Stowe, Vermont is big on charm and offers lots to do including a world-class ski area and any number of fantastic restaurants. But it is not very big. There are basically two main streets and no traffic lights. And on busy summer or winter days, the town can seem even smaller as traffic backs up at the three-way stop in the center of the village.
That’s why I think the best way to find Zen in Stowe is by winding my way up the town’s beautiful recreation path on the back of a bike. No need to worry about cars here – there’s really only one spot where the path crosses a road. Focus instead on the lush, verdant scenery that gives the surrounding mountains their name.
There many places along the path where you can enter it, including the in-town end behind a church that is one of Vermont’s most iconic and most photographed.
Rather than trolls, you’ll find wind chimes living underneath the first bridge you cross, easy to miss as your bike wheels thump across the boards. Art can sometimes be found at this end of the path as well; in 2011 spoons that hung from the trees like a summons to a giant sundae.
Heading on the path from this direction, you are going up toward Mount Mansfield, but the incline is kind – enough that you feel you’ve earned your lunch, but not too challenging for little legs.
On clear days you can see the “forehead,” “nose,” and “chin” of Vermont’s face-shaped highest mountain – always fun to point out to the kids.
One of my favorite things about the path is that it winds along and over the West Branch River, so you’re never far from the sound of water. Numerous bridges offer glorious views and there are also many areas where you can stop on the banks to wade or swim or even enjoy a picnic.
From spring through fall, the path is lined with diversions, as if its beauty alone weren’t enough. Stop to play 18 holes of miniature golf. Starting in midsummer, you’ll find calves and a corn maze courtesy of Mr. Percy whose fields are adjacent to the path. On Sundays the Farmer’s Market is in full swing. Another favorite place to stop is the West Branch Gallery’s outdoor sculpture park, where water, stone, and metal have all been used to fascinating tactile effect.
Or maybe, if you’ve got an ambitious 10-year-old like I do, you’ll just want to ride the entire length, to see how fast you can do it. If the church at one end satisfies all your desires to photograph a white clapboard spire, the barn-red covered bridge at the other should complete your Vermont picturesque fantasies. If you’re lucky, as you round the corner coming to or from the bridge you’ll see a wagon being pulled across the meadow by a horse with bells on the reins.
Once you’ve turned around at the covered bridge, know that you can coast much of the way back to town – you may not have felt the gentle uphill as you headed mountain-ward, but you will certainly feel it was you sail through the stands of pine trees and meadows of waving goldenrod, the air in your face.
- The Stowe recreation path is 5.3 miles in each direction. My 7- and 10-year-old boys are now able to ride the entire thing handily, but when they were younger, we often started in the middle to make it a shorter ride. Check out this online map to see where the access points for the trail are.
- There are numerous places to eat along the path including, Piecasso for pizza, the Blue Donkey for hamburgers, and our newest favorite, Crop, which in addition to serving lovely locally-sourced food has a killer beer menu and a great patio that overlooks the bike path. I highly recommend pretty much everything on the appetizer menu, including the Rip and Dip – homemade bread served with something wonderful to sop it in that changes daily. The beer and cheddar fondue is a favorite
- You can rent bikes and bike trailers, to say nothing of inline skates, at a variety of locations; our favorite is A. J.’s Sporting Goods. It’s right next to the path and even if you aren’t renting from them they will also tune and adjust your bikes or help you fill up your tires.
- The path is an easy car ride or even walk from many of the resorts and condos in Stowe. In the winter, it makes a great place to snowshoe or cross country ski.
This post was written in conjunction with my relationship with Mountain Reservations as one of its Mountain Ambassadors.