We were excited to spend more time in Vermont, especially since there was the promise of ice cream. 🙂 So we crossed that beautiful bridge, this time with the Airstream in tow, and headed further north on Lake Champlain to Grand Isle State Park. I picked this park because another full-time blogger (watsonswander.com) mentioned a cool bike ride in her post about the area, but we’ll get to that.
Grand Isle turned out to be a nice park, kinda like Keuka Lake. We had a big grassy site.
You could bike or walk down to the lake area.
And the grounds were well maintained. They even planted flower gardens.
We were just outside of Burlington, and with all the small towns there would have been plenty to keep us busy for a week or more, but we only had a few days here and with rain in the forecast we had to make sure we got in that special ride.
This bike path is on a causeway that goes several miles right out into the lake. The causeway, built of large chunks of marble, originally was for trains, but now is a gravel bike path. There is one small section that used to have a swing bridge in the rail days for boats to pass through. Now it is crossed via a bike ferry. Yep, a ferry just for bikes! Of course it only goes about 200 feet, but it’s still cool.
We set off mid morning and timed it just right. Several cars pulled in after us filling the small lot. As we swatted at the mosquitos we got our gear set and headed off downhill through the trees, spotting a snake a little too late (he looked like he’d been run over before us) and came out of the woods onto the causeway. At least the bugs were gone, but now we had to contend with a strong headwind. It was only a short distance to the ferry.
After crossing, we continued on the causeway, fighting the wind and loose gravel. You are right out in the the lake for several miles with beautiful views. On the other side we were once again in the woods but came out at a city park. It was a good spot to rest a bit and enjoy the small schoolhouse.
Our plan was to follow the path into north Burlington and eat lunch. Leaving the park we headed in the direction we saw another biker take, but it turned out to be a spur and not the way through. That little detour added a few miles (and a hill) to our trek. Consulting the map we found the correct way, through a neighborhood, to reconnect with the path.
By now we were getting tired and hungry. The bike map showed a couple of locations with food. The nearest turned out to be a boat shack selling chips and candy bars. Not the lunch we envisioned. With a detour in the trail ahead our option was to ride several more miles to the next food or turn back. We turned back for the little park, stopping to eat the snacks that luckily I had packed. Then we retraced our path, back onto the causeway.
This time the wind was at our backs so the going was much easier and soon we were at the ferry dock. With one last final push back up the hill to the parking area we loaded our bikes and headed back to camp to find food.
No wonder we were pooped–17 miles with no lunch! At least I earned a star for my longest bike ride and got in some exercise before our next stop.
We had a short drive to Little River State Park, but the last bit had us wondering if we’d make it. The good quality gravel road suddenly turned into a rutted narrow mess veering up a hill. It looked like you could keep going straight through a gate and we thought perhaps that was the way, but a park worker out tracking a bear assured us we needed to head up the hill. (Note, Chuck saw the bear pass about 5 feet from our window one morning.)
This was true forest camping on a very hilly site above a reservoir. Since our site was so gloomy and dark we headed out each day. Chuck got to hating the bumpy dirt road. The sun could barely make it through the trees to offer any light (thank goodness we have good batteries!). Again we were reminded this is not our kind of camping, but we were here for other reasons. Ice cream! We planned this stop solely to make a visit to Ben and Jerry’s in Waterbury.
We were surprised to find it is also the home of Green Mountain Coffee which has a beautiful location shared with the Visitor’s Center in the old train station. Next door was a park filled with lots of folks out walking in the noontime sun. It was a nice spot to relax, but we were on a mission.
Ben and Jerry’s is a huge tourist draw, and they seem to have it down. We pulled in and were directed to open parking spots by teenage attendants in tie-dye shirts. As we walked into the tour building we had only moments to wait before the next tour. The tour guide has his spiel down so well he seemed like a robot.
Basically the $4 tour walks you up some stairs to watch an entertaining 7 minute movie highlighting B&J history, then into a viewing gallery where tv monitors play another short clip about the ice cream making process as you peer at the equipment below, and back down the stairs into the tasting room where you get a mini scoop of whatever ice cream they are featuring that day. For us it was AmeriCone Dream.
