WHY GO: The oft-overlooked upper reaches of Vermont, affectionately known as the Northeast Kingdom Vermont, or NEK, has farmland, ski resorts, Bag Balm, and one of the best breweries in the country according to many craft brew fans.
In 1949, then Vermont Governor George Aiken, coined the term, “Northeast Kingdom,” in a speech, and the royal name stuck. Divided into Orleans, Essex and Caledonia Counties, the region encompasses 48 small towns, one city, and one municipality. Taking up about 20% of the state’s landmass, Vermont’s Northeast is about as rural as you can get, and oozing with natural beauty.
At its center, the city of St. Johnsbury VT, located between the Green Mountains to the west and the Connecticut River to its east, holds some classy surprises, including a Victorian-age library and Natural History Museum that entice visitors to shove cell phones in pockets and take a closer look. We round out this getaway with a Buddhist meditation center, a Pet Chapel, and one amazing country inn.
What are the best things to do in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont for romantics? Read on.
And, for more romantic weekend ideas in the state, check out our Best Romantic Vermont Getaways post.
Things to Do in Northeast Kingdom Vermont
SKI: Jay Peak, Jay VT
For diehard skiers, Jay Peak is open later in the year than most New England ski resorts – with a reputation of having the most challenging trails. The Getaway Mavens tell you Everything You Need To Know About Jay Peak in this post.
Alternately, if you don’t want to drive that far north, try the lesser known and generally uncrowded, Burke Mountain Resort, in East Burke, just a half hour from St. Johnsbury.
HIKE: Mount Pisgah in Willoughby State Forest, Sutton
The Mount Pisgah Trail, situated in Willoughby State Forest, is one of the most popular trails in the Northeast Kingdom – if not the whole state of Vermont. At just 4.1 miles out and back, it’s the Goldilocks of excursions: strenuous for some, easy for others, and just right for many. Those who make it to the overlook (about 2 miles up), will be rewarded with breathtaking views of Lake Willoughby – the dominant feature of the State Forest.
SWIM/KAYAK: Lake Memphremagog, Newport VT
It is possible to swim across the Canadian Border on Lake Memphremagog in the northern extremes of the Northeast Kingdom. Three quarters of Memphremagog (which means, in Algonquin, “where there is a great expanse of water”), lies in Quebec Canada: the other quarter in Vermont USA. Canadian authorities state that you can swim across the border from the USA, as long as you don’t touch Canadian land or any Canadian boats. So, be prepared to tread water, and then make the return trip.
VISIT: Island Pond Village in Brighton
How cute is a hamlet named Island Pond? So cute. With a scant population of 750, the unincorporated village of Island Pond sits within the larger – but not by much – incorporated town of Brighton. In 1853, Island Pond was the nations’ first International railroad junction, when the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad built a stop here between Portland, Maine and Montreal, Canada. Now, as you can imagine, this sleepy burg comes to life in winter with ice fishing and snowmobiling – and in summer as a very chill venue for swimming, kayaking, and fishing.
STOP: American Society of Dowsers National Headquarters and Bookstore, Danville, Northeast Kingdom VT
The Getaway Mavens promise “Offbeat,” and we deliver. This tiny house is the national headquarters for the 2,000-member American Society of Dowsers. The public, however, can pop into the bookstore for information and books. Interestingly, you can also purchase pendulums, bobber-rods, brass antennas, L-Rods or any number of dowsing tools.
Most lay-people know about water dowsing. But this metaphysical force can also locate “physical or spiritual” problems utilizing “earth energy” and “sacred geometry.” The ASD offers a 2-day Basic Dowsing Course, now online. Experts maintain that it’s not good form to use dowsing tools for treasure hunting. “Dowsing is more for need than greed.”
PHOTO OP: Bag Balm Factory, Lyndonville
Though the factory doesn’t offer tours, Bag Balm, in iconic green square tins, has been made in the Northeast Kingdom town of Lyndonville since 1899. Come to take a selfie beneath the mega 3-D Bag Balm sign at the entrance.
