It wasn't easy to spot on a mid-September morning as we took stock of the blanket of green stretching in either direction from Vermont to...

Share story

It wasn’t easy to spot on a mid-September morning as we took stock of the blanket of green stretching in either direction from Vermont to peaks in New Hampshire and New York. But it was there, halfway down the mountainside from our perch atop Mount Mansfield — a single shock of bright yellow foliage amid the emerald leaves.

“Aha, that’s where it all starts,” said Willy Leginowicz, the affable innkeeper who had chugged four miles up the mountain with me in his red minivan for this scene. “In a couple of weeks, this whole valley will be turned into a river of reds, oranges and yellows.”

It’s the very beginning of foliage season in Stowe, Vt. This north-central section of the state is best known for some of New England’s grandest ski slopes. But a combination of expansive views, the unique blend of flora and a spectacular mix of trails gives it the kind of cachet among leaf-watchers that South Beach has for partyers or Paris for foodies. A steady flow of visitors, including Japanese, Australians, Brits and others, starts descending on Stowe at this time every year.

My friend Eddy and I timed our visit to beat the rush but still catch an early peek at the autumnal glory.

If you go

Stowe, Vt.

Traveler’s tip

Hiking or biking the 5 ½ -mile Stowe Recreation Path or taking gondola rides across the peaks are superb ways to take in the fall glory. The Stowe tourism office in the center of Stowe Village offers bookings on several ways to view fall color, from gliders to mountain bikes. Soft adventurers should try the kayaking and winery tour offered by Umiak Outfitters (849 S. Main St., 802-253-2317, www.umiak.com) until Oct. 16 for $40-$45 a person. For leaf color updates and a list of recommended drives, see Vermont’s foliage report at www.vermontvacation.com/seasons/
report.asp
. For more information, check Stowe Area Association, 877-317-8693, www.gostowe.com.

The window to see Vermont covered in bright foliage is short. At press time, forestry agents were forecasting this first week of October as the peak of color, depending on weather. By the end of October, according to Brian Stone, Vermont’s chief of forest management, all but the evergreens will be bare.

In Stone’s view, what sets Stowe apart from other foliage destinations is the towering elevation of Mount Mansfield (at 4,393 feet, it’s the highest point in the state) and other nearby peaks. The evergreens common at high altitudes ensure that big swatches of background green will be part of the color fusion. From mid-September to mid-October, the maples turn red, the beeches and birches take on yellow and orange and the ashes go burgundy.

From Burlington, we took a 45-minute drive to Stowe through rolling hills, neatly manicured villages and dairy farms.

Stowe, with 4,500 people, is the kind of place where a visitor knows many faces after a day and many names by the end of a weekend. The town is anchored by Stowe Village, a settlement of well-preserved Colonial-era wooden houses and shops. But it stretches for three to four miles along Mountain Road, a busy thoroughfare flanked by small guesthouses and restaurants.

At this time of year, Stowe’s tourism infrastructure is geared to seeing, not the skiing, for which it’s famous. They’ve come up with all manner of leaf-peeping excursions, including biking, gondolas, driving tours, glider trips and “dog carts” (think mushing on wheels). Most can be booked in the tourism office in the middle of Stowe Village.

We chose an afternoon kayak trip on the Lamoille River.

Nowhere was the seasonal allure more evident than here. The sky was clear, and a mild wind kept the temperature in the mid-70s. But it was the coloring deciduous trees that grabbed my attention.

A winery tour, at the end of the boat ride, sweetened the afternoon. David Boyden, the co-owner, explained the history and the functions of the vats and machines. Originally a dairy farm that had been in the Boyden family for five generations, it was transformed into a winery eight years ago. Despite the challenges of producing wine in a northern climate, he said, production has gradually increased every year.

Breakfast the next day found us dry and hungry. After serving a wholesome breakfast, Willy and Jolanta, owners of the Arbor Inn, joined us for a chat. Originally from southern Poland, they were naturally drawn to this area. They were planning to drive up Mansfield and insisted we come along. That’s how we came to be standing atop the mountain, looking down at Vermont’s annual autumnal pageant.

“You’ll be able to see the first leaves change,” Willy said. “Nobody should come to Stowe without getting a sight of that.”