Yep, it's still cold outside — and it will be for at least a couple more months. Need help finding the wonder in winterland? We sent writers to three Vermont towns and asked them to bring back ideas for budget-friendly family fun that's not too far from home. Their suggested cures for cabin fever range from skiing to museum hopping and chowing down at an indoor farmers market to playing air hockey and Whac-a-Mole.
Their itineraries include nearby attractions, as well as affordable places to eat. For more meal tips, pick up the current edition of 7 Nights: The Seven Days Guide to Vermont Restaurants and Bars, available at more than 1000 locations statewide, or online at sevennightsvt.com.
Now, bundle up and hit the road! These day trips are designed to help you make the most of Vermont's signature season.
St. Johnsbury: OmniGlobe Trotting
- Courtesy of the St. Johnsbury Athaneum
- St. Johnsbury Athanaeum
By Nancy Stearns Bercaw
The holidays were over, and cabin fever was upon us. My 8-year-old son, David, and I desperately needed a change of scenery.
A friend pointed me in the direction of St. Johnsbury's Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium, a colossal collection of curiosities, telescopes and taxidermy — and home to the studio where Vermont Public Radio produces its "Eye on the Sky" weather forecast.
"'Eye on the Sky,'" I yelled to David.
"We're going to the moon?" he asked.
"Moon-schmoon." I suggested a day trip to St. J, where I knew there was also a beautiful library we'd both love. David was up for it.
"Hop in the jalopy," I told him.
- Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium
The 76-mile drive from Burlington was easy. David played Minecraft on his iPod while I let my mind drift. We arrived at our destination in need of good food and clean potties, both of which we found at Dylan's Cafe.
A fine Mediterranean wrap and a tasty bacon cheeseburger hit the spot. As we ate, our eyes roamed the walls, taking in Burlington photographer Matthew Thorsen's "Sound Proof" exhibit, a quirky collection of images of Vermont bands at play. The restaurant offered another bonus: a very warm restroom. I hate cold toilet seats.
Full-bellied, we found our way to the Fairbanks. Within minutes, we were obsessed with the eccentric, Victorian-era museum.
Where else on Earth can you find stuffed animals — the previously alive kind, including a Bengal tiger — sharing space with paper dolls of Shirley Temple and outfits from the Civil War? How about "portraits" of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington fashioned from perfectly placed beetle carapaces and moth carcasses, along with loads of fossils, rocks and pickled specimens from far-flung places? Zoological collectors of yore must have had a field day finding this stuff. And it's everywhere in the museum.
Our eyes bugged out. Look at this! No, look at this! We got whiplash.
David's foremost fixation was the OmniGlobe, a giant interactive sphere showing life on Earth. Press a button, and it shows the spread of the 2011 tsunami in Japan, lighting up areas that were affected by the surge. Other buttons display the surfaces of every planet in our solar system, and areas on Earth where human suffering is most severe.
We simply could not take our eyes off this interactive installation and consequently missed the planetarium lecture about the night sky, which would have been another $5 each. Instead, David made good use of those funds in the gift shop, on miniature bottles of rocks.
On our way out of town, we stopped by the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum, a library and gallery, to take a gander at the architecture and art, as well as the impressive stacks and staircases. David quickly made himself comfortable with Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth in the children's area. Meanwhile, I took a long, hard look at artist Albert Bierstadt's 10-by-15-foot "Domes of the Yosemite" painting from the gallery's doorway — without paying the $8 entry fee. As someone who works in a library, I was reluctant to give my hard-earned cash to a place that had just laid off its librarians en masse.
Just as we set out for home, snow started falling, and the roads quickly turned into a slippery mess. I was tuned into VPR for news and "Eye on the Sky" for the entire three-hour, white-knuckled trip back to Burlington.
- Matt Payeur
- Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium
Know before you go:
- The Fairbanks Museum, 1302 Main St., is closed on Mondays from November through March. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for senior citizens and children ages 5-17, and free for children under 5. Give yourself a lot of time to linger. Info, 748-2372, fairbanksmuseum.org.
- The St. Johnsbury Athenaeum, 1171 Main St., is closed on Sundays during the winter. Admission for the art gallery is $8 for adults and free for town residents and children under 13. Info, 748-8291, stjathenaeum.org.
Where to eat:
- Dylan's Café, 139 Eastern Ave., is a locally owned restaurant serving local produce. I liked the sky-high ceilings and cozy booths. David adored the French fries. Our sandwiches were $10 apiece. Info, 748-6748.
