Mixed greens, hints of blue, blacktop . . .
WILMINGTON, Vt. - The Irish saying “May the road rise to meet you,’’ could have been uttered with Route 100 in mind. The highway rolls through a chain of river valleys along the eastern edge of the Green Mountain National Forest, playing hide-and-reveal with racing water and time-smoothed summits. The towns of Wilmington, on the south, and Waitsfield, on the north, bracket the 90-mile section that skirts the national forest. This is one of the most scenic road trips in New England, and summer - lacking both ice and distracted leaf peepers - is the most enjoyable time to drive it.
The trip begins about 2 1/2 hours from Boston, 16 miles west of Brattleboro, where Route 9 west descends into the crossroads town of Wilmington. Simply driving Route 100 from here to Waitsfield, with no stops, would take only a few hours. But antiques shops, waterfalls, hiking trails, and farm stands can easily stretch the trip over two days and nights.
After the sparse settlements preceding it, Wilmington feels like a hospitable Victorian parlor. The Deerfield River flows through the middle of town, and flowerboxes line the bridge. Next to the river, an artful arbor shelters a deck beside a little garden. Beyond, on Route 9, the Crafts Inn sprawls like an overstuffed armchair opposite the white-pillared Vermont House Tavern and the Art Moderne neon of Dot’s Restaurant. Other eateries, galleries, and shops line both sides of Route 9, inviting travelers to stretch their legs, grab lunch or a cup of coffee, or stay the night.
At the traffic light after the bridge, Route 100 breaks to the right, climbing steeply to West Dover. Here the settlement thins out and the countryside opens into dairy pastures, the Deerfield River rushing in gravel shallows beside the road. Travelers with young families can take a detour to Adams Family Farm (watch for signs), where children can interact with horses, cows, and other animals. The Deerfield Valley between Dover and West Dover is known as the Mount Snow Valley, after the ski mountain on the outskirts of West Dover, its slopes carved into a green-on-green tracery. For those who want to stop awhile, Equipe Sport/Mountain Riders, on the Mount Snow access road, rents kayaks and mountain bikes.
After passing through a cluster of resort shops, the road swings sharply east through Podunk - really - and trades the Deerfield River for a series of brooks and boggy lowlands beloved by moose. Vermonters keep a watchful eye out in such places, especially at dawn and dusk, when the ungainly ungulates are most active and likely to stray into the road.
Approaching Wardsboro, trees crowd the shoulders of the road, followed by open, windswept pastures filled with wildflowers. Flags dangle from weathered porches. In town the road takes a sharp left turn to hug Wardsboro Brook toward Jamaica, only to make another sharp left at the junction of Route 30.
Jamaica is a quaintly gentrified village known for river sports. For easy access to fishing, swimming, picnicking, hiking, and camping, a well-marked detour down a country road leads to Jamaica State Park. Crossing the single-lane red truss bridge over the tea-colored riffles of the West River is worth the side trip.
From Jamaica, Route 100 cuts north and west through Rawsonville, on the Winhall River, where another Equipe Sport shop rents mountain bikes and kayaks. This is the vicinity of Stratton Mountain (west on Route 30), another popular resort area. Approaching Londonderry there are calendar-worthy Vermont views: stone walls zigzagging uphill, a nag-backed spine of distant mountains. Route 100 picks up the West River again in Londonderry and traces it almost to Weston, marked by the ornate spire of the Old Parish Church, but more famous for the cavernous Vermont Country Store. Other shops and restaurants cluster nearby.
North of Weston center, farm silos echo the church steeple as the highway heads for the forest-clad mountains. Pointed spruces punctuate the hardwood forest as the road veers east, toward Ludlow, at the base of Mount Okemo, with its corridor of shops and restaurants. About a mile north of town, Route 100 makes a subtly marked right to saunter through Plymouth, tracking with the Ottauquechee River. Calvin Coolidge, the taciturn 30th president, was a Plymouth native, and his family homestead is a brief detour up Route 100A. Pico Peak, Killington Peak, and Mountain Meadows ski areas dot the forest west of Route 100 near the town of Killington. Gifford Woods State Park, a popular hiking spot, is off Route 4, which intersects Route 100 in Killington.
The South Branch of the Tweed River appears on the right side of the road, with occasional flamingo-pink inner tubes bobbing slowly by. Tubing rental shops sprout roadside en route to Stockbridge, where the Tweed joins the larger White River. The national forest’s Peavine Interpretive Site, with a marked parking area just off Route 100, offers public access to a gravel beach on the river. Route 100 hairpins north around the confluence and keeps company with the White, passing floodplain farms en route to Rochester, a high-Victorian town with several stately inns. Ask about local recreation and pick up a durable map of the forest ($10) at the Green Mountain National Forest Ranger Station in the center of town.
In Hancock, Route 125 enters on the west. Less than a mile into the national forest on 125 is the parking area for Texas Falls, a tumult of water that has worn caves, channels, and basins into a ledge of ancient schist. Wheelchair-accessible trails and bridges overlook the tumbling water. Two more waterfalls lie in wait beside Route 100 north: On the Mad River in Lower Granville, Moss Glen Falls spills down a rock face. Barely visible through the trees, a thin flume of white water plummets over a ledge deep in the woods.
Heading north, the route becomes part of the Mad River Byway, which snakes through more ski country, starting with the Sugarbush resort in Warren. The Mad River runs through Warren center, which lies just off the highway on a well-marked loop. The Pitcher Inn, resplendent in white clapboards, presides over the village, abutting the river. Opposite, a terraced path off the Warren Store, an upscale market and boutique, steps down to the current.
On the last leg of the trip, rolled hay bales, shrink-wrapped in white plastic, dot the roadside pastures like enormous marshmallows. South of Waitsfield, swimmers loll in the Lareau Swim Hole, a public family bathing spot in the Mad River. Signs for inns and restaurants thicken as the distance closes to Waitsfield, the counterculture’s answer to Warren. Perhaps drawn to the rebelliously low-tech Mad River Glen ski area in neighboring Fayston, hippie entrepreneurs poured in during the 1960s and ’70s. The combination of gray ponytails, artisans’ galleries, and innovative restaurants (try the Green Cup, on Bridge Street) gives the town a laid-back chic. But the mountains, backlighted at sunset, are classic Vermont.
Jane Roy Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.