Posted August 28th, 2010
Let’s take a moment to give thanks to carotenoids and anthocyanins. What, you’ve never seen those words before? That’s all right, because you’ve seen them in another way: in the form of yellow, red, and golden leaves in autumn. As surely as the days get shorter and the temperatures drop, trees in Vermont switch off their injections of green chlorophyll, allowing the striking pigments from carotenoids and anthocyanins to burst forth from canopies across the state.
One of the best ways to savor this vivid period before the grays of winter take hold is from the seat of a bicycle. It’s estimated that Vermont has 18 billion trees, so nearly any bike ride in the fall will be a foliage bike ride, however, with the help of bike shop owners in different parts of the state, we’ve compiled a few special routes that are sure to please the leaf peeper in you.
Addison County has so many good roads that David Tier, proprietor of the Bike Center in Middlebury, prefers to start with the bad ones. There are three: Routes 22, 7 and 30—they’re all either busy with vehicular traffic, potholed, or lack a decent shoulder.
Now to the goods. Since the swamp maples of the lowlands turn color the earliest, head for the Leicester-Whiting Road, which becomes the Shoreham-Whiting Road as you ride west. Then go south on Orwell Road to Route 73 and take that east to Brandon. In Forest Dale, turn left onto 53 and circumnavigate Lake Dunmore, returning to Leicester on West Shore Road.
For more lowlands riding, Tier recommends checking out Westhaven, the dangling piece of Vermont that pokes into New York, or what Tier calls “Vermont’s genitals.” Not that the riding there is of a prurient nature; bucolic is more like it. “You might see a tractor and a dog,” Tier says.
Later in the season, when the hard maples begin to change color, Tier advises going up into the mountains of Ripton, Lincoln, and Goshen. If you’re on a mountain bike, there are National Forest roads near Mt. Moosalamoo and trails at Blueberry Hill to explore.
Hank Glowiak of Chuck’s Bikes in Morrisville is effusive about the foliage riding opportunities in his part of the state. Though it’s hard to avoid the heavily traveled Route 15, at least the road has a wide shoulder. As a general rule, Glowiak says to stay north of Route 15 and work your way through the sleepy towns of Hyde Park, Eden, Wolcott, and Craftsbury.
One of Glowiak’s favorite loops follows Route 15 from Morrisville to the North Wolcott Road, which climbs gradually along the beautiful Wild Branch River to Craftsbury. Then take Route 14 south to Hardwick and return to Morrisville on 15. It’s about 40 miles, and includes lakes, brooks, and a varied landscape of scrub fields, dense forests, and riverine views.
Another 40-miler: Take Centerville Road from Hyde Park to North Hyde Park, then ride Route 100 north to Eden. Then go north (left) on Route 118 and continue on Route 109 south to Belvidere, passing underneath the northern slopes of Laraway Mountain. Take that through Waterville and then turn left onto Hogback Road, which takes you back to Route 15 and Hyde Park.
Finally, after many years of neglect, the state is repaving Route 12 from Morrisville to Montpelier. Otherwise known as “Worcester Woods,” this section of road is both desolate and beautiful, passing Lake Elmore and traveling along the unspoiled turns of the North Branch of the Winooski River. When the road paving is complete, “it’s going to be awesome,” Glowiak says.
More than most parts of Vermont, this is covered bridge country, and when you combine these picturesque structures with fall foliage, you have a classic Vermont ride. Rich Thomas, co-owner of Paradise Sports in Windsor, has two routes that fit the bill.
The first is almost totally in New Hampshire: you start in Windsor, go over the super-long Cornish-Windsor covered bridge, and then head north on 12A to Plainfield. Once there, turn right onto Stage Road and snake through some small, out-of-the-way valleys dotted with bogs and meadows. Turn right onto Penniman, which becomes Cornish Stage Road and meets Route 120. Follow 120 and make a right onto Center Road, which turns into Town House Road and intersects with Route 12A. Cross the covered bridge again and return to Windsor. 22 flat and easy miles.
For something longer and more hilly, start at Paradise Sports and take Route 5 north to Hartland. Then follow the Quechee-Hartland Road to Route 4, go across the covered bridge above the Quechee Dam, and make a left onto Quechee Main Street. Go west through Quechee Lakes and take River Road to Woodstock. There, follow Route 106 south to Reading, and turn left onto Route 44, which provides excellent views of Mount Ascutney and brings you back to Windsor. It’s a 44-miler “with some of the best combination of mountains and New England villages,” says Thomas.