The best way to see Vermont is, without question, by bike. Pick any century ride, from the grueling Vermont Gran Fondo (which winds over four gaps) to the gourmet Farm to Fork fondo (that passes some of Central Vermont’s finest farms) and you’ll see parts of the state you never might by car. The Long Trail Century Ride loops around the prettiest roads between Killington and Woodstock, The Moose takes you on practically car-free routes in the Northeast Kingdom, the Vermont Challenge is a great way to see Southern Vermont. But there are times when you just want to head out on your own and find new routes. So we asked Steve Barner, the founder of the 100/200 (200 miles riding on Route 100) and the map maker for the Green Mountain Cycling Club what his five favorite rides in the state are.
Kelly Stand Loop
Start: Manchester (or Arlington); 50 mi., 4660’ elevation gain
Intermediate, 11 mi of dirt
This beautiful loop takes in the historic Kelly Stand Road, a dirt road that winds through the forest as it follows the South Fork of the Roaring Branch to its source. There is no development along much of this road between Arlington and Stratton, so it’s hard to imagine a crowd of 15,000 people gathering here in 1840 to hear Daniel Webster speak in support of William Harrison’s presidential candidacy, yet there is a monument at the spot where this oratory took place. The climb up to Kelly Stand is long, gradual and not difficult. The road was completely rebuilt after Hurricane Irene wiped it off the map. For the truly intrepid gravel grinders, there is an even less-traveled dirt road that winds around the west side of Stratton and is about as rustic as it can get without being a logging road. The descent down VT-30 back into Manchester is fun on any bike, but would be a real scream on a tandem. Crosses the Chiselville Covered Bridge.
Start: Jericho Ctr. (or Richmond), 63 mi., 4525’ elevation gain
Intermediate – difficult; paved;
This ride is easiest if ridden clockwise, as the switchbacks near the top of Smugglers’ Notch are quite steep. Pleasant Valley Road is one of the most accurately named roads in Vermont. It’s just beautiful. The Notch road cuts between impressive cliffs and winds around huge boulders at the top. Route 100 from Stowe to Waterbury tends to be fairly busy with motor vehicle traffic. You can avoid some of this by continuing through Stowe to the Stowe Hollow Road and following the network of dirt roads to Waterbury Center, but expect hills! For additional lightly-trafficked dirt roads, cross the river in Waterbury and pick up the River Rd to Jonesville. Its shade will be especially welcome on a hot day. You can also start at the Richmond Park & Ride, next to the interstate exit.
Putney – Grafton Loop
Start: Brattleboro; 57 mi, 3100’ elevation gain
This ride includes some long, gradual climbs, and rewards with equally long descents. It is especially fun on a tandem. This version starts in Brattleboro and contains a number of little jogs to get off VT 30, which is the only section on which we’ve encountered any significant traffic. If you don’t mind the cars, you can stay on Route 30, which has wide shoulders. Grafton is a jewel, an iconic New England town. Putney is home to the West Hill Shop, one of Vermont’s most storied bike shops and definitely worth a visit.
Woodstock – Ludlow Loop
Start: Woodstock; 57 miles, 2550’ elevation gain;
Long climbs are rewarded on this pretty loop that passes the Calvin Coolidge birthplace, with its preserved buildings in Plymouth Notch. The route follows the winding Black River through Cavendish Gorge and is a real treat. There are multiple covered bridges and lots of opportunities to tack on additional mileage.
Start: Milton; 56 mi., 1800’ elevation gain;
Known to local tandem teams as Dorothy’s Metric Century, this is a beautiful and easy ride that hugs the Maquam Shore along Lake Champlain. This version has one short dirt section, which is usually hard-packed and easily ridden on road tires. One of the favorite routes of the 2014 Eastern Tandem Rally, it features lots of lake views. A short detour into Swanton returns to the route over a renovated Railroad bridge that is now part of the Missisquoi Valley Rail Trail.