- The Stephen Huneck Gallery at Dog Mountain, 143 Parks Rd., sounds fabulous for people and their pups. There are no leash laws, and the grounds are great for hiking and snowshoeing. Dog Mountain is always open to the public, even beyond the gallery hours of operation. Info, 748-2700, dogmt.com.
Montpelier: A Lot of Fun in the Little Capital
- File: Jeb-Wallace Brodeur
- Downtown Montpelier
By Helen Rock
Exploring the nation's smallest state capital has long been on our family's to-do list, but we always seem to be driving by Montpelier, not to it. One recent snowy Saturday, we finally took Exit 8 off the highway.
First stop was the Capital City Farmers Market. As we stamped the slush from our boots, live music beckoned us inside the gymnasium at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
My farmer husband, Andy, immediately saw an old friend, Suzanne Long from Luna Bleu Farm. We beelined over to her veggie-laden tables to say hello before taking a spin around the gym.
There was more fresh produce than prepared food, but lots of options for eating, including carrots, pastries, Greek yogurt, bread, cheese, curry and samosas. My 9-year-old son, Davis, tried a pork tamale from Gracie's Tamales, which he said was good and "not spicy." Ian, 7, and I picked sweets from Wise Owl Bakery — I went for a flourless chocolate brownie, and Ian opted for a molasses cookie and a cider donut. At 90 cents apiece, he simply had to buy both.
After we left the market, the kids ran to a small ice rink in the center of the college green; there was a shovel for DIY ice clearing lodged in a nearby snow bank. The boys raced back and forth on the ice in their boots, quickly burning off their market snacks.
Time for lunch! We headed downtown to the Mad Taco, where the food was fresh, flavorful and fast.
Our next stop: the Vermont History Museum. The 186-and-a-half-pound stuffed catamount in the entryway was a showstopper. Ian and Davis read the whole story of who shot it and why before we officially entered the museum.
For 45 minutes we meandered through the main exhibit, "Freedom and Unity: One Ideal, Many Stories," which explores Vermont people, politics and commerce. The boys liked walking through the wigwam, feeling the selection of fur pelts, playing at the miniature farm display and typing messages in Morse code on a telegraph.
We finished our tour by adding to the storyboard at the end of the exhibit, sharing what we like about Vermont in winter.
"Snowball fights," wrote Ian.
- File: Jeb-Wallace Brodeur
We still had energy to check out some of the places we'd passed on our way to the museum, starting with the Book Garden, a tidy, narrow shop with new and used books, LEGO Minifigures, and board games, including the Settlers of Catan. We ducked into Woodbury Mountain Toys a few doors down, which is packed floor to ceiling with games, pinwheels, costumes and bins of trinkets we couldn't help playing with. Nearby, Delish, a candy shop that sells pieces by the pound, proved popular with the kids, who had some allowance money to burn.
I grabbed coffee from Capitol Grounds and was lured into Chill, a gelato shop, where a a pink batch of Beetiful was being spooned from the mixer — a mouth-watering flavor made from roasted beets, Mascarpone cheese, sugar, cream, poppy seeds and orange zest. It'll turn you into a beet lover if you're not already.
Before heading home to Burlington, we fueled up on a few more gelato flavors and made a stop at Hubbard Park for some last-minute sledding. It won't be long before we return to Montpelier, though; the state capital is small, but now we know it's full of big fun.
Know before you go:
- Capital City Indoor Winter Farmers Market takes place two Saturdays a month, December through April, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., in the Vermont College of Fine Arts gymnasium at the corner of East State and College Streets, Montpelier. Pack a cooler for any purchases. Info, montpelierfarmers-market.com.
- The Vermont History Museum, 109 State St., Pavilion Building, is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission is $12 for families or $5 for adults, $3 for seniors, students and children ages 6-17, and free for children under 6. Info, 828-2291, vermont-history.org.
- Parking: The Capitol Plaza Hotel & Conference Center on State St., has public parking and is centrally located. It's free on Saturdays. We parked here after the market and walked everywhere except for Hubbard Park, which is less than 10 minutes away.
Where to eat:
- The Mad Taco, 72 Main St., is open daily from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. and offers friendly counter service in a casual setting. We recommend the carnitas; specials vary. Info, 225-6038, themadtaco.com.
- Chill Gelato, 32 State St., is open Friday through Tuesday. $3.25 for a small cup; choose one or two flavors. Info, 223-2445.