My advice: skip the tour and read the very informative panels next to the patio that tell the same story. Then spend your $4 on ice cream at the on-site scoop shop where they’ll let you taste as many flavors as you want and “not even get mad” according to the girl directing folks at the front of the line. I couldn’t bring myself to try more than two even with her assurances. 🙂
B&J are know for the large chunks of add-ins, the reason being that Jerry, or was it Ben, couldn’t taste the flavors so they kept making the chunks bigger until he could. Their top seller the last several years is Half Baked, a mixture of chocolate and vanilla ice creams with chocolate chip cookie dough and brownie chunks.
I loved the graveyard where they have tombstones for all the retired flavors! I spent a good while reading all the funny epitaphs and wondering about some of the stranger concoctions. Note: they have RV parking so no excuses for not stopping. 😉
So what do you do after you’ve had huge scoops of ice cream? Go cheese tasting of course! Not far up the road was a Cabot outlet. Cabot is kinda like the Tillamook of the east. There is a big creamery where you can see the cheese making process, but this was just a tasting room/store.
They must have had 30 different kinds of cheddar cheese for you to taste and I think I tried nearly all of them. We found a couple of favorites to buy. Next door was a Lake Champlain chocolate shop. We walked through, but after all that ice cream and cheese my tummy said enough so we passed.
One day we drove to Montpelier and toured the capitol building. The strange thing is that you can see the dome from the outside, but there is no rotunda on the inside. That shiny dome is just for looks. The downtown area seemed busy, in fact this whole area of Vermont seemed vibrant but pastoral.
Vermont was the first state to outlaw slavery and is proud of it’s part in the civil war. It is a state of small landowners, many of whom got their start farming Merino sheep. They cut down the evergreen trees for grazing land, made good money selling the wool to the British, and built the lovely brick farmhouses you see dotting the countryside. Then the British stole some Merino sheep, took them to Australia, and undercut the price. So Vermonters turned to the dairy business which of course led to yummy ice cream. In place of the evergreens deciduous trees grew covering the hillsides with the lovely fall color and giving us maple syrup.
Speaking of syrup, just outside of town we stopped at a Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks. (Have you figured out yet that we basically ate our way through this place?) It’s worth it just to see the funny proprietor, Burr Morse, in a short video about the process and view his fanciful stump carvings.
One interesting fact is that darker maple syrup is not boiled longer, it’s from later in the 4-6 week season. Sap runs in early spring when it’s freezing at night and just above freezing during the day. They use tubing, not buckets, nowadays to gather the syrup which is put through reverse osmosis then boiled down.
And they don’t plant maple trees because it takes 40-50 years before maples produce sap for syrup so you just have to be lucky enough to have them on your land. We tasted the four different shades of syrup, each more intense in flavor than the next. According to Morse, use lighter syrup for pouring on your pancakes and the darker stuff in recipes to provide more maple flavor.
Another day we drove to nearby Stowe. It was not all that impressive, mostly a tourist area with restaurants, shops and nearby winter skiing. It was spread out into several sections but there was a nice bike path linking the areas and I wished we had brought our bikes. We walked through a few shops and then went to Alchemist Brewing. They had a cool modern building. Tastings were free so Chuck tried a couple of beers while I was mesmerized by the canning machine. The weird names, like Heady Topper and Focal Banger, were fun.
On the way back we stopped at Cider Hollow Cider Mill. As we pulled up we saw everyone sitting around eating bags of cider donuts so of course we had to try some. The building was mostly a retail store with all sorts of local canned jams, sauces, and other delicacies in addition to the usual souvenirs. Way in back we found them pressing apples into cider and tasted the yummy results. Chuck liked the cider donuts and I liked the maple taffy. I know, it seems the only reason we are in Vermont is to eat everything in sight! 🙂
Of course on our last day we had to make a return visit to B&J. You’ll find flavors here that you can’t get in stores. This time Chuck tried the Maple Walnut which is only available at this location in a nod to Vermont maple syrup. I tasted their new almond milk based flavor, which was good, but opted for Triple Carmel Chunk. Good thing we’re leaving Vermont. I don’t think we can handle any more tastings!
Next we head out of the woods to the coast of Maine. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen the ocean!