Fun Fall Getaways for a Long Weekend
Whether you hit the road for an only-in-New England weekend or yearn for a little southern comfort, there's a fall getaway to suit everyone.
Head north for a mellow family-friendly adventure filled with farm-to-table food, craft beer and easy outdoor activities. By Casey Nilsson
Clockwise: Relax by the fire or at the spa at Topnotch Resort. Craft beer and dinner at Idletyme Brewing Company. The Stowe Community Church’s steeple is Stowe’s most recognizable landmark. Writer Casey Nilsson takes in the view with her newborn son. The breathtaking mountain views are amazing no matter the season.
Stowe isn’t just for snow lovers. If your family is winter sports-adverse — or you harbor fears of little Jack or Jill tumbling down, down, down the highest peak in Vermont — visit Mount Mansfield in the off-season for off-brand fun, even with the tiniest travelers in tow.
Friday afternoon: A four-and-a-half-hour trip turns into six quick with a preschooler and an infant in the car. Between bathroom, food and gas stops, we arrive at Topnotch around 4 p.m. and toss our bags in the room, a family suite just a few steps from the pools and spa. The suite boasts a bedroom with a king-sized bed and a common area with a pull-out couch; Pack-n-Play cribs are available by request (a bellboy will offer to set it up for you, and you’ll let him; you’re on vacation!). Our room, while comfortable, doesn’t afford views of Mount Mansfield, but that’s just fine: The pool areas more than compensate.
Topnotch offers three fantastic swimming spots: a year-round indoor pool area with hot tub-waterfall combo and sauna; an outdoor family pool; and an outdoor adults-only pool with hot tub. All offer awesome — truly; we are in awe — views of the Green Mountains. We toggle between the indoor pool and hot tub for an hour before dinner.
Friday evening: Still wiped from our drive, we stay close and dine at the resort restaurant, the Roost. Topnotch’s two eateries feature farm-to-table fare with — you guessed it — more incredible mountain views. We sit on the populated but calm outdoor patio, which opens up to an enclosed green space with lawn games where our over-stimulated preschooler can roam.
Our food — I order a summer vegetable panini, my husband gets the falafel and our daughter picks pasta; the baby, a cheap date, isn’t on solids yet — arrives quickly and it’s simple, local and tasty. By the time we’re finished, we’re all ready for bed. We put our daughter to sleep on the pull-out sofa and retire to the bedroom with a bottle of vinho verde from the lobby bar.
Saturday morning: My husband takes the kids into town so I can check out Topnotch’s onsite spa. The space offers private men’s and women’s quarters with hot tubs and steam rooms, but no time for that: I’ve got an hour, tops, and I fill it with a CBD-infused massage. For the uninitiated, cannabidiol, or CBD, is a non-psychotropic chemical compound derived from cannabis, which is legal for recreational use in Vermont. When in Rome!
I feel great after the fifty-minute treatment, but it’s hard to credit one element of the experience. CBD, essential oils, a vigorous back rub, a morning interlude in a dark, quiet room: I love it all.
While I get slathered in CBD, my family tours Stowe Village. They stop into Black Cap Coffee and Beer for breakfast; my husband, a coffee aficionado, and daughter, a muffin aficionado, appreciate the selection and the comfy seating.
A short walk beyond Black Cap is the Stowe Free Library and the Helen Day Art Center, a gallery with regular exhibitions and a rotating lawn sculpture. This season’s work, an interactive steel and salvaged acrylic playhouse by artist Tom Fruin, is a magical place for kids and adults to sit a minute. Inside, my daughter participates in a collage activity for kids. helenday.com
Saturday afternoon:We reconvene and head out to explore Bingham Falls, a short but steep hike along the Little River. Clad in the greatest hits of improper footwear, we stop halfway to splash in small cascades, hop from rock to rock and inspect trees, mosses and vibrant mushrooms along the falls. Families with older kids (and the right shoes) should follow the falls about a quarter mile down to the swimming hole, where many visitors cliff-jump in summer. stowelandtrust.org
After our mini-hike, we head to the Trapp Family Lodge, a hotel owned and operated by the family fictionalized in The Sound of Music, for lunch. At Trapp Kaffeehaus, an Austrian bakery and deli, we order BLTs with avocado on fresh, plushy white bread and I taste a pilsner from the nearby Trapp Brewery. trappfamily.com
The wildflower fields and mountain views are Hollywood-worthy and, after ordering some spritz cookies and torte to-go, we take a rambling drive through the hills — we can attest: they’re alive with the sound of music — and up Mountain Road for more pretty scenery.
Saturday evening: We head back to Topnotch for some pre-dinner swimming and consider our options, ultimately settling on Idletyme Brewing Company, a brewpub in Stowe Village.
The outdoor beer garden is hopping so we opt for the quiet and comfortable indoor dining room with wingback chairs at most tables. We sample the house brews — as well as a rare and coveted Heady Topper from Alchemist brewery across the street — and I order a burger with a Beyond Meat patty, a vegan offering that’s juicy and marbled like the real thing. I top it with a slice of Vermont’s own Cabot cheddar cheese, which might feel inappropriate anywhere but here. My daughter and husband split the truffle mac and cheese and we return to the hotel with full, happy bellies. idletymebrewing.com
Sunday morning: We wake up early and grab a table at Topnotch’s fancier restaurant, Flannel, and have a simple and delicious breakfast of eggs, home fries and toast with local strawberry jam. Determined to swim once in the outdoor pool, we head back to the room and throw on our swimsuits for a chilly morning dip beneath the mountains.
Sunday afternoon: We pack up our room, encouraging expediency with a promise to stop at the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory, which sits just outside of Stowe in Waterbury. We skip the tour — we’re aiming for the sweet spot between rush hours, after all — and head straight to the ice cream line. I go for the classic Cherry Garcia, my daughter chooses a triple chocolate cone and my husband opts for Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz. We browse the gift shop for a souvenir to remind us of our adventure. After all, chocolate stains, mountain dirt and pool chlorine clean up in the wash, but memories — sweet, simple, happy ones, made together — last forever. benjerry.com
Nuts & Bolts
Travel Time: 4.5-hour drive from Providence
How to Get There: Take I-95 North to I-89 North, then hop onto scenic I-100 North in Vermont, which leads straight to Stowe.
Best Season to Go: Summer, fall
When You Stay Over: Topnotch Resort, which sits in the foothills of Mount Mansfield, considers the vacation needs of both kids and parents but without an ounce of family-friendly kitsch. Activities appeal to guests of all ages — think: three swimming pools, two highly rated restaurants, lawn games, a tennis academy, spa services and horseback riding — and accommodations include rooms, suites and resort homes. 4000 Mountain Rd., Stowe, Vt., topnotchresort.com
Bucket List for Next Time: Cruise through the clouds in the Gondola SkyRide, a Stowe tradition that lifts visitors up Mount Mansfield toward hiking trails and an alpine restaurant. Pro Tip: Kids must be five or older to ride. 5781 Mountain Rd., Stowe, Vt., stowe.com
Worth a Detour: Vermont’s artsiest city, Burlington, is forty minutes west of Stowe. Wear your walking sneaks and browse the pedestrianized Church Street Marketplace, where you can pick up Vermonter goods such as Lake Champlain chocolates, Vermont Flannel shirts and jewelry from Danforth Pewter. churchstmarketplace.com
For a list of more things to do while in Stowe, visit vermontvacation.com.