While Vermont resorts plow in the accolades for offering some of New England’s best skiing and snowboarding, you don’t need a lift ticket to experience the state at its winter best. In fact, stepping away from the ski-hill crowd can better position you to savor the unhurried side of Vermont’s Green Mountains, with time to enjoy ice skating ponds, snowshoe trails, and teams of sled dogs gliding through the woods.
It’s not all about outdoor adventure, either. Winter is a perfect time to book a day-long experience at a spa or dine fireside at one of the state’s farm-to-table restaurants. Whether you’re looking to bundle up or channel that cabin-cozy hygge spirit, these are some guaranteed ways to enjoy Vermont in a season that sparkles.
1. Pull on a pair of ice skates — or Nordic skates
Many of Vermont’s tiniest towns have community rinks where you’ll see residents gliding around on even the coldest days. Rent a pair of skates and you can join the fun. You may want to start in Stowe, where the slope-side skating rink at Spruce Peak is surrounded by twinkling lights and a bustling après-ski scene. At the Mad River Valley’s Skatium, the rink is divided in two: half for practicing your turns, half for casual games of stick-and-puck ice hockey. (You can rent skates, stick, and puck onsite.)
For a unique experience, make your way to the state’s eastern border and Lake Morey Resort, where a 4.3-mile track around the lake is the country’s longest maintained ice skating trail. In addition to regular skates, you can try out Nordic skates here — they feature free-heel bindings similar to those on cross-country skis and are designed for traveling long distances over natural ice. When in Vermont!
2. Enjoy fireside farm-to-table cuisine
Vermont’s deep farming roots and thriving culinary scene add up to meals that truly embody a sense of place — think dishes made from ingredients grown or foraged just down the road. In winter, kick up the coziness by choosing a restaurant with fireside dining, such as the dining room at Warren’s Pitcher Inn, where you can sample a wild mushroom pasta or Vermont cheese board next to an oversized brick hearth.
In Manchester, opt for a fireside seat at Ye Old Tavern, a favorite for classy comfort foods — like cranberry fritters with Vermont maple butter and Vermont-cheddar mac n’ cheese — and old-fashioned cocktails. And you’ll find plenty of Vermont flavor in the French-inspired dishes, including chicken chasseur and steak frites, at New Haven’s Tourterelle Restaurant & Inn, a tranquil spot with a roaring fire and expansive views of the Champlain Valley’s rolling hills.
3. Snowshoe through the forest
If you can walk, you can snowshoe, which makes this a favorite beginner-friendly way to get outside in the winter. Rent a pair of snowshoes to get started at Blueberry Hill Outdoor Center, set in the Green Mountain National Forest, where you can explore the local network of trails. And in case you’re immediately smitten and decide snowshoeing is the thing for you, know that not all trails stay local — from here, you can go big and hop onto an adjoining section of the 300-mile Catamount Trail, traversing the entire state.
Guided options are available throughout Vermont as well. Get up early for a sunrise snowshoe hike at Stratton Mountain, or head out after dark for the moonlight snowshoe tour with Umiak Outdoor Outfitters. They’ll lead you to a cabin in the woods where you can warm up with hot cider by the crackling fire.
4. Treat yourself to a Vermont-themed spa day
Local products star on spa menus all around Vermont, with specialty treatments featuring everything from maple syrup to rye whiskey. (You heard right!)
A maple-sugar body scrub is a highlight at Stoweflake Mountain Resort & Spa, while the Stowe Cider Uber Scrub at The Spa at Spruce Peak starts with a spiced-cider sugar scrub and ends with a can of locally brewed hard cider. Nearby Topnotch Resort Spa has the beer-lover’s version — their Total Hops Massage begins with hop-infused massage oil and ends with a post-massage craft beer.
There are plenty of other unique spa-day experiences to be had in Vermont as well. Sweat it out in the outdoor sauna at Savu in Jeffersonville; try halotherapy in the Himalayan salt cave at Purple Sage in Essex; or visit the spa at Castle Hill Resort, where you’ll get to relax in the carriage house of a 20th-century mansion.
5. Meet the team on a dogsledding tour
Dogsleds have been a useful mode of winter transportation for thousands of years, and canine teams still run snowy trails through the Vermont forest today. Dogsledding tours are a fun taste of that history, with the chance to get up close and personal with the adorable stars of the show.
Steer the sled left or right — yep, yourself — by yelling “gee!” and “haw!” on a day-long outing with Peace Pups Dogsledding, or join the crew on a four-mile network of private trails at Eden Ethical Dog Sledding. Both Braeburn Siberians and October Siberians, meanwhile, utilize a team of fluffy huskies and offer shorter excursions exploring the forested terrain of the Green Mountains.
6. Rent a fat bike and pedal snowy trails
Some Vermont cross-country ski areas groom for fat biking, firming up the snow so you can roll across it on two oversized wheels. Rent a bike at fat-bike-ready trail networks like Rikert Nordic Center in Ripton; Williston’s Catamount Outdoor Family Center; Woodstock Nordic Center; and Sun Bowl Nordic Center in Stratton. Though simple for beginners to learn to ride — they offer more traction and are easier to balance — fat bikes are heavier than your average mountain bike, so they can involve quite the workout!
For the most expansive terrain, head to the rural Northeast Kingdom and fat bike the 31 miles of groomed singletrack at Kingdom Trails. (Bikes are available for rent at nearby East Burke Sports). Wherever you ride, fat biking gives you the chance to survey your Vermont kingdom — and rest assured it looks good in winter.