Vermont Day-cations: Rock of Ages & Little River State Park | Seven Days Vermont

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Vermont Day-cations: Rock of Ages & Little River State Park 

Published August 1, 2013 at 4:00 a.m.

There's still time to take a few "day-cations" before school is back in session. Has the hot weather addled your brain, leaving you uninspired? We've got a few day-trip suggestions for you.

Every summer, Kids VT seeks out family-friendly destinations where you and your kids can experience the natural beauty and unique culture of the Green Mountain State. They're all places you can visit for a day, though some merit a longer stay.

Each of our three summer issues features two recommended stops, complete with tips on nearby dining and attractions. In this final installment, our writers and their families hike through the hills and gaze down dizzying granite cliffs.

Looking for more day-trip ideas? Read the rest of our award-winning "Vermont Day-cations" series.

  • Courtesy of Nancy Stearns Bercaw

Ready to Rock: Digging Graniteville's Rock of Ages

558 Graniteville Rd., Graniteville, 800-421-0166,

Just a stone's throw from Burlington, Rock of Ages granite quarry is a glimpse into another world. The setting is so surreal — sheer, jagged walls of gray granite plunging 600 feet into a pool of fluorescent green water — that Superman's enemies might mistakenly stop by for Kryptonite. A view of this bedrock would undoubtedly have reduced cartoon quarry worker Fred Flintstone to a pile of rubble.

But Rock of Ages' otherworldly landscape is the real deal. More compelling than any computer-generated image, it has served as an intergalactic backdrop for two Hollywood films: Star Trek (2009) and Batman & Robin (1997). Americana artist Norman Rockwell was so inspired by the place that he memorialized the quarry's work in two separate paintings.

Tourists, too, dig the sight of this mammoth monolith — or so I'd heard. On a recent Saturday, my 9-year-old son, David, and I struck out for Graniteville to see if the quarry does indeed rock.

click to enlarge Rock of Ages' outdoor bowling alley
  • Courtesy of Nancy Stearns Bercaw
  • Rock of Ages' outdoor bowling alley

Our trip began with lunch at the Cornerstone Pub & Kitchen in downtown Barre. It was a tad upscale, but I couldn't resist eating somewhere with the word "stone" in its name.

David was delighted to find macaroni and cheese on the menu, albeit with the added ingredients of bacon and jalapeños. I dove into my towering edamame burger with reckless abandon. We demolished our impressively plated edibles, then took off for Rock of Ages. The drive is fewer than 10 minutes from downtown Barre.

David and I reveled in the visitor's center air conditioning as we learned about the quarry's 128-year history. The place became a mecca for the granite industry when the railroad reached Barre in the late 1800s. Immigrants came from all over the world — Scotland, Italy, Norway, Finland, Spain and Canada — to work in the quarries and factories. Consequently, Graniteville's population grew from 2000 in 1880 to more than 12,000 by 1910.

We developed a morbid fascination with the gift shop, in which you can buy everything from granite ice cubes to handcrafted crypts. But my recalcitrant child decided he needed to purchase a shiny stone from Brazil. Sigh.

Reluctantly departing the cool building, we headed out into the sweltering sunlight to try Rock of Ages' outdoor bowling alley, a single lane of fun. Players have to stack the plastic pins themselves, and the balls are made of rubber. The lane itself was carved from granite, gutters and all.

click to enlarge Kids learn about the quarry's history
  • Courtesy of Nancy Stearns Bercaw
  • Kids learn about the quarry's history

Tickets for a guided tour of the quarry are a reasonable $5 or less per person. The 40-minute tour, which includes a short ride on a yellow school bus, is the only way to get a view down into the majestic — and still functioning — worksite.

Our peppy tour guide mentioned that, despite the terrifying heights, the work of extracting granite has become much safer since the industry's early years. He also told us there's enough granite in these hills to keep workers busy for another 4500 years.

Someone asked if Rock of Ages was in the business of making granite countertops, in addition to its well-known gravestones and memorials. The guide answered that consumers don't tend to fancy gray counters, but the corporation owns other quarries that produce more popular shades of white, red and black.

After gaping into the quarries' depths, David and I headed back to the reality of gaping at sinkholes in Burlington. But we're glad to know that Graniteville will rock on long after we're gone.

click to enlarge Sculptor Stanislaw Lutostanski works on a monument
  • Courtesy of Nancy Stearns Bercaw
  • Sculptor Stanislaw Lutostanski works on a monument
Know before you go:
  • The Rock of Ages visitor's center is open Mondays through Saturdays, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. The 40-minute guided quarry tour operates each of those days, from 9:15 a.m.-3:35 p.m. Tour rates: $5 for adults, $4.50 for seniors, $2.75 for ages 6 to 12 and free for kids under 6.
  • Artists cut, polish and carve granite in the factory, which is open for self-guided observation Mondays through Fridays, 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Visitors can cut a design into the stone themselves in the Sandblast Experience, available Mondays through Fridays for a fee.
Where to eat:
  • The visitor's center offers drinks and snacks from vending machines; the location is also great for a family picnic. You can pick up a healthy spread en route from Hunger Mountain Coop (623 Stone Cutters Way, Montpelier).
  • Cornerstone Pub & Kitchen (47 N. Main St., Barre) serves lunch and dinner Tuesdays through Saturdays, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. The restaurant is great for grown-ups and is also completely kid-friendly. We spent a total of $20 on our two-person meal.
Also nearby:
  • Limehurst Lake Campgrounds (4104 Rt. 14, Williamstown), just nine miles south of Barre, offers a sandy beach, two diving boards, a float, a waterslide, a playground and a game room. Pets are welcome. For information, visit
Waterbury Reservoir
  • Courtesy of Cara Mezitt
  • Waterbury Reservoir

Hiking Through History: Little River State Park

3444 Little River Rd., Waterbury, 244-7103,

Our family didn't let near-daily showers in June and July rain on our parade. With two energetic little boys — Will, 6, and Cullen, 3 — we're looking for outdoor activities to help "get the wiggles out" regardless of the weather. One of our favorite places to explore, rain or shine, is Little River State Park in Waterbury.

