With the Vermont Mountain Bike Festival coming this month, new trails, restaurants and music fests coming up, Waitsfield’s the place to be in July.
Dropping into Waitsfield from the Champlain Valley always feels like a journey to an entirely different place. After climbing over the Appalachian Gap, Route 17 plummets into the Mad River Valley, past houses built defiantly into the mountainside and Mad River Glen’s legendary single chair.
The winters find me ducking trees for the powder stashes in the mornings and the afternoons wandering the Tempest Book Shop, nibbling crusty sourdough bread (baked fresh by the owner every morning). In the summer, I bring my bike and careen through the forest trails. I almost always pack my hiking boots, a towel, cooler and a paperback to relax with after on the banks of the Mad River. Dinner is consistently at the Mad Taco or a pizza with home-grown toppings at American Flatbread’s original home at Lareau Farm.
Go on a Staycation
The valley’s two renowned ski areas, Sugarbush and Mad River Glen, are hotspots in the winter, but the action only slows down slightly in the warmer months
This summer, Mad River Glen’s General Stark’s Pub at Mad River Glen is open for the summer season from 4:30 to 8:30, Thursdays through Saturday with both brunch and dinner on Sunday.
At Sugarbush, there is as much going on in the summer as there is in the winter. If you have never tried it, Sugarbush’s elite-level 18-hole golf course designed by legendary golf course architect Robert Trent Jones Jr, is a must-play course. The Sugarbush Golf Club’s par 70 (men’s) and par 72 (women’s) course is as beautiful as it is challenging.
For a more laid-back 18 holes, the Lincoln Peak area is also home to a disc golf course (for a $7 fee). Throw some discs, then get lunch at the Castlerock Pub. On Tuesday evenings this summer, sign up for a friendly cornhole tournament and compete for weekly prizes.
The resort offers special camps and clinics in mountain biking, golf, and tennis. Golf is available with weekly clinics every Saturday under the instruction of PGA Pro Roger King, as well as in four-day camps in July and August. Mountain biking and tennis camps are available in July and August as well.
For gravity-fed fun, take a ride on the mountain’s 18 miles of downhill trails. Full suspension bikes and protective equipment are available for rental. With Sugarbush’s First-Timer to Life-Timer Mountain Bike Program, if you complete three lessons, you’ll earn a free season’s pass to the resort’s trails.
Sugarbush’s Mount Ellen is the site of the Vermont Mountain Bike Association’s annual festival (July 21 – 23) and the pros will be in action during the Eastern States Cup enduro and downhill races on July 16.
Push the pedals
The Mad River Valley has something for you, no matter if your tires are 1 or 5 inches wide. For road cyclists, Warren and Waitsfield are starting and ending points for gap rides including the Lincoln, Appalachian, Middlebury and Brandon gaps, which make up the daunting 112-mile-plus LAMB route. To the east of Warren, cyclists can grind gravel over the Roxbury Gap towards Norwich. A classic and less strenuous 32-mile route is to take Route 100A to Waterbury and come back via Moretown along Route 100B as it follows the most beautiful sections of the Mad River.
And then there’s the mountain biking. The valley has long been home to secret or semi-public networks of expert trails. But the Mad River Riders have been developing new beginner and intermediate trails, including Blueberry Lake (also a good spot for a swim). Beginner riders should check out Tutsie Roll, Suki’s Alley, Lenord’s and Flying Squirrel. The advanced riders can start from American Flatbread with Revolution, Clinic and Cyclone.
“Clinic and Cyclone are some of the classic local favorites,” says Dave Rowles, owner of Stark Mountain Bike Works in Waitsfield. “They’re tight, technical trails with lots of roots and off-camber portions. You can ride them every day and never get tired.”
New this summer, Mad River Riders unveils a 1.4-mile intermediate connector trail called Evolution near American Flatbread and the Revolution trail will offer a flowing ride on banked turns.
Explore the Green Mountains
High above the valley floor, the Long Trail marches along the Monroe Skyline, an iconic string of peaks between the Lincoln and Appalachian Gaps. Make a weekend of the ridge and link Mount Abraham, Lincoln Peak, Mount Ellen and Stark Mountain. You can make this roughly 15-mile trek easier by staying at the Battell, Glen Ellen or Theron Dean shelters operated by the Green Mountain Club or if you’re traveling fast, do it in a day and have a friend pick you up at the end.
