Explore high peak routes for foliage

By Karen D. Lorentz

With this year’s exceptional foliage, we are reminded that this is the perfect time to explore the kaleidoscopic landscape.

Or, better yet, show our guests around scenic back roads, exciting mountaintops, and bustling villages so that we all can more fully appreciate our environment, culture, and history.

The following foliage tours journey over hill and dale so you can experience a great diversity of scenery, history, art, and culture while imbibing the magical beauty of the season.

While the sugar and red maples are the acknowledged stars, be sure to notice the multihued sumacs, ferns, goldenrod, and other colorful species that enhance the landscape.

And don’t forget to get out of your car to listen to a river, taste theVermont harvest, or feel the wind from a mountaintop. Leaf peeping is about using all the senses!

Please use a map for following these suggestions. Maps are free at visitor centers and worth the stop since cell phones/tablets don’t get service in all areas!

(Reminder: Vermont’s new hands-free devices only law is in effect for drivers.)

The Killington-Shrewsbury-Plymouth-K-1 Loop

You can follow this loop from any starting point, but we’ll start at the intersection of Routes 4 and 100 in Killington.

Follow Route 4 west over Sherburne Pass. If eager for exercise, take a hike up Deer Leap adjacent to the Inn at Long Trail. It’s a nice moderate trail that leads to a stunning overlook — a rocky promontory from which you can view Pico Mountain and Rutland below. The overlook is 3 miles from the parking lot.

Continue down Route 4, visiting any of the country stores or gift shops that intrigue you; or stop in at the Norman Rockwell Museum to enjoy over 2,000 pictures that cover his career, ranging from the popular Saturday Evening Post covers to his illustrations for novels and articles.

At the second light after the high school, turn left onto Stratton Road and head toward the Rutland Regional Medical Center, where a small stone maze and beautiful gardens provide a nice walk.

Bearing left at the light, follow Stratton Road south and uphill past the Hubbard Farm where you might catch sight of their Emu while enjoying the vistas of the Taconics to the west and East Mountain on your left.

After you cross the Cold River Bridge onto Cold River Road, wind your way (8-9 miles)  up to the photo-perfect Northam Village with its 1840s country church and (former) two-room schoolhouse on your left. Pierce’s Store will be just ahead to the right of the triangular green. This is a “must stop” for history, gifts, crafts, lunch, snacks, baked goods, and old fashioned penny candy.

Next, proceed one mile up the CCC Road (heading east). At the top catch views of Killington Peak to the northeast.

Continue on the CCC Road for 5.5 miles over the spine of the Green Mountains and down to Route 100 in Plymouth.

Enroute, watch for the 1818 Meeting House Rock sign (on your right on a tree) and huge glacial boulder below. Early settlers worshipped here in nice weather!

Just beyond (on your left) is a parking area and an old stone chimney, a 1935 remnant from the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) who built a state park for picnicking and camping as well as the road you are traveling on. Skiers from Rutland put up funds for a rope tow and trails, and a ski area built by the CCC operated in this vicinity from 1936 to 1940.

If you want a challenging hike to Shrewsbury Peak, which affords some really spectacular views. The trail departs from this parking lot. If you want an easier hike, continue on the road until you start descending and see a parking area on your left with a gated road and a trailhead for the Black Swamp trail. This is easier hiking to the 3,720-foot Shrewsbury Peak, which affords great views from several vantages (2-3 hour round trip, doable for all ages).

Continuing east, carefully negotiate the colorful canopied CCC Road to Route 100.

Loop options

At Route 100, head south to Route 100A (left turn) and make your way toward the Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site in Plymouth Notch. This is a scenic setting where you can park and walk the grounds, visit the museum, and tour the Homestead where “Silent Cal” was born and later sworn in as the 30th president. You can also explore the country store, church, carriage barns, and cheese factory. The site is pure Vermont and affords a sense of place that makes history come alive. Highly recommended.

Heading northeast on Route 100A leads back to Route 4, where you can stop in at the authentic Bridgewater Corners Country Store for goodies or a souvenir or visit the Long Trail Brewing Company, which offers tours, samplings, gift shop, and lunch option.

From here take Route 4 West back to Killington.

For a shorter option, at the base of the CCC Road, turn north onto Route 100 and drive by the scenic Woodward Reservoir, which reflects the foliage for some nice photographs. It’s three miles north to the intersection of Routes 4 and 100.

Killington Peak and Resort

Continuing north on Route 4 for a short distance, turn left onto East Mountain Road just prior to the Skyeship Gondola. This mountain road takes you up into the heart of Killington Resort. Driving past the Grand Hotel and Snowshed area, turn left to head up to the K-1 Base Lodge and Gondola. A ride up the K-1 Gondola (operating daily through Oct. 13) is “a must” —  you’ll be taken to the highest point reached by aerial lift in Vermont at 4,140 feet. (Alternatively, you can hike up a trail to the top of the gondola, it’s about 900+ feet of vertical but free.)