We got hooked on Little River last summer, after spending two amazing weekends camping there. Just a 20-minute drive from our house, the park gives us all-inclusive access to campgrounds, paved roads for riding bikes, small brooks and the Waterbury Reservoir for swimming, boating and fishing. But it wasn't until recently that we got to explore its extensive trail network.

click to enlarge Will and Cullen Mezitt on the Stevenson Brook Trail
  • Courtesy of Cara Mezitt
  • Will and Cullen Mezitt on the Stevenson Brook Trail

My husband was away for the day, so it was up to me to lead an adventure on a drizzly morning. Waterproofed in mud boots and rain jackets, my boys and I grabbed a map and brochure at the ranger station and started down the park's Stevenson Brook Trail.

It rained off and on during our relatively easy hike. We discovered countless natural features for the boys to climb on — from crazy tangles of exposed tree roots to huge rocks on the side of the brook. The trail took us into the woods, across beautiful bridges, up a rock staircase and alongside a by-then sunny meadow.

Back in the shade of the trees, we were surprised to find an old wagon wheel peeking up through the dirt and underbrush. We had connected to the Little River History Hike, which, our brochure explained, was really a "journey through time."

Fifty families lived here in the 1800s, in a thriving timber-mill community sustained by industry brought to the area by the Waterbury railroad. But by the early 1900s, the younger generations had abandoned their family farms in search of an easier life. Settlement ruins are scattered all over Little River; finding traces of this long-gone mountain village fueled our imaginations throughout the hike.

"Mama, is that a choo-choo train?" asked Cullen as we came upon the rusty remains of the Waterbury Last Block Co. Sawmill. Nope — according to a trail marker, the machine was used to mill timber for ammunition cases and gunstocks during World War I. But engines are engines in the eyes of a 3-year-old!

Soon we met up with the Dalley Loop Trail, where we discovered stone foundations of houses, old culverts and bridges. More descriptive trail markers here described the crops the 1800s settlers grew and the number of livestock they kept.

As we approached a clearing, we spotted an old farmhouse. We'd made it to the Almeron Goodell farm, site of the last standing historic structure in Little River State Park; everything else was either destroyed or dismantled and moved when the land was acquired for public use.

"I see the village!" exclaimed Will. Both boys took off running.

click to enlarge Timber-mill ruins at Little River State Park
  • Courtesy of Cara Mezitt
  • Timber-mill ruins at Little River State Park

Near the end of our hike, the boys were fascinated by the remains of a huge stone culvert under the road. A trail marker explained that it was a "high bridge," used to support the passage of trucks and wagons on the rough dirt roads up the mountain. Will took out his little camera and snapped away.

In all, we walked more than two miles, stopping for quite a few snack breaks along the way. This small portion of the trail system took us about two hours; lunch could not come soon enough. It was still sunny when we reached the car, so we drove straight to one of the park's beaches for a picnic. The boys scarfed down every bit of their sandwiches and played by the reservoir, skipping stones and searching for minnows along the shore.

With so many different activities offered at one location, Little River State Park has become our go-to spot for outdoor fun. We can't wait to return for our next adventure — even if it's in the rain.

Know before you go:
  • Little River State Park is open daily, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. or sunset (whichever is earlier), through Columbus Day Weekend. Day-use admission is $3 for adults, $2 for ages 4 to 13 and free for kids under 4. Boat rentals are available. There are multiple bathroom facilities throughout the park.
  • I recommend bringing a second set of shoes and clothes — our feet got wet on the hike. And don't forget bathing suits and towels; I've found that if I put kids in front of water, they are going to take a dip, even if we hadn't planned on swimming. There's a beach where they can venture in.
  • For a list of Nature Center programs, visit river_current.pdf.
click to enlarge Will and Cullen Mezitt skip stones at Waterbury Reservoir
  • Courtesy of Cara Mezitt
  • Will and Cullen Mezitt skip stones at Waterbury Reservoir
Where to eat:
  • We brought a picnic lunch of fresh fruit and sandwiches for the beach, plus nuts and dried fruit to keep our energy levels up during the hike. If you're looking to grab dinner on the way home, try the Blue Stone (15 Stowe St., Waterbury), a nearby hot spot serving rustic pizza with fresh, local ingredients. It's a family favorite.
  • Or stop in at On the Rise (39 Esplanade, Richmond). It offers an extensive menu of meat-free favorites for breakfast, lunch and dinner — including the best veggie burger around. There's a great playground on the property if the kids have any wiggles left inside.
Also nearby:
  • Ben and Jerry's Factory (1281 Waterbury Stowe Rd., Waterbury) has guided factory tours, a scoop shop, an outdoor Flavor Graveyard and space for picnicking.
  • Cold Hollow Cider Mill (3600 Waterbury-Stowe Rd., Waterbury Center) sells fresh-pressed cider and cider doughnuts year-round and offers plenty of free snack samples.

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.

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