For a quick hike with a big payoff, hike to Sunset Ledge from the top of Lincoln Gap, roughly one mile south on the Long Trail for a stunning view of the sun setting over the Adirondacks (don’t forget a headlamp for the walk back). Burnt Rock Mountain, located in North Fayston is a steep 5.2-mile round trip hike that concludes at an exposed summit below the treeline. You’ll find big empty potholes carved by glaciers and views of the valley below you.
Plunge into a swimming hole
With the Mad River winding through the valley floor, you’re never far from a swimming hole. In the center of Waitsfield, drop into the Great Eddy directly under the covered bridge. The Lareau swimming hole, across from the Lareau Farm and American Flatbread, has deep water, gentle currants and a grassy picnic area. Warren Falls has boulders of varying heights, while “the Punch Bowl,” across from the Yestermorrow Design/Build School is the local nude beach. However, during the summer, because of the agriculture in the valley the Mad River can have elevated e-coli bacteria counts. Check in with the Vermont Department of Health for any alerts (which are also posted at popular swim spots). For more pristine waters, head to Blueberry Lake, where you can bike on a network of four miles of trails and then plunge into the lake to cool off.
With so many farms providing fresh fare, it’s hard to not eat well in Waitsfield. Valley classics include American Flatbread at Lareau Farm, the Mad Taco, the Pitcher Inn (for the white-tablecloth crowd in Warren) and Big Picture Theater (which serves up local music, food and brews as well as movies).
But newer places include Bluestone Pizza, which opened in December, 2015 with creative pies and a beer selection to match. Try the “White License Plate,” ricotta and Romano cheese, Vermont-made sausage, spinach, and sun dried tomato.
For vegetarian fare, look up Mint, a cozy restaurant and tea room serving organic fare like stuffed baked portabellas or pappardelle with handmade egg noodles. Next door, Peasant serves European country cuisine with a view of a lovely garden and the river. The restaurant at the Mad River Barn dishes up great salads and pub fare in a new rustic-inspired space. Call ahead though as many places are only open Thursday through Sunday.
On Wednesday evenings, (5 p.m. until dark) for a real taste of the Valley, hit the Round Up on the River, held June through September at the covered bridge in Waitsfield. You’ll find all varieties of food trucks, plus surprise live music. From May to October, stop by the Mad River Green in Waitsfield for the Waitsfield Farmers Market (9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays).
Or head to Hartshorn Farm on Route 100 to pick your own organic berries and, for local meats, to Kenyon’s Variety Store. It may look like any other hardware store, but it’s probably the only one where you can get some local Porterhouse steaks with your lumber and fence posts.
On July 10, don’t miss the sixth annual Mad Marathon, Mad Half and relays with challenging climbs and descents on scenic dirt roads with views of the Green Mountains.
If you want to really learn the ins and outs of the mountain bike trails in the Mad River Valley, stop by Stark Mountain Bike Works. Better yet, plan to attend the Vermont Mountain Bike Fest, scheduled for July 21–23 at Sugarbush’s Mount Ellen area. You’ll find group rides through the best trails in the valley, equipment demos, great food, live music, and all the games that come with the affair.
Take in a Museum
Waitsfield is home to two of the more eclectic museums in the state. The Bundy Modern is a giant, Bauhaus-style cube of glass and brick with stunning views of Sugarbush. Both a private home and a gallery, it’s open to the public on Saturdays and, through July 9, will be showcasing an exhibit based on motorcycles called “Industrial Design as seen through the Art of the Motorcycle.” For a lighter look at life, check out acclaimed architect Dave Sellers’ collection of toys and other examples of modern design at the Madsonian Museum of Industrial Design in the center of town.
Bed Down in Style
On Route 17, Hyde Away Inn is a classic Vermont inn with a great tavern that serves up some of the Valley’s best local fare and rooms that range from $89 to $209. Just up the road, the historic Mad River Barn has made a return with new décor that combines traditional styling with modern comforts in a chic hostel. The inn also features an on-site restaurant and pub.
On Route 100, Warren Falls Inn & Hostel offers private rooms with single beds. You’ll also be able to enjoy the summer deck by the river. ($30 to $80 per night).
If you’re traveling on a budget, at the base of the Sugarbush Access Road, Hostel Tevere sleeps guests in comfortable bunkrooms at a rate of $35 per night. This isn’t your usual hostel; expect good company, good food and comfortable beds for a full night’s rest.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Pitcher Inn in Warren consistently ranks as a top hotel in New England with its fine dining and collection of suites and guest rooms (rooms start at $350 per night).
Story updated June 23, 2017. Cover image courtesy Sugarbush Resort/John Atkinson.