Initially, Bag Balm was formulated as a cow udder softener. Farmer’s wives started noticing how smooth and supple their husband’s hands were after milking the cows. So, the women began using the ointment their own hands.
Hardware stores couldn’t keep the product on the shelves. Now, folks use Bag Balm for everything from cracked heels, cuts and scratches, softening dog and cat paws and pads, lathering bike shorts to prevent chafing, and even for waterproofing boots. Growing in popularity, over a million 1 oz. cans are shipped all over the county every year.
STOP/PHOTO OP: Museum of Everyday Life, Glover
Right on Route 16, you can’t miss this ramshackle barn that looks as if it will collapse at any minute. Enter the Museum of Everyday Life if you dare (and you should – it’s so quirky).
There’s a donation box in front. Signs point to a storage shack one imagines to be crammed with rusted farm equipment. But, surprisingly, that’s not what this is. Someone has put some time and thought into this strange, obscure collection. It does hold promise, if the “museum” itself manages to hold up, structurally.
BREWERY: Hill Farmstead Brewery, Greensboro Bend
To get to Hill Farmstead Brewery, drive three miles on a dirt road through farmland, and look for a parking lot full of cars. Enter the cool tasting room, and then, be prepared to enjoy some of the best brews in the region.
Hill Farmstead is extremely popular, but no matter how crowded, service is friendly and swift.
This brand is considered one of the “Holy Trinity” of Vermont breweries. (Alchemist, followed by Lawson’s Finest Liquids). Once you get here and taste the goods, you’ll see why.
Hill Farmstead is one of 10 quirky-romantic places to propose in Vermont.
VISIT: St. Johnsbury Athenaeum
Oh, those Victorians sure knew how to study and research with class. Step into this beaut of a library/art gallery – the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum – and drink in that 1870’s charm, lovingly preserved.
Books on two floors are accessed by intricately carved wooden spiral staircases. Lamp-lit communal tables entice all who enter to stay awhile. It’s the perfect place to overcome procrastination.
VISIT: Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium
As a New York-adjacent resident, my frame of reference for planetariums is the Hayden at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC. It’s large and fantastic, with celeb astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson narrating the history of the cosmos.
But this intimate “Junior Planetarium” show at the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium, has a real astrologist who provides up to the minute information via aps and internet. It’s got to be the coolest, most engaging program I’ve ever come across in a science museum.
One day before my visit, NASA had identified over a thousand potentially inhabitable worlds. Incredibly, this information was incorporated into the presentation. You can’t get a fresher look than that.
Speaking of fresh looks, the Fairbanks also hosts the Vermont radio weather report, Eye in the Sky. This report dates back to even before Franklin Fairbanks founded the museum in 1891, when he kept meticulous weather records at home in the 1850’s.
You’ll find all the usual mounted animal specimens in glass cases that line the walls of a long arched room. The Fairbanks houses a range of local and rare birds. Standouts include the Rhinoceros Hornbill and iridescent Resplendent Trogon.
Upstairs, find artifacts from other indigenous people all over the world. Pay attention here, as there are some rarities – including tigers and other endangered species caught mid-intense glare for all eternity.
The Fairbanks Museum is one of 10 quirky-romantic places to propose in Vermont.
VISIT: Dog Mountain/Pet Chapel/Stephen Huneck Gallery, St. Johnsbury
You will cry, guaranteed, on Dog Mountain in the Northeast Kingdom Vermont town of St. Johnsbury. Conceived by artist and author, Stephen Huneck, (who passed away in 2010), the Dog Chapel, has been a magnet for people who have lost beloved pets.
Dog, cat, and other animal owners make their way to VT’s Northeast Kingdom to leave notes, leashes, collars, toys, even ashes. And they’ve been doing so since the chapel opened in 2000. Not one has been removed. So, when you go inside to pay your respects, be prepared to read some and weep.
Dog Mountain also encompasses an art gallery featuring Huneck’s paintings, prints and books. Naturally, there’s a “leash-free” 150-acre park with hiking trails and swimming ponds for dogs. Open year round, Dog Mountain periodically hosts parties and events for animals and their owners, but you can visit any time.
