Burke Gets Even Better: A Weekend Away in the Kingdom
If you’re headed to the New England Mountain Bike Festival or just spending a weekend in the Burke region, here’s what’s new and how to make the most of it.
For more about how to make the most of your trip to Kingdom Trails, see “Finding Flow.“
“I think the momentum started when I was a teenager,” Chris Hibshmam says. When Hibshmam was growing up in the Northeast Kingdom, mountain biking was just taking hold. Hid dad opened Village Sports Shop in 1978 and Chris and his wife Carrie now run the shop’s two locations, in East Burke and Lyndonville. “In the last few years, everything we ever envisioned might happen is starting to take place,” he says. “You can really feel this place blossom and see the vibrancy. We now get people moving here for the riding—both entrepreneurs and some serious World Cup and Tour de France riders. There’s a whole bunch of new things going on because of the trails.”
New breweries, boutique hotels, a Nordic spa, co-working spaces and guiding services are just a few things anyone who makes the pilgrimage this summer will want to check out.
Perhaps the most iconic change is the large yellow mansion, Burklyn Hall, the Colonial Revival mansion that crowns Darling Hill is being renovated as an elegant inn, The Inn at Burklyn, which hopes to open next spring. Built for New York hotelier Elmer Darling in 1904, Burklyn was the centerpiece of what was once a 1,400-acre estate, land many of today’s trails cross.
In 2015, after a particularly brutal winter with little snow, Alivia Bertolini, owner of The Willoburke Inn and Nordic Spa got the idea “over lots of Finnish libations” to add Finnish-style wood-heated saunas and hot tubs to the inn. The spa opened last year across a small stream from the inn with four wood-fired saunas, hot tubs, fire pits and a massage room. This summer, she is adding a pavilion with a wine bar. “It’s amazing to take a sauna, go for a plunge in the river and then sit by a fire pit under a gajillion stars,” says Alivia, who has lived in the area for 40 years. You can book a two-hour session for two at the spa for $175, an hour and a half massage is $100 and rooms at the inn start at $210.
In nearby Lyndonville, the owners of The Freighthouse—a Lyndonville natural foods market, ice cream shop and café—opened The Mosaic this summer right next door in the building that used to house Bag Balm. “We wanted something for athletes and anyone who was in a bit of a hurry that’s fresh, healthy and fast,” says owner Bonnie Paris, whose family renovated the historic building. You can build your own burrito or rice bowl. Just upstairs, Northern Vermont University opened the Do North Co-Working space last November and an anchor tenant, Whitehouse Solutions which makes software for drones, has settled in downstairs. For a $20 day pass, you can settle in at a Do North desk or conference table in this fresh, hip space, get access to symmetrical 100 mbps high speed Internet service and help yourself to Carrier Coffee (brewed in Northfield).
MTB GUIDES & COACHES
If you want to get the most out of a weekend in the Kingdom, consider working with a mountain biking guide or a Professional Mountain Bike Instructor Association-certified (PMBI) Coach at any of a growing variety of camps and guiding services. At Burke Mountain Resort, a two-hour lesson with lift ticket and downhill bike rental goes for $119 for an adult.
The Ide family has literally helped to build Kingdom Trails with Knight Ide carving out some of the early trails, his wife Jen working as a guide and coach and sister Lilias, a backbone of the organization, Kingdom Trails. An offshoot of their company, IdeRide is Vermont Mountain Bike Tours now led by World Cup racers Alex McAndrews and Ella Skawold. They can help set up accommodations, meals, lead group rides, provide coaching and get you on the right bike or fix your own. They will also do hourly guiding (based on their availability) for $35.
At New England Mountain Bike Festival (June 27-29) there’s an entire campsite village set up but if you want to camp on your own, Burke Cottage Rentals has efficiency cabins and campsites for $30 a night. In town and in walking distance to Mike’s Tiki Bar and other restaurants, The Village Inn is a classic B&B with a hot tub that looks out over a river in back and rooms that start at $100, midweek. Burke Mountain Resort’s slopeside hotel has a lodging/trail pass offer that starts at $179 for two and includes passes to Burke or Kingdom Trails.
For a room with a view at the top of Darling Hill, right off the trails try the classic Wildflower Inn which has rooms, suites and a historic cottage. Rooms start at $153. Trails run right by the Inn at Mountain View Farm and across some of the historic estate’s 440 acres. Owner Marilyn Pastore wrote some of the initial grants to set up Kingdom Trails in 1994. Built in 1883 as part of Elmer Darling’s vast estate, it sits just down the road from Burklyn, the mansion Darling built. Rooms in the historic Creamery or farmhouse start at $130.
EAT & DRINK
In the morning grab a latte and a scone at Caffe Lotti or pick up a sandwich there or at the eclectic Northeast Kingdom Country Store, a classic. Set up as a tiki bar in the heart of the village, Mike’s Tiki Bar is the outdoor clubhouse, of sorts, where mountain bikers of all ages congregate for “apres-bike.” On summer weekends, it turns into a giant post-ride party where you’re more likely to hear French Canadian than English. Order a beer and a burrito from the food truck and hang out at the picnic tables. Junipers at the Wildflower Inn (and it’s SpokeEasy Lounge) is the best place to watch the sunset as you have a farm-fresh meal that might include a Vermont pork tenderloin with a vanilla pear sauce or a filet mignon with blueberry cognac sauce and wild thyme. Or head into town to the Foggy Osteria for changing specials such as seafood cioppino over linguine with a white wine blush sauce or other Italian fare.
Burke Mountain’s Bike Park with 19 lift-served trails, a gravity-fed bike park, jumps and more, opens on Memorial Day weekend. Ride the lift once for $10 or do a day pass for $42.
Phil White of Kingdom Games puts on a weekend of road rides —century distance and shorter—for Tour de Kingdom, June 7-9. The most popular ride, The Moose starts Saturday from Mike’s Tiki Bar and heads north. Sunday’s Legendary Lakes tour goes south and takes in Lake Willoughby and a half dozen other lakes with options for 53 or 77 miles. Kingdom Games also hosts a variety of other events in the region, including distance swims in the mountain lakes.
On June 28-30, the New England Mountain Bike Festival returns to East Burke as more than 4,000 riders descend on Kingdom Trails. More than 90 vendors set up tents and host demos. There’s camping onsite next to the Expo, a craft beer tent and music this year by the Roots of Creation—all included in the $130 festival pass.
Be forewarned that the Victory Hill Sector has closed down indefinitely, following a May Act 250 ruling that the trail network must apply for a commercial development permit. For more information, see “Victory Hill Trails Close.”
Featured Photo Caption: World Cup racer and mountain bike coach Alex McAndrews (right) opens the throttle. Photo by Chris Pascucci