Mountains of art: Autumn hiking along the Long Trail and West River Trail

A fall hike in Southern Vermont overlooking the Connecticut.

A fall hike in Southern Vermont overlooking the Connecticut.

By Jen Williams

Chasing along the spine of the Green Mountains, southern Vermont towns that were once primarily farming and ski communities are today some of the state’s most vital arts and outdoors hubs.

Indeed, it is the land itself that has both inspired and fully integrated the arts into its environment. Here, you’ll find the best of both worlds: a nature escape and cultural immersion. Visit vibrant villages with enriching arts. Nearby, find fiery fall colors amid a peaceful, natural setting on historic hiking trails. With its lush valleys and rolling mountains, southern Vermont’s landscape is an ideal base for exploring the arts and the great outdoors.

The view from Route 9 at Hogback Mountain overlooks the Massanutten ranges.

The view from Route 9 at Hogback Mountain overlooks the Massanutten ranges.

Vermont is 76 percent forested and has the greatest concentration of sugar and red maples in the United States, creating those red and orange hillsides that nature lovers, plein air painters, and photographers travel far and wide for. It’s a fact that Vermont boasts the most brilliant fall foliage colors, but did you also know that while in Vermont you’re often in the company of artists? Vermont ranks third in the nation for artists as a percentage of its workforce—and ranks second for writers and eighth for both musicians and photographers.

In essence, Vermont arts are as rich as the soil, vibrant as fall foliage, and steadfast as hikers on the trail. See it—live it—for yourself.

Southern Vermont Arts Center

Southern Vermont Arts Center

The Killington region offers thriving city arts in Rutland as well as Vermont’s second-highest summit, Killington Peak. Along Route 4, the Crossroad of Vermont Byway, visit Killington Arts Guild. In Rutland, visit Paramount Theatre, a lively hub for national acts appearing in an exquisitely restored 1912 opera house. In West Rutland, situated at an historic marble quarry, The Carving Studio and Sculpture Center offers residencies, exhibits, workshops, and public arts events.

Additional options include West Rutland Art Park, Castleton Downtown Gallery, and Chaffee Art Center. The city’s several public murals are also a delight.

New England Center for Circus Arts draws circus professionals and students worldwide to Southern Vermont.

New England Center for Circus Arts draws circus professionals and students worldwide to Southern Vermont.

The Appalachian Trail and Long Trail share the same footpath in this part of Vermont and come within 0.2 miles of the summit; the spur trail to the summit is well worth it, boasting views of New York’s Adirondacks and the White Mountains in New Hampshire. South of Killington, from Route 140 in Wallingford, the Long Trail passes through White Rocks National Recreation Area within the Green Mountain National Forest. A 3.2-mile round trip hike leads to a garden of rock cairns. Photograph these then create your own.

Visiting Manchester, you’ll find the village itself is an arts hub with galleries and museums also found in multiple nearby towns. Plus, the Long Trail is conveniently accessed just outside the village from Routes 11 and 30. At the Southern Vermont Arts Center, tour the historic mansion, art gallery, and exhibits; take in a performance in Arkell Pavilion and explore the grounds, home to the largest sculpture park in the state.

Mitchell-Giddings Fine Arts

Mitchell-Giddings Fine Arts

Additional nearby arts options include Weston Playhouse, Dorset Theater, and the Marble House Project, offering artists residencies and cultural programming.

In Manchester Center, hikers delight in Old Rootville Road, also called Prospect Rock Trail, leading to Prospect Rock. The hike, 3.5 miles round trip, features a waterfall and excellent views of Mount Equinox and the village. Also in this region, hikers enjoy the 6-mile round trip trek to the summit of Bromley Mountain and the 7.6-mile round trip to the 70-foot fire tower atop Stratton Mountain.

Deviating from the Long Trail, the equally arts- and outdoors-rich West River Trail begins in South Londonderry, between Stratton and Magic mountains, and runs south along Route 30 into Brattleboro.

In Brattleboro, join a jam session or see a first-rate jazz ensemble at Vermont Jazz Center. Give trapeze swinging a try at New England Center for Circus Arts or see a circus performance by students from across the globe.

Additional options include a stay at the art deco Latchis Hotel & Theatre, meeting artists in residence at Vermont Performance Lab, and touring three galleries along Main Street: Gallery in the Woods, Vermont Artisan Designs, and Mitchell-Giddings Fine Arts, offering regular exhibition openings, artists talks and events.

The greater West River area is home to a vibrant year-round arts scene. See the talent of local, internationally acclaimed glass blowers Randi Solin and Robert DuGrenier. Visit Elaine Beckwith’s Gallery in Jamaica and dine at Garden Cafe and Gallery in Londonderry, also home to Martha’s Folk Art and Mountain Painters & Artisans Gallery.

Given the West River Trail’s 36 miles of historic and new footpaths’ multiple entrance points, hikers can walk a few miles or a few days along scenic roads and railroad beds. An especially picturesque hike is at Jamaica State Park; walk 1.2 miles to Hamilton Falls, a gorgeous 125-foot waterfall cascading into dynamically carved potholes.

From Brattleboro, head west into the mountains along Route 9, the Molly Stark Byway. You’ll find several arts opportunities on this route in downtown Wilmington including Gallery Wright Sticks & Stones, Ann Coleman Gallery, Young and Constantin Gallery and Jim McGrath Gallery on the way to downtown Bennington. See the defining collection of 19th-century Bennington stoneware and the largest collection of paintings by great American folk artist Grandma Moses at Bennington Museum. Catch a show at Oldcastle Theater, visit Robert Frost’s memorial, and catch a bird’s-eye view from Bennington Monument, the tallest structure in Vermont.

Make a point of touring the Art of the Animal Kingdom exhibit at Bennington Center for the Arts and Covered Bridge Museum and shopping at Fiddlehead at Four Corners, a contemporary craft and fine art gallery in the heart of the historic downtown district.

Just outside of Bennington, the 3-mile round trip Pine Cobble Trail offers a picture-perfect vista of the tri-state area.

For a more dynamic hike, access the Long Trail from Route 9 and follow it 1.8 miles southbound along a steep trail to an even steeper rock staircase up to Harmon Hill, with views of Bennington and the surrounding countryside. And for those seeking even more miles, continue on for 12.5 miles to reach the Vermont-Massachusetts border, the southbound terminus, or, for most thru-hikers, the beginning of the Long Trail adventure.

Vermont Arts Council

136 State St.

Montpelier, VT 05602

802 828-3291

@VTArtsCouncil: #VTArts2016, #VTarts

Green Mountain Club

4711 Waterbury-Stowe Road

Waterbury Center, VT 05677

802 244-7037

Green Mountain National Forest

231 N. Main St.

Rutland, VT 05701

802 747-6700

Vermont State Parks

103 S. Main St.

Waterbury, VT 05671

802 241-3655

West River Trail

The Lower Section: 138 Elliot St., Suite 3

Brattleboro, VT 05301

The Upper Section: P.O. Box 2086

South Londonderry, VT 05155

Writer Jen Williams can be found on Twitter at @jenbutson.

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