- The Vermont Statehouse, 115 State St., is open to the public Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Free guided tours are available from July through mid-October.
Middlebury: A Wonder Carpet Ride
- Caleb Kenna
- Whirlie's World
By Eliza Eaton
My family is active, but Vermont's long winters make it challenging for my husband, Chris, and I to keep our two young children — Beckett, 3, and Wren, 20 months — moving. Toddlers don't mix well with icy temperatures, but staying inside the house brings on the winter blues. So we try not to let the cold slow us down too much.
Wanting to take advantage of a recent snowfall, we grabbed breakfast to go at Middlebury Bagel & Delicatessen and hit the road for the Middlebury College Snow Bowl, a 20-minute drive from downtown. The Snow Bowl is a small ski area with a new draw for kids that we'd been itching to try out: the SunKid Wonder Carpet.
Beckett was instantly drawn to the conveyer-belt-like ride up the hill. He loved being able to get on and off the lift independently, and we loved not sweating our tails off carrying him up the hill! The best part, though, is that the Carpet is free, which means no pressure to stay out all day.
Wren's a bit young for skiing, but she had a blast playing in the snow at the bottom of the slope. When everyone's cheeks were good and rosy, we headed inside the lodge for the requisite mugs of hot cocoa. Chris introduced the kids to the Snowflake Corner upstairs, where books and art supplies helped extend our fun until grumbling stomachs indicated it was time for lunch.
- Courtesy of Middlebury College Snow Bowl
- Skiing at the Middlebury College Snow Bowl
We headed back to town to eat at Sama's Café. The mac and cheese was a big hit with our kids, and a falafel wrap and steak-and-cheese sub hit the spot for us adults.
At this point, Wren was ready for a nap, so we packed the kids into strollers and slowly made our way across the Otter Creek footbridge, admiring the icy waterfall while Wren slept peacefully and Beckett happily threw snowballs. Next was a quick stop at the Ilsley Public Library to read books and play with wooden trains.
Energy levels boosted, we continued our big day out at Whirlie's World. For $4.25, both kids gained unlimited access to two indoor bounce houses, one with jousting that would be great for older kids, and one with an open bounce space, climbing wall and two slides that was perfect for our little guys.
Because we were the only family there, the owner gave Chris and I the OK to get in on the bouncing action. Honestly, is there anything more fun than an empty bounce house? We were all warm — and sweaty! — by the time we tumbled out.
Then it was on to the arcade area. Air hockey ranked first for Beckett, and Wren loved hammering on a Whac-A-Mole-type game. The black-light room for indoor golf, while free for ages 5 and under, intimidated our shy guy. The full concession stand and redemption prizes were also alluring, but we decided to call it a day.
Sure sign of a successful daycation?
Smiles from exhausted kids in the back seat.
- Caleb Kenna
- The indoor-golf room at Whirlie's World
Know before you go:
- Middlebury College Snow Bowl, 6886 Vermont 125, Hancock, is open daily. Weekday lift tickets for adults and students are $25, full day; $20, half day. On weekends and holidays, adult tickets are $46, full day; $38, half day. Student tickets are $34, full day; $28, half day. Kids under 6 are $10. There's an on-site rental shop. Group lessons are available for kids ages 5 and up; private lessons available for all ages. Info, 443-7605, middleburysnowbowl.com.
- The Ilsley Public Library, 75 Main St., is open daily. Info, 388-4095, ilsleypubliclibrary.org.
- Whirlie's World, 1232 Exchange St., is closed Mondays through Wednesdays. Unlimited bounce house admission is $7.50 for ages 6 and up; $4.25 for ages 2-5; free for kids under 2. Socks are required in the bounce houses. Info, 989-7351, whirliesworld.com.
Where to eat:
- Middlebury Bagel & Delicatessen, 11 Washington St., has arguably the best bagels and donuts in Vermont. They'll also make you waffles if you ask nicely. Info, 388-0859.
- Sama's Café and Middlebury Market, 54 College St., has high chairs and a variety of kid-friendly food, though no official kids menu. Our kids shared a generous portion of mac and cheese ($2.20); adult lunches cost $6-11. Info, 388-6480, samascafe.com.
- Memorial Sports Center, 296 Buttolph Dr., has public skate and stick-and-puck hours, as well as a stock of stacked milk crates kids can use when learning to skate. Public skate is $4 for adults, $3 for children ages 5-12, free for kids under 5. Stick and puck is $5. Skate rental is $4. Info, 388-1238, memorialsportscenter.org.