Keys to the Kingdom: Exploring Vermont’s Beautiful Northeast Corner

Our companion, a Bostonian at heart, was impressed. So. A lot. Cows! We kept stopping the car so he could take pictures of red barns and white silos, green hills and blue skies – and dozens of black and white Holsteins. Our advice: Plan to take it slow if you’re road tripping along Vermont’s 51-mile Northeast Kingdom Byway. Bordering Canada and wedged between the Green Mountains and the Connecticut River, the eastern corner of Vermont is the most rural section of the state. Comprising the counties of Caledonia, Essex, and Orleans, with a combined population of approximately 66,000, it projects a more “small-town” than craftsman-hipster vibe. It’s a colorful quilt of small hamlets, plus a larger town, St. Johnsbury, the commercial center of the region, and exactly one town, Newport. Home to Jay Peak, Burke Mountain and Lyndon Outing Club ski resorts, the Northeast Kingdom has the dubious distinction of being the coldest place in the state, with an official lowest recorded temperature of minus 50 degrees. There must be solid material here.

Seriously, though: a kingdom? The nickname is often attributed to Vermont Governor George Aiken, who used it in a speech in 1949. Whatever its genesis, the glowing descriptor is apt: it’s a glorious place. The Northeast Kingdom is dotted with more than 200 lakes and ponds and home to eight state parks. Rules of outdoor recreation, from fishing to fat-tire cycling. And if it really was a kingdom, the royal family would surely reside on Lake Willoughby, Vermont’s answer to Switzerland’s Lake Lucerne. Nearly 8 km long, this fjord-like lake is one of the most dazzling places in New England. Here’s a curated overview of what you’ll encounter if you enter the realm.

Key place to stay: Inn at Mountain View Farm

True, they had us at “dwarf goats”. This 440-acre farm estate sits atop Darling Hill in East Burke; the goats are part of an on-site animal sanctuary that includes rescue horses as part of the menagerie. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the inn has 14 rooms and suites and offers access to more than 100 miles of bike trails, twice-weekly yoga sessions, and a free hot breakfast (with locally grown vegetables). the farm) and an afternoon tea. . The s’mores at the hearth are a nice touch; they also offer a beer garden with Vermont craft beers on weekends. From $180 (includes access to Kingdom Trails); 802-826-9924; www.innmtnview.com

Key place to play: Kingdom Trails

We always say, nothing like a bike ride to become a 10-year-old child again! And you really will feel like a lucky kid if you’re on this 100-mile network of single and dual track mountain bike trails; the Kingdom Trails are ranked among the best mountain biking networks in the world. (Don’t like biking? All sections of the trails are great for walking and running.) Accessible via daily, monthly, or annual membership, the trails are suitable for all ages and abilities, according to the Kingdom Trail Association. Take a look at their website and familiarize yourself with the culture (“Ride with Gratitude” is a theme) before you ride. Trails cross private land, so code of conduct and rules apply (eg, no e-bikes.) Day membership: $20; 8-15 years old, $12; www.kingdomtrails.org

Key places to camp: White Caps Campground and Emerald Lake State Park

Love camping in your newly purchased RV? Caps Blancs campsite (RVs from $47 per night; cabins, $75 per night; www.whitecapscampground.com) occupies prime real estate at the south end of Lake Willoughby in Westmore. No need for BYOB (boat); they offer boat rentals as well as a small camping store. They also offer tent camping, but RV sites (some overlooking the lake) and rustic cabins are the way to go here.

For a more peaceful woods camping experience, we like Emerald Lake State Park (www.vtstateparks.com) in East Dorset. The campsites are located on a wooded hillside with walking trails that lead to a 20-acre green-hued lake. There is a small swimming area, boat hire, fishing and wonderful walks in the nearby Dorset mountain. Another to consider: Brighton State Park in Brighton, a beautiful, quiet campground known for great fishing, located near Island Pond and Spectacle Pond. Camping fees at Vermont state parks are approximately $30 per night; two-night minimum stays may apply. (Tip: book early if you want a summer weekend.)

Must-see places to admire the view: Lake Memphremagog and Lake Willoughby

A large part nearly 32 miles long Lake Memphremagog is located in Magog, Quebec. But the Vermont end of this freshwater lake, in the town of Newport, is a dandy place to celebrate the state’s short but balmy summer season. Plan a visit to Prouty Beach, a picnic by the lake or lunch at one of the restaurants on the shore and watch the boats go by.

As for Lake Willoughby? “Beyond beauty”, as our companion said. Rent a kayak at White Caps Campground and paddle the fjord, or hike one of the 12 miles of trails in the Willoughby State Forest. The peaks of the Pisgah and Hor mountains, rising along the lake, are a great attraction. A favorite route is the Mount Pisgah Trail, 4.1 miles round trip, a moderately difficult hike due to an elevation gain of 1,653 feet. Those views of the lake are worth it.

Key places to eat: The Parker Pie Company, Salt Bistro, Burke Publick House

You’ll feel like you’ve stumbled upon a real find at Parker Pie Company (from $14; www.parkerpie.com), a pizzeria at the back of the Lake Parker Country Store in West Glover. The combination of great pizza and local beer can’t be beat. You won’t go wrong with the Green Mountain Special pizza, topped with spinach, red onions, bacon, apple, fresh garlic and cheddar cheese, with a drizzle of local maple syrup. Want to go a little fancier than a pizza and a beer? Salt Bistro (www.facebook.com/VermontCateringCompany/) in St. Johnsbury is known for its high quality local cuisine with an Italian twist; live music (and maple cream martinis) add to a fun night. We are always happy to find a good gastropub on our travels; fortunately, the NEK delivers with Burke Publick House (Entries from $16; www.burkepub.com). The entree side of the menu is irresistible – there’s poutine ($11; hey, Canada is nearby) and “candy for men”, smoked and fried pork belly with chili sauce and coleslaw, topped with pickled onions ($11.) Who’s to say no to that?

The Museum of Daily Life.
Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Team

Key stops for a rainy day: Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium, Museum of Everyday Life

Insect art! Butterflies! You could easily spend a few hours exploring this natural history museum, housed in a circa-1889 Victorian building in St. Johnsbury. Home to numerous animal specimens and artifacts, the site is also home to the Lyman Spitzer Jr. Planetarium, Vermont’s only public planetarium. Interesting features here include an outdoor butterfly house (June-Sept) and a weather observation station. As for insect art, the Fairbanks Museum houses the entire collection of “Bug Art” mosaics created by John Hampson, made up of thousands of beetles, moths and butterflies. Adults, $12; www.fairbanksmuseum.org

Alarm clocks at the Museum of Daily Life.
Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Team

It won’t take long to cover everything, but the Daily Life Museum (donations accepted; www.museumofeverydaylife.org) in Glover is worth a visit if you are passing through. Described by its founders as a “detailed and theatrical expression of gratitude and love for the tiny, unglamorous experience of everyday life in all its forms”, the self-service museum (turn off the lights when you leave) celebrates the banal. The current featured exhibition is devoted to lists in all their forms; past shows have explored the mysteries of locks and keys, safety pins, pencils, and “The Toothbrush: From Twig to Bristle.” Because . . . Why not?


Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be contacted at [email protected]