Planning your wheelchair accessible fall foliage road trip
Vermont has been on my fall bucketlist for far too long. We finally made it to Vermont this fall, and the foliage did not disappoint. There are no words to describe the vibrancy of all things fall – you’ll just have to go and experience it for yourself!
1. Know when to go
I’ve shared this live map of fall foliage, before. It shows you when peak is projected across a map of the nation. This is brilliant – but also not totally practical for advance planning. Vermont typically peaks the second week in October. That said, some people prefer to go a bit earlier, just to be safe. Others say that it’s prettiest just after peak, and shoot for that third week. Of course there’s some variety by north and south and by elevation – but it’s pretty good for a general idea.
2. Plan ahead
Since so many people agree that the second week in October is the best for foliage, and since that tends to be a long weekend for public schools, that weekend is packed! Book your lodging in advance… it’s not too soon to start. Since Vermont is mostly bed and breakfasts, Airbnb’s, and boutique lodging options, they fill up quickly!
The same goes for everything. If you’re renting a car, snag it now. If you’re planning any excursions, save your seat. If you plan to dine out, make reservations. If you can’t get a reservation, don’t go. It’s not uncommon for wait times upwards of three hours.
3. Know where to go
This was daunting to me, at first. Let me start with this: you can’t go wrong. Not only is Vermont full of cute towns waiting for a visit, it is also completely impossible to miss the fall foliage while driving to any one of them. While searches for the best fall foliage towns in Vermont will bring up places like Manchester, Middlebury, Woodstock, and Stowe, it’s important to remember that these towns aren’t so different from all of the other towns.
Also, bear in mind that the places that pop up on a google search will also be the most crowded. We stayed in Londonderry, in southern Vermont, and loved it. It’s 20 minutes outside of Manchester. Quiet, but with a cute downtown with all the Vermont essentials, including The Vermont Country Store. All of this to say that you don’t need to worry – anywhere you stay is beyond lovely. Stowe has a lot in terms of wheelchair accessibility, but there is plenty you can see wherever you go.
4. Know what’s accessible
Speaking of accessibility, this can be tough to find! The tourism websites don’t have a lot and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of accessible Vermont content out there. I can recommend Stowe based on trails and amenities from previous research. They have the only wheelchair accessible gondola ride I could find, and an accessible boardwalk trail.
The most useful resource I found was this Vermont state park map. You can filter by accessibility, so it brings up all of the parks with accessible options! There are a bunch of accessible parks in the north east in the Groton State Forest area, or in the north west around Lake Champlain. Traillink shows the most accessible trails in the northern end of Lake Champlain. Foliage is always beautiful by the water!
In town, we had pretty good experiences with accessibility. Yes, most places have the traditional New England style stairs to enter, but most also had a ramped back entrance. When in doubt, ask when you call to make your reservation! We were able to get into enