You can always tell when my family has been to Vermont in the winter. We return with our car chock full of skis and gear, the outside of it proudly covered with a layer of road salt and dirt.
Although I live in Delaware, just south of Philadelphia, I visit Vermont four or five times a year. Over the past two decades, I’ve probably driven just about every road between the Mid Atlantic and Vermont in all kinds of weather. Getting to Vermont is absolutely worth the hours in the car, but I’ve definitely learned over the years that some thinking ahead can help make your trip go more smoothly.
Be prepared for winter driving conditions
From November through March, you’ll want to be prepared for a range of winter weather from rain to ice to snow. The Interstate highways in Vermont will be clear and easy to drive, but once you get off of them you should be prepared to drive on narrow, rural roads, some of them unpaved. All-weather tires won’t always work well on these steep, slippery roads, so if you don’t have snow tires you may want to consider renting a vehicle that does or one that has four-wheel drive.
Another option is to stay at a ski area like Smugglers’ Notch where you can park your car when you arrive and then make use of the resort’s shuttles to get around while you’re there.
No matter what kind of vehicle you drive, it’s also a good idea to be prepared for tricky winter situations when you drive in Vermont. Stow winter boots and gloves, a set of flares, extra wiper fluid, jumper cables, some rock salt, blankets, and a cell phone charger in your car to make sure you’re ready for whatever happens.
Plan your route ahead
You’ll also want to think about the route you use to get to Vermont. Some ski areas become less accessible in the winter months than they are in the summer, and you’ll need to add extra travel time into your calculations. The road between Stowe and Smugglers’ Notch closes in the winter, requiring a longer and more roundabout drive if you’re coming from the south. If you’re planning to ski at Sugarbush or Mad River Glen and are coming from the west, you probably don’t want to drive directly over the mountains where the ski areas are located but will want to take the more gently steep route through Rutland.
A call ahead to the ski resort you are visiting is always a good idea; staff there should be able to give you information about road conditions, the weather forecast, and what route is best for you.
And whether you are driving to Vermont via Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire or are driving through New York State, you should be prepared to hit traffic around the various metropolitan areas. The bridges around New York City, the area around Danbury, Connecticut, and the roads around Boston, Albany, and Hartford all experience a high volume of traffic in the morning and evening at rush hour. Timing your trip so that you avoid the busiest times of day can save hours.
Happily, once you hit Vermont, you are unlikely to see much traffic unless you are driving in the Burlington area.
Have some fun along the way
One thing my family has done to make our drive to Vermont more fun is find a variety of small towns where we can stop and enjoy some shopping, strolling, and a nice lunch. On our list of favorite places to stop are Northampton, Massachusetts; New Paltz, New York; and Brattleboro, Vermont.
If you have a smartphone or tablet, I highly recommend using the Local Eats app to find a snack or meal. Listing only locally owned restaurants, this app lets you browse menus, see operating hours, and get maps that will help you find great food wherever you are.
Another good idea is to take advantage of rest areas along the highway. We stop for regular bathroom breaks because once you get off the main roads in Vermont, you may find that places to stop are few and far between.
Vermont has staffed welcome centers on all the major roads when you enter the state, and these are great places to use the restroom, get a cup of coffee, and pick up brochures about local attractions.
Mara Gorman may live at sea level now, but she’s a native New Englander and mountain aficionado who grew up skiing in Vermont. She spends as many days each winter as she can chasing her two teen boys through glades and across mogul fields and regularly journeys far and wide to get on the slopes. Mara blogs about her family’s many travel adventures at The Mother of all Trips. She is also the author of The Family Traveler’s Handbook and an award-winning freelance writer whose work has appeared in various USA Today print publications as well as on websites such as BBC Travel. When there’s no snow, Mara and her family can be found hiking, biking and eating around the United States and Europe.