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Summer Vacation Guide: Chittenden County 

Vermont's most populous county is also its most "destination-diverse." The state's highest peak is here; so, many would argue, is its greatest cultural treasure. Electra Havemeyer Webb's vast collection of fine and folk art at the Shelburne Museum is one of the best in the world. But the "gallery" experience could not be less intimidating.

You can walk at a leisurely pace between the buildings, where you may find people in period dress acting as printers, blacksmiths and apothecaries. Or wander through the staterooms on the lovingly restored passenger steamer S.S. Ticonderoga. In the Electra Havemeyer Webb Memorial Building are some of the museum's - and the world's - most precious paintings by Manet, Monet, Degas and Cassat. The Shelburne has even more works by American masters, such as Homer, Wyeth and Moses. But it was Webb's extensive folk-art collection that inspired her to create the Shelburne, and its curators continue to seek out talented, unintentional artists - including contemporary ones. Don't miss the summer's big shows, "In Fashion: High Style, 1690-2011"; "Paperwork in 3D"; "Lock, Stock and Barrel: The Terry Tyler Collection of Vermont Firearms"; "A Passion for Quilts: Joan Lintault Collects" and more.

The same rich, visionary Webb family gets credit for developing Shelburne Farms, created in 1886 as a model agricultural estate. Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted envisioned the campus; architect Robert Robertson designed the buildings, including the massive, fairy-tale breeding, farm and coach barns. In its heyday, the 3800-acre farm had 300 employees. Today, Shelburne Farms is an educational nonprofit practicing "rural land use that is environmentally, economically and culturally sustainable." There's also an inn that serves amazing food. If you can't afford to stay - or even eat - there, go for cocktails. You can stroll through the historic gardens, now under renovations, like you own the place. In fact, you might catch a guided tour.

You might notice grapevines growing alongside the Breeding Barn at Shelburne Farms. They're the handiwork of Shelburne Vineyard, which also leases land on the nearby Meach Cove Estate and owns the vineyard on Route 7 south of Shelburne village. Owners Ken and Gail Albert have built a beautiful tasting room adjacent to the Route 7 vineyard, and a new law permits visitors to sample the stuff. They're pouring up to eight wines at a time, including a dry Cayuga white, a dry Riesling, a Merlot and a late-harvest dessert wine called Nocturne.

Looking for nonalcoholic entertainment in Shelburne? The Vermont Teddy Bear Company offers popular factory tours - second only to that of Ben & Jerry's in Waterbury. A less marketed mascot is Vermont's real state animal: the sturdy, studly Morgan horse. Justin Morgan - originally of Springfield, Massachusetts - was living in Randolph when he bred the animal to perfection back in the 1700s. Strong and versatile, the animals worked on farms, pulled stagecoaches, competed in early harness racing and carried the First Vermont Cavalry to the Civil War. Shelburne's National Museum of the Morgan Horse recounts an equine story that is unique to Vermont.

Shelburne and Charlotte boast some of the most spectacular properties in Vermont. But you need an invite to see them. One way to sneak a peek is from atop Mount Philo. There's a road to the summit of this 168-acre state park, which means there's usually someone collecting money - even if you leave your car below. But the views of the lake, Champlain Valley and the Adirondacks are well worth the $3 admission. You'll find campsites on top and lots of places to picnic.

Looking for a longer climb? Camel's Hump beckons from almost every spot in Chittenden County. It's the highest undeveloped mountain in Vermont and distinctive for its exposed rock top. For hikers, that means 360-degree views. The most popular route - 2.6 steep miles - originates in Huntington. You can drive through Richmond to get there, stopping for essential carbs on the way at On the Rise Bakery. Alternately, climb Camel's Hump from the Waterbury side of the mountain.

The largest and oft-visited peak in Vermont is Mount Mansfield - 40,000 hikers a year consider it a must-do. There are numerous ways up the mountain, but the one from Underhill has its advantages. The top section of the western-facing Sunset Ridge Trail is exposed rock slab - ideal in good weather - and it gets the last sun of the day. Don't space out the side trail to Cantilever Rock.

Gentler terrain awaits on 500 acres in Williston, where the nonprofit Catamount Outdoor Family Center maintains more than 20 miles of trails for running, biking and hiking. You can take part in organized races or do your own thing. The going is tougher at Sleepy Hollow Bike and Ski Center in Huntington, which has more than 10 miles of singletrack. From there, you can connect to the Hinesburg Town Forest trail network. It's maintained by a gear-head group called Fellowship of the Wheel.

Between Hinesburg and Huntington is the unexpected Birds of Vermont Museum - home to 479 life-sized wooden birds expertly carved by Bob Spear. The loon family alone took him 850 hours to carve and paint. Spear founded Vermont's first chapter of the National Audubon Society in 1962. The octogenarian is still carving birds. He also splits and stacks all the wood he uses to keep his studio warm in winter.

When it gets really hot in Chittenden County, the locals head for the Bolton Potholes. Running alongside the road up to Bolton Valley Resort, Joiner Brook tumbles downstream to make five separate waterfalls. The stream's curviness, and distance between individual potholes, makes the swimming area seem bigger and more private than it is. You can hang upstream, far from the madding crowd, or watch adolescent boys diving through an impossibly narrow chute of rock into a deep pool. Another dangerous option is the Huntington Gorge, once the site of a former grist mill. More than 20 people have died there. Dip with caution.

Or stay dry at the Sunset Drive-In. Colchester's own al fresco movie theater shows double features on four screens every night at sunset. It's an endangered American tradition - and the perfect recessionary entertainment. You pay per person, not per movie. You can see two flicks for the price of one - if you can stay up that late. Don't forget the bug spray.

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Paula Routly

Paula Routly

Bio:
Paula Routly is the cofounder, publisher and coeditor of Seven Days.

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