While it looks like we won’t be traveling far this summer, Vermont offers myriad ways to celebrate the longest, sunniest days of the year. From trails to fishing, kayaking to horseback riding, parks, waterways and businesses are open for exploration – and fun.
The crunching sound of a gravel drive will be the first signal that you’ve arrived at the Miniature Farm on Mears Road in Milton. As the name suggests, the farm is home to tiny critters including a miniature donkey, miniature ponies, chickens, goats and a pair of dwarf miniature horses to boot. Call ahead to schedule a visit, as social distancing has put a cap to the number of people farm owner Sharon Whittle can welcome.
The animals are sweet, Whittle said, friendly to small children and their taller counterparts alike. Grab a brush and comb their hair or give them a pet during your visit.
“People who come here say it’s like paradise. It’s very peaceful, it’s outdoors, it’s very entertaining to watch the animals,” Whittle said, “and it’s very therapeutic to pet them and have them come over and want you to love up on them.”
Bring lunch, as there are picnic tables for visitors to sit down and enjoy a meal, Whittle said. Visitors are currently required to bring a mask and maintain social distancing in case others arrive during their visit.
There’s no fee at the farm, Whittle simply asks folks to leave a donation to help with animal care and farm upkeep.
The Miniature Farm is located at 247 Mears Road, contrary to the address listed on Google.
Interested in horseback riding? Check out the Livery Horse Farm in Hinesburg. The site is a former cow barn that was retrofitted for all things equestrian by Kim Johansen 29 years ago. Livery is home to 18 horses and includes pastures with lush grass and a riding ring. The Green Mountains serve as a scenic backdrop to this horse-lover’s haven.
“It’s just a very mellow and calm place,” Johansen said. “Unless you’re in the middle of a day camp.”
Indeed, Livery will hold weeklong summer camps this year, as it has since its first summer. The camps have been modified to meet the governor’s COVID-19 guidelines. Fewer campers will be admitted each week, down from about 20 to eight. Hard surfaces will be cleaned, and new hand sanitizing stations have been added, Johansen said.
New this summer is a mini camp for ages 8 to adult. The mini camp will run on both a half and full day model, allowing participants to brush horses, lead them through an obstacle course and ride horses in the ring.
“It’s mostly meant to be a stress reliever,” Johansen said.
See liveryhorsefarm.com for information on camps and pricing.
Hit the trails
Take a walk on the wild side at Shelburne Bay Park. This park stretches out across 104 acres, offering scenic views of the bay, with inclined trails and flat walking paths.
Weave along a soft earth path through the trees. Keep an eye out for red squirrels and a host of birds that call the land home.
Don’t forget to take a moment of Zen, listening to the water as it laps against the rocky shore.
The park is open, but town officials ask visitors to follow social distancing guidelines, said Parks and Recreation Director Betsy Cieplicki.
For a list of parks and trails around the state click here.
Fish and Wildlife access areas
Just a short trek down the road from Shelburne Bay Park you’ll find the Shelburne Bay Access Area, a state fishing and boat launch site. The site offers space for visitors to cast their lines or take to the water on both motor and motor-less vessels. Look for Great Blue Herons along the shoreline or try your luck at catching one of the many fish species like Brown Trout, Bullhead, Lake Trout, Largemouth Bass, that call the bay home.
The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department has seen a surge in fishing license sales during the pandemic, said to Mike Wichrowski, Land and Facilities Manager for the department.
Along with increased license purchases, the department has seen a “dramatic increase” in the use of access areas.
Take a ride to access sites in Franklin County, down in Addison County or inland to cut down on Chittenden County crowds.
“In the Northeast Kingdom there are a lot of beautiful lakes,” Wichrowski said, adding that Holland Pond, near the Canadian Border, provides a scenic – and potentially quieter – alternative.
The state has about 200 free access sites, which can be found on the Fish and Wildlife access area website. Online filters break down sites by county, amenities, even the fish available to catch.
Portable toilets were removed from access sites at the start of the pandemic, but most sites that had port-o-lets before March should have them again now, Wichrowski said.
Though it may be tempting to go swimming at these access sites, users should refrain. It can be hard for boaters to see swimmers in the water, Wichrowski said, adding the department wants to help site users avoid injury.
While it’s customary for boat owners to help fellow site users launch their watercraft, Fish and Wildlife is encouraging boaters to avoid contact with other groups of people during the pandemic. Instead, the department asks boaters to wait patiently for their turn on the ramp, Wichrowski said.
Check out state access areas here.
Take a dip
As hot temperatures become the norm, finding ways to cool off will be the name of the game. For a refreshing dip in a scenic setting, look no further than the Bolton Potholes. Named for the road hazard their shape resembles, these pools of cool, crystalline water offer refuge on even the muggiest of days. The potholes were carved into bedrock by Joiner Brook, which connects to the Winooski River, and ultimately, Lake Champlain, according to the Vermont River Conservancy.
The Potholes are a popular attraction so try to plan your visit early in the day. There is a small parking lot along Bolton Valley Access Road and at the Smilie Memorial Elementary School. Visitors are asked to bring a face mask in case they encounter other people on their walk to the Potholes. The conservancy also asks that swimmers avoid “risky activities” to prevent additional strain on hospitals and emergency responders.
“These are places to enjoy the peace that a river can provide, to cool off on a hot day, and to recharge your mental well-being during these unsettling times,” wrote Steve Libby, executive director of the conservancy. “We rely strongly on the respectful behavior of visitors to ensure these sites can remain open during the pandemic.”
