What’s Up in Waitsfield
With The Frendly Gathering coming this weekend, new trails, restaurants and more fun events 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 (or 9) holes, the Lincoln Peak area is also home to two disc golf courses. Throw some discs at the beginner-friendly, lift-accessed Peak Course ($18 for adults, $12 for youth, free for kids six and under), or try a round on the more challenging 18-hole Base Course ($8). Don’t miss 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. 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.
You can share a lift with the pros at the Eastern States Cup Showdown on July 15, which will attract pro riders in both the enduro and downhill race categories.
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 developed a network of more than 45 miles of trails accessible to riders, skiers and snowshoers, and have recently been developing new beginner and intermediate trails, including at 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.”
In 2017, Mad River Riders unveiled a 1.4-mile intermediate connector trail called Evolution near American Flatbread, as well as the Revolution trail, which 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 more than 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 The Blue Stone, which serves “serious pizza, humble food and no bull,” and 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 in Waitsfield, 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 8, don’t miss the 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.
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 September 3, will be showcasing an exhibit called “The Safety of Objects: a Visual Discourse Between Fathern and Daughter,” featuring art by Michael Craig-Martin and Jessica Craig-Martin. 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 bunkroom-style abodes for $99 to suites for $189 per night. Pet-friendly rooms are also available. 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 offers private rooms with single beds. You’ll also be able to enjoy the summer deck by the river. Rooms range from $80 to $90 per night, or you can rent the whole place out for $600 per night, a great option if you’re traveling with a big group for, say, a cycling trip.
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 in the summer and $40 per night in the winter. 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 $375 per night).
Story updated June 26, 2018. Cover image courtesy Sugarbush Resort/John Atkinson.