vermont has a certain charm that is different from the state’s northern reaches. If you’re looking for a scenic drive, look no further than RT 100, especially between Stowe and Randolph. You’ll meander your way through Waterbury, Waitsfield (home to Mad Taco and Sugarbush Ski Resort) and Green Mountain National Forest, only to find yourself in a town straight out of a Vermont-themed coffee table book. Simply put: Randolph rocks. It’s home to Vermont Glove, an artisan leather glove maker – and it’s also home to the best Thai restaurant in the state, Saap. Not to say we are Thai food experts, but Ryan lived in Thailand for 5 months, so that gives some clout. As we meandered our way through the Green Mountain National Forest, we made a pit stop at Foley Brothers (among Vermont’s many amazing craft brewers, Foley Brothers is one of the best). Our oasis in Randolph was at Abel Mountain Campground (technically Braintree, VT) and this campground cannot be missed. Situated along a small river bank, Abel Campground offers hiking trails, friendly faces, and easy in-out spots. There is a sense of community at Abel Campground that you can really feel when you arrive.
4. Dorset, VT
Some would say that southern Vermont and northern Vermont could operate as two different entities. It may be true, as southern Vermont has a slightly different vibe than its conjoined twin further north, yet both would qualify as “Vermonty.” You have Stratton, a well-run ski resort that draws crowds from Boston and New York, as well as Manchester, home to outlet shopping, restaurants, and a massive horse show that runs all summer long. Southern Vermont was where we first fell in love with our state, as we lived in Peru (small town near Londonderry) for a few snowy winter months back in 2015. Our love for Vermont was solidified even more when we discovered J.J. Hapgood General Store – a rocking restaurant/provision store that dishes out incredible wood fired pizza and gourmet nosh. They also have one of the best beer lists in southern VT. We knew we had to visit, and it timed up perfectly with the fall foliage cycle, too. We unhitched at Emerald Lake State Park, a deceivingly large campground that seems to go on forever. Tucked high in the mountain above the Emerald Lake, this park was the perfect backdrop for our southern VT homecoming. Fortunately, we caught the campground on their last night open, so we were the only ones there. Despite having no hookups, Emerald Lake State Park is worth it if you’re really looking to get out there.
5. Stowe, VT
Rounding out our two week journey, we headed back north to our hometown of Stowe. It wouldn’t be a true Vermont foliage tour without hitting this highlight. Stowe has been rated the number 1 place to view fall foliage and we can’t argue, since the proof is in the number of tour buses and foliage-hypnotized tourists that come through town between the last week of September and the second week of October. In Stowe, there are endless places to view the trees – making even a routine drive to the grocery store feel like a driving tour through an art gallery. As you’re surrounded by beauty each way you look, there are still some key places to be sure to check out.
One of the greatest blessings in this Airstreaming life is being able to explore places that sometimes are right in front of you all along.
Of course, there is the famous Notch Road that links Stowe to Smugglers Notch. Leave the Airstream at the campsite as you venture into this tree viewing paradise. This winding, occasionally one-lane road dips and dives between boulders and engulfs you with leaves of all colors. From the notch, you can drive back down to Stowe Mountain Resort and ride their gondola to the top of Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak. The gondola gives a 360 degree aerial view of the foliage that makes even the birds envious. To witness this natural phenomenon, you can post up at Gold Brook Campground, just a 15 minute drive from Stowe Mountain Resort. Stroll down Main Street, sip on craft beer, and delve into farm-to-table food: Stowe offers everything you’ve ever read about in a Vermont travel book. Gold Brook Campground has quite a few spots, but not enough to handle the volume of peepers coming into town. That said, we’d definitely recommend making a reservation. But, the spots are well situated, easy to maneuver, and they do have full hookups in most of them.
One of the greatest blessings in this Airstreaming life is being able to explore places that sometimes are right in front of you all along. Vermonters have a knack for celebrating all seasons and fall is certainly one of them. Witnessing the changing of the leaves in Vermont should be on everyone’s bucket list, as it truly is one of our planet’s greatest works of art.
If you want to venture beyond the campgrounds we listed – or if your travels take you beyond the Green Mountain State – check out Airstream’s guides to the best fall camping.
2019 Fall Foliage Prediction Map
Looking to plan your fall trip to get the best view of the beautiful colors? The 2019 Interactive Fall Foliage Map is the ultimate visual aid to narrow in on where and when you should travel.