Exit And Explore Willoughby Gap In Fall: Northeast Kingdom VT
Fall foliage in the Northeast Kingdom VT?
Have some energy to burn? A little extra oomph? You’re inspired by the tinge of color in the maples and want to see a piece of Vermont at its spectacular best?
Time to go adventuring at Lake Willoughby, a pristine corner of the universe, most of the way to Canada.
Get to Lake Willoughby, gem of the Northeast Kingdom VT
Just short of the lake, pull over to a sizeable parking lot on the west side of the road. Grab your pack ‘n stuff from the car, cross the road, and head into the woods at the trail sign to Mount Pisgah.
For the intrepid—Muddy Boots can count on several in this category—see that cliff?
You’re going up it.
Be assured that the reality is much less intimidating than it looks, but perhaps a bit more strenuous than standard DCMB fare. Heart trouble might be a bad idea.
Not up to it?
The rest can ride along. It will be worth the specularity of the drive. And don’t be too concerned, Ride Alongers, Muddy Boots is sure to find plenteous exercise after lunch to comply with the standards of DCMB.
After you get to the top of Mount Pisgah…
Hikers, plan to turn around at one of several viewpoints before and at the pinnacle. Be rightfully astonished at the Northeast Kingdom VT in the distance and Lake Willoughby at your feet.
The pinnacle is approximately 1.5 miles from the start. Stomp down Mount Pisgah the way you hauled up. Avoid the temptation to follow the much longer version of this outing usefully mapped by Hike New England, ‘cos you could be gone all day.
(Also avoid the temptation to fall of the cliff, since the base is notorious for recoveries of crumpled corpses. LEASH YOUR DOG!)
Glowing with self-satisfaction and invigor-ment,
Return to your car. Do a recce around the lake so you have a chance to take in the scenery. Then work your way southward. Your goal is East Burke, where there are several lunch options.
Once there, you are likely to become astonished at the number of people jumping out of cars and onto bicycles or lazing about on the lawns looking dazed and pleased with themselves. East Burke offers one of the premiere destinations nationwide for mountain biking. Who’d have thunk?
Back to the lunch issue.
Option #1 On the main drag, on the right side of the road before the bridge, you will notice a Country Store. In fact, this is a café with reasonable prices.
Option #2 Go a few feet beyond the Country Store and follow the signs to Kingdom Trails parking. You may never have seen so much energy emanating from a parking lot. But ah, this gets you to a special offering. Yes, Mike’s Tiki Bar, which may have what you’re thirsting for (an item not mentionable on DCMB). Better still, there’s a food truck with notoriously delicious fresh-cooked lunch stuff right next to the Tiki Bar.
If you like biking, stick your head
Into the Kingdom Trails office and check out what they offer: 100 miles or so of trail on private farmland belonging to More than 55 landowners. KT is a budget-friendly paradise (Day Pass $15, Free for 70+ 2016). Better yet, there are plenty of old wagon roads and trails for 62-plussers of every biking ability. Consider this possibility for your next trip to East Burke.
After imagining your next adventure, you will be following the mountain biker route. Didn’t Muddy Boots warn you there would be exercise for the Mount Pisgah hike-skippers?
In the center of town, there’s a junction. Go north across a bridge and hang a left. Storm up a steep hill, being careful not to run over MTB-ers pedaling furiously and out of breath. They will not be amused if you drive too closely or reduce their numbers by running over a few.
You are on Darling Hill.
Prepare to be spellbound at the top. You will be taking a left along the ridge, but linger and take it all in.
Dawdle dawdle dawdle.
Opposite the Wildflower Inn. Now’s your chance to pretend you’re a bicycle. Park somehow and jump eagerly out of your car onto a farm road made of dirt and rubble, deliberately strewn in a bygone era so wagons wouldn’t sink in mud season. You are walking mildly upwards. Look for a sign that says Heaven’s Bench. It will take you on a mown grass path up to said bench with awesome 360° views.
And get your fill of some of the most spectacular scenery in Vermont. Notice especially Willoughby Gap towards the north. You will recognize it as the site of the morning’s hike. Gloat.
Muddy Boots leaves you sitting right there enjoying Heaven’s Bench.
What might have been with just a few, ahem, more $$$$$: a luxe mansion on Darling Hill with the view this moment you are getting for free, thanks to the Universe and magnanimous landlords.
More fall places near I-91 in Vermont
Photo credits. Featured image and top…Meadow and Lake Willoughby Gap: Public Domain by William Alexander via Pexels. Mount Pisgah cliff, Lake Willoughby, Northeast Kingdom VT: CC BY 2.0 by Roger LeJeune via Flickr. Young woman on top of Mount Pisgah VT, Willoughby: CC BY-SA 2.0 by Sterling College via Flickr. Westmore, Vermont Mount Pisgah, Lake Willoughby, Mount Hor: Public Domain by Michael W. Parenteau via Wikimedia. Darling Hill Farm: CC BY-SA 2.0 by Samuel Bouchard via Flickr. Heaven’s Bench: CC BY-ND by ActiveSteve via Flickr. Darling Hill Mansion: Sotheby’s Real Estate Ad.