To learn more about the potholes click here.
Sand Bar State Park
Starting on June 26, Vermonters can wade in the cool water at Sandbar State Park. Situated between South Hero and Milton, this park features 2,000 feet of sandy beach. The water is shallow here due to the naturally occurring sandbar. Without the structure, depths would reach over 150 feet, according to the state parks website.
Sand Bar is an ideal spot for splashing around, kayaking and paddle boarding. Keep an eye out on the state parks webpage for updates on opening and this year’s entrance fee.
For more information, visit vtstateparks.com.
Stay a while
Those seeking a longer vacation might check out Charlotte’s Mount Philo Inn.
Located directly beside Mount Philo State Park, the inn offers great recreational opportunities from hiking to birdwatching. Each suite has its own private entrance and kitchen, making it easy to stay socially distant. The inn is pet-friendly, so even the four-legged members of your family can tag along. Staff are taking extra precautions during COVID-19 including lengthening the number of days spent cleaning suites between guests and offering check-in over the phone. While the inn has offered weekend visits in the past, it is focusing on longer two- and three-week stays at this time, according to co-owner David Garbose.
For more information on lodging at the Mount Philo Inn visit mtphiloinn.com.
Tucked behind the Dutch Mill Restaurant & Motel on Shelburne Road lies Shelburne Camping. This family-run campsite offers space for both RV and tent campers.
Take it easy and enjoy time on the property where guests can enjoy amenities like the pool and laundry room soon.
Campers will be encouraged to stay near their sites – keeping in mind the current pandemic – and the playground will be closed, General Manager Chris Bissonette said.
Shelburne Camping is just a few miles away from Shelburne Bay Park, Shelburne Farms and other great walking and biking areas.
Cross the street to Archie’s Grill where you can order burgers for curbside pickup. Catch Archie’s “Scoop Truck” on weekends for your ice cream fix. Don’t feel like crossing the street? The Dutch Mill Restaurant, owned by the Bissonette family, has begun seating a limited number of diners outside.
Call to reserve a camp site soon as spacing is limited to adhere to the governor’s COVID-19 guidelines.
“It’s pretty much going to be a stripped down, bare bones camping season, pretty much across the state,” Bissonette said. “My thought is hopefully Vermonters will enjoy our great state and really compliment the businesses that are here.”
For more information, visit shelburnecamping.com.
Knight Island State Park
Want to take social distancing to the next level? Check out the campsites at Knight Island State Park. Knight Island is situated two miles east of North Hero village and five-and-a-half miles northwest of Burton Island State Park. It is only accessible by boat, so you’ll have to row, paddle or motor your way there from the mainland. Knight Island is one of the state’s “remote area” campsites, so be sure to bring drinking water.
The island features seven campsites, six of which have lean-tos. Be prepared to walk, as it’s a third-of-a-mile walk from the state dock to the campsites. Keep an eye on the weather as storms can make for challenging crossings to and from Knight Island.
The Vermont State Parks have currently put a hold on camping reservations through June 25. Knight Island State Park will begin taking reservations for the 2020 season on June 22 for stays on and after June 26, according to the Park’s phone line.
Keep an eye out for the latest COVID-19 updates related to state campsites, pricing and reservation information at vtstateparks.com.
Kayaking, canoeing and boating, oh my!
Feeling adventurous? Take a trek to Jeffersonville and visit Vermont Canoe and Kayak for a day of exercise, exploration and fun.
Wind your boat along the Lamoille River, paddling past farmland and under an iconic covered bridge. Keep your eyes peeled for bald eagles, muskrats, beavers, ducks, turtles and even the occasional bear playing along the riverbank. Be sure to pack snacks or a picnic lunch to enjoy on one of the sandy beaches along the route.
Vermont Canoe and Kayak rents everything from junior boats for kids ages 9 and up to solo and tandem kayaks, to two- and three-seat canoes. The company also has stand-up paddle boards available to let.
Rentals are for the day, and include life jackets and a shuttle up the river. Boat owners can bring their own kayak or canoe and use Vermont Kayak and Canoe’s shuttle service for $15 per boat. This year, Vermonters can save 10% on their rental by showing a valid in-state ID, owner Bronwyn Decker said.
Water lovers should keep their eyes out for guided tours, to come later, as well as paddle board yoga classes.
For more information, visit vtcanoeandkayak.com.
Up North Canoe & Kayak
Chart your own course this summer with Up North Canoe and Kayak Rentals. Based out of Morristown this rental company delivers and picks up rental kayaks, canoes for 8 a.m.-4 p.m., full-day and overnight journeys. Call Up North and arrange a date, time and waterway you’d like to paddle, and the staff will take it from there, dropping off boats at your convenience. Most Up North’s deliveries go to the Green River Reservoir, but the company delivers to a variety of waterways, one of the furthest being Caspian Lake in Greensboro.
A trip down the Green River Reservoir offers plenty of space to dock up and swim, picnic and even a few sites with fire pits for cookouts, said Derrick Patenaude owner and operator at Up North. The reservoir is a great place to see loons and do some smallmouth bass fishing, he added.
Green River Reservoir is currently scheduled to open on June 26, and Up North Canoe & Kayak is prepared to begin deliveries to the reservoir as soon as it reopens, Patenaude said.
“I think the main perk [of Up North] would be that you don’t have to load the boat,” Patenaude said. “You can just show up, give us a drop time, your boat and all your gear will be waiting.
For more information on Up North Canoe and Kayak Rentals check out upnorthcanoe.com.