Bridgewater and Killington

The tiny town of Bridgewater (pop. 936), stretching along the banks of the Ottauquechee, seems well on the way to the middle of nowhere. But that’s what lures many visitors to this region—the fact that so much of it seems to have contentedly hung back with Rip van Winkle. That said, Bridgewater is a gateway to one of the state’s most important somewheres: the ski resorts of central Vermont. The large woolen mill here has been converted into the Bridgewater Mill Mall, its water-powered turbines and textile machines replaced by small shops and restaurants such as a thrift store, a pizzeria, and showrooms and workshops for furniture and jewelry makers.

Through the Bridgewater area, US-4 is generously wide-shouldered and level, making it a popular cycling route, especially during the fall color season, when the dense hardwood forests that climb the slopes above the roadway are blazing with autumn hues. When the leaves have fallen and been replaced by snow, this scenic stretch changes character completely, becoming one of the East Coast’s most prominent ski resorts, Killington (800/621-6867). The permanent population of Killington is maybe 881 people, but on winter day, as many as 13,000 skiers flock to its six different mountains and many miles of trails. The skiers also support a plethora of real estate agencies, restaurants, and bars, especially off US-4 on the main road to the slopes, Killington Road.

Killington is not as popular in the summer, when the parking lots of the time-share condo complexes are empty and the hills are scarred by clear-cut ski trails, but the lack of crowds also means lower prices for accommodations, from roadside motels to upscale resorts.

Gifford Woods State Park

Sitting in the scenic heart of the Green Mountains, at the junction of US-4 and Route 100, Gifford Woods State Park (802/775-5354) protects one of the few virgin hardwood forests left in New England, with seven acres of massive sugar maple, birch, and ash trees, some of which are more than 300 years old. There’s a nice campground (campsites around $20, cabins around $50) with hot showers, four one-room cabins, and access to many fine trails, including the Appalachian Trail and the Long Trail, which run together across US-4 just west of 2,190-foot Shelburne Pass.

Route 100A through Plymouth Notch

Running a twisty seven miles south from US-4 and Bridgewater, Route 100A passes through beautiful scenery and Plymouth Notch, birthplace of Calvin Coolidge, the only U.S. president born on July 4. The small hilltop clutch of buildings is so little changed by modern times, it’s a wonder there aren’t horses with carriages parked behind the visitors center instead of Subarus. One of the most evocative and simply beautiful historic sites in New England, the Calvin Coolidge Homestead District (802/672-3773, daily summer, $9 adults) has been restored to its 1923 appearance, the year Colonel John Coolidge administered the oath of office to his vacationing son, the vice president, after President Harding died unexpectedly in San Francisco. The house, the general store, and the cheese factory are 3 of the 12 buildings open to the public. There’s also a mile-long nature trail offering fine views of Plymouth Notch and its Green Mountain surroundings.

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