Seven Road Trips to Burst Out of the Burlington Bubble | What's Good | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Seven Road Trips to Burst Out of the Burlington Bubble 

Published August 26, 2015 at 9:00 a.m. | Updated August 26, 2015 at 11:24 a.m.

"Fishbowl" has long been synonymous with "college campus." But as a college student, you have some distinct advantages over our finned friends — opposable thumbs and a highly developed brain are two examples. Also important: You're not penned in by glass walls. You're allowed — even encouraged — to leave campus, and Burlington, every now and then. So grab some friends and hit the road. Here are seven worthy destinations.


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We know: They speak a whole 'nother language up there. But when Vermont starts to feel a little provincial, consider crossing the Canadian border. Montréal is one of the most historic and culturally rich burgs in North America.

A new highway can put you in downtown Montréal within 90 minutes, though the pokier Route 133 has many oddball charms, including a haunted house with a bloody toilet sculpture in the parking lot. However you get there, take advantage of all that Montréal has to offer: the Biodôme and nearby Botanical Garden, La Ronde amusement park, and beautiful Mount Royal Park, for starters. And let's not overlook the top-notch poutine, strip clubs and drinking age of 18.

Don't forget your passport. Don't do anything dumb at the border crossing. And turn off your phone when you're in Canada — Mom and Dad won't appreciate having to pay for the astronomical roaming fees.


click to enlarge Buch Spieler Records - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-brodeur
  • Buch Spieler Records

Vermont's capital city is the country's smallest, famous not just for its tiny population of roughly 8,000 souls but for not having a single McDonald's (see "Vermont A-to-Z,"). One of the funkiest and most charming towns in Vermont, it's just a 45-minute drive away on Interstate 89. A pretty gorgeous one, too.

The Exit 8 off-ramp puts you in view of the Statehouse, where the citizen legislature is in session from January through mid-May. The historic golden dome is worth a visit any time of year.

Just beyond it, in the heart of "Montpe-culiar," you can hang with salt-of-the-earth locals at the Capital City Farmers Market on Saturdays, catch a band or comedy show at Sweet Melissa's, or browse the vintage vinyl at Buch Spieler Records.

The downtown may be small enough to see in a single day, but you'll find enough interesting hippies and good eats to warrant a return trip — or two.


click to enlarge A&W Drive-In - FILE: MATTHEW THORSEN
  • File: Matthew Thorsen
  • A&W Drive-In

Fifty minutes south of Burlington is the cute, quintessential New England college town of Middlebury. Think rolling hills, quirky shops and an elite liberal arts institution.

Middlebury College is a mecca for arts and culture in the middle of a largely rural area. (And if you haven't figured it out yet, most of Vermont is rural.) World-class artists and speakers pass through weekly, and most of the events on campus are free and open to the public. If you like obscure foreign films, this is your town. And the art collection at the school's museum ranges from Andy Warhol works to Chinese funerary sculptures from the Han dynasty.

When you're done feeding the mind, feed the body. Try 51 Main at the Bridge, a college-student hangout with live music and tapas, or the A&W Drive-In; it's still totally hep, daddy-o. Finish your tour of the town with a walk by the dramatic Otter Creek Falls.

The Northeast Kingdom

click to enlarge Lake Placid
  • Lake Placid

The Northeast Kingdom encompasses the three counties in the upper-right corner of Vermont, and a fascinating realm it is. Rugged, rural and sparsely populated, the NEK is rich in both natural beauty and strange roadside attractions.

Take Bread and Puppet Theater in Glover, for example. Since the 1960s, this radical puppet troupe has put on politically charged performances, all served with fresh homemade bread. Their museum is always free and unlocked, and filled to the rafters with crazy, creepy puppets. Not far away is the Museum of Everyday Life — also unlocked! — which features exhibits on pencils, safety pins and dust. No kidding. And then there's the Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium in St. Johnsbury, which contains at least one of everything.

If you're 21, pay a visit to Hill Farmstead Brewery, named best in the world by RateBeer. Bring an empty growler, and be prepared to stand in line for a while.

Champlain Islands

click to enlarge FILE: OLIVER PARINI
  • File: Oliver Parini

Vermont may be landlocked, but who needs the ocean when you've got Lake Champlain? This body of water is best enjoyed in summer on the Champlain Islands, an archipelago that juts out into the lake and boasts some of the best beaches in the state.

Start your beach bumming at Sand Bar State Park, a prime swim spot known for its shallow, warm water and soft sand. Want to go paddling? There are kayak and canoe rentals here, too. Just up the road, Seb's Snack Bar slings greasy fries and burgers — ideal day-trippin' eats, duh. Or head to Snow Farm Vineyard to wander the grapevines with some vino.

Whatever you do, don't leave this lakeside paradise without tasting some Island Homemade Ice Cream, available at pretty much any convenience store. Flavors range from mojito to pumpkin cheesecake.


click to enlarge Champlain Islands
  • Champlain Islands

Why drive three hours to a small town in southern Vermont? Because Brattleboro punches above its weight in regard to arts and culture. Locals call it "a college town without a college." We like to call it Vermont's other B-town.

Hit up the Latchis Hotel and Theatre, an art-deco institution from the 1930s, for indie and mainstream flicks; there's also a film festival in the fall. Watch up-and-coming circus artists do their thing at the New England Center for Circus Arts — you can even try out the flying trapeze in occasional $5 workshops. Visit on the first Friday of the month, and you can duck into more than 30 galleries as part of a citywide art walk.

And let's not forget about June's Strolling of the Heifers fest, when cows take over the streets! It's just so ... Vermont.

The Adirondack Mountains

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The Green Mountains are cool and all, but in Burlington we see more of the Adirondacks — the range jutting up on the other side of Lake Champlain. So hop on the Charlotte-Essex car ferry and go see 'em up close!

The Adirondack Park covers more than six million acres — roughly the size of Vermont itself. There's more to do than we can possibly tell you here. But a weekend trip to Lake Placid is a good place to start. Home to the 1980 Winter Olympics, this mountain village is full of shops and restaurants, and close to bobsledding, snow tubing and luge rides at Whiteface.

Visiting the 'dacks in summer? Daredevils will have a tough time choosing between the Great Escape & Splashwater Kingdom amusement park in Lake George and white-water rafting pretty much anywhere there's a river. Did we mention the epic hiking? Forty-six peaks in them thar hills are higher than 4,000 feet. Happy adventuring.

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About The Author

Ethan de Seife

Ethan de Seife

Ethan de Seife was an arts writer at Seven Days from 2013 to 2016. He is the author of Tashlinesque: The Hollywood Comedies of Frank Tashlin, published in 2012 by Wesleyan University Press.

About the Artist

Matthew Thorsen

Matthew Thorsen

Matthew Thorsen was a photographer for Seven Days 1995-2018. Read all about his life and work here.


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