At the top of the gondola look for a stairway that takes you up to the rocky path to Killington Peak’s 4,241-foot pinnacle. This is a must-do 10-minute hike. It can be cool and windy at the very apex, but if you luck out with a clear day, the views are simply astounding. Pico lies to the north, City of Rutland and Taconic Range to the west, and Adirondacks to the northwest.

Vermont is said to have been named by a traveling clergyman from atop this peak in late fall of 1763. He christened the state “Verd Mont in token that her mountains and hills shall ever be green and shall never die,” he wrote.

Geologists tell us the Green Mountains are 500-million years old and only the Adirondacks at 3-billion years are older. At 900-million years, the exposed bedrock core of Killington Peak is truly historic. When you ascend this rocky summit, you can sit upon a throne of some of the oldest rock on earth! Killington Peak is Vermont’s second highest mountain, it boasts the highest exposure of bedrock in the state.

Returning to K-1, you’ll see the new Peak Lodge just beyond and below the gondola. The glass walls make this another “must visit.” The top-of-the-world views of foliage-streaked mountains and valleys are fabulous and extend into New Hampshire’s White Mountains and Mount Washington as well as up the spine of the Green Mountains. Good rest stop, great food, and a bar to boot.

As you leave, look southwest and you can see Shrewsbury Peak, the Greens and Taconics.

After your K-1 descent, head down the Killington Road to Snowshed Base Lodge where the annual ski and clothing swap sale will be underway this weekend. You’ll also find Columbus Day sales at shops all along the road as you return to Route 4, completing the loop.

Be sure to notice the photogenic and creative hay sculptures, too!

Stop at the Chamber of Commerce for info or rest stop. Or for an art gallery, stop at Base Camp Outfitters which is a wonderful sports and gift shop with a second floor exhibit featuring works by local artists.

Southern Hill Climb Route

This is another tour that will reward you with glorious and unique sightseeing, wonderful shops, and high peaks. Foliage hits “peak” at different elevations so notice if the mountiantops or the valleys display more brilliant colors.

Starting from Killington, follow the merged Routes 4 and 100 South to Route 100 South past several scenic lakes to Ludlow. At the junction with Route 103, turn left onto the merged Routes 103/100.

Take the main entrance to the Okemo Ski Area, a sharp right turn up and onto Okemo Mountain Road. Drive past the Clock Tower Base area (on your right), climbing some 2,000 vertical feet in five miles to the mountaintop for a unique way to see foliage from the historic Okemo Fire Tower at 3,343-feet above sea level. Lookouts (or fire wardens) used this high-in-the-sky perch from 1935 to 1970 for spotting forest fires.

You’ll be driving on a ski trail called Mountain Road, which was built by the CCC, and yes, it is still skied. Park at the end of the road and walk up (20-minute hike) to the steel fire tower — also built by the CCC. Bring a jacket in case it’s windy.

The stairs have railings and take you up to a outlook cab. From this 55-foot-tall perch, which was restored in 2012, you have breath-taking 360-degree views of Vermont and New Hampshire.

On the drive back down, turn right onto Route 103/100 continue on Route 100 South.

Follow this scenic route to Weston. The historic and famous village is beautiful and home to shops and general stores, including the Vermont Country Store.

Traveling 100 South again you come to Londonderry at a T-intersection. Take Route 11 East — past Bromley Mountain with attraction parks for all ages —to Manchester Center, a major tourist mecca with many famous outlet stores.

Follow Route 7A South through Manchester Center and Manchester Village. Signs for Hildene, former home to Robert Todd Lincoln and his family (son of “Honest Abe” and Mary), will be on your left. This is another must stop for history-buffs.

Just a little further south, you’ll come to the entrance to Skyline Drive, a toll road that takes you up Mount Equinox. (Your vehicle’s brakes should be in good working order for the return trip — use both a low gear and brakes! Road is open until Oct. 31.) You get your token to open the gate in the adjacent gift shop.

This is a glorious trip, well worth the fee, and an absolute must for foliage.

The road climbs up along a spectacular ridgeline to the 3,848-foot summit and breathtaking panoramic views of the Green, White, Adirondack, Berkshire and Taconic mountain ranges.

At the top is an old hotel (closed now but a popular place in its heyday). Park and, if you are spry, take the 15-minutes hike north along a stony path to an overlook. Great photo spot as you look north to Shrewsbury Peak and Killington and east to Hildene and Manchester below.

The return trip offers a thrilling descent, with pull-offs along the way so you can take photos of the monastery below! There are guardrails almost the entire length of the drive making it one of the safest, best engineered, and well-constructed toll roads in the country.

Back in Manchester, you can follow Route 7A North to Route 7 to Rutland and catch Route 4 East back to Killington.

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