Dog Mountain is one of 10 quirky-romantic places to propose in Vermont.
SHOP: Maple Grove Farms Museum and Gift Shop, St. Johnsbury
Pop into the Maple Grove Farms store, a couple of miles from Dog Mountain. Make a purchase and know that you’re supporting a company launched in 1915 by a couple of women entrepreneurs – Helen Gray and Ethel McLaren.
Gray and McLaren, Home Economics students at Columbia University, came up with the idea to make confections from maple syrup. Their passion turned into a business.
Now, Maple Grove is the largest packer of Maple Syrup in the country, and the largest manufacturer of Maple Candies in the world. Cracker Barrel is their largest account. Maple candies, sold across the USA, are still made on original 1930’s equipment.
MEDITATE: Karme Choling Shambhala Meditation Center, Barnet in the Northeast Kingdom VT
On a dirt road a couple of miles off I-91, this is a “retreat” in all ways. The 30 people who live here full time consider the Karme Choling Shambhala Meditation Center a “true community.” It also happens to be open to the public for weekend to months-long classes.
Visitors come from all over the country (most from the East Coast) to learn “Mindful Gardening” , “Natural Confidence,” and the rudiments of Shambhala Buddhism. However, the most popular weekend session, “Relax, Renew, Awaken,” is generally sold out way in advance. Although classes are restricted to those who sign up, all are invited to stroll the grounds, and enjoy a meal for a song.
Where to Eat in St. Johnsbury and Northeast Kingdom VT
EAT: 24 Carrot at Rabbit Hill Inn
Rabbit Hill Restaurant – 24 Carrot – is beautifully polished, modern art adorns the walls, and the food, well, the food is destination worthy . It’s innovative and perfect for foodies, with Executive Chef Michelle Gomez at the helm.
EAT: Locals Recommend
Locals favor Juniper’s at the Wildflower Inn in Lyndonville for burgers and fish in a rustic and lovely B&B. Sweet Basil Cafe – also in Lyndonville – a 50’s style hole in the wall noted for excellent food. In St. Johnsbury – Salt Bistro, Three Ponds, and Central Cafe are top notch.
Where to Stay in Northeast Kingdom Vermont
STAY: Rabbit Hill Inn, Lower Waterford
Leave it to the 19-room Rabbit Hill Inn in Lower Waterford VT to make log-pine luxurious. The Cedar Glen room, kited out in Adirondack-chic, is an elegant blend of pine and plaid, and one of the most difficult rooms to leave once settled in.
First Impressions of Rabbit Hill Inn
It’s a quick nine miles from St. Johnsbury to Lower Waterford, but a whole other vibe on this corner of Route 18. Here, a country-hamlet-white church stands across from this inviting whitewashed rambling antique inn; a bucolic slice of rural Vermont. It’s no surprise that many guests come from East Coast cities. If there was ever a place to unplug, it’s here.
Northeast Kingdom trail networks abound in this region of the Green Mountain State.
Rabbit Hill managers see to it that you know your way around, invite you for a drink at the Snooty Fox Pub (in a cushy tavern-style living room studded with games and jigsaw puzzles), and escort you to your exemplary room.
Rooms at Rabbit Hill Inn
Rooms range from Standard to Luxury, and most are dressed in 18th Century finery. My favorite, in the Luxury Category, is the aforementioned Cedar Glen, which places you in a ridiculously lavish Adirondack Cabin.
A log-pine canopy King bed sits near an in-room Jacuzzi backlit by a stained glass woodland scene. There’s a large trout mounted over the gas fireplace, and plenty of seating. What the room doesn’t have is a television, which, um forces you to do “other things.”
Dining at Rabbit Hill Inn
Out with the old Tavern, in with the new. Once styled like a classic Colonial-era Tavern, Rabbit Hill Restaurant – 24 Carrot – was renovated in more contemporary fashion. Two dining rooms are beautifully polished, modern art adorns the walls, and the food, well, the food is destination worthy . It’s innovative and perfect for foodies, with Executive Chef Michelle Gomez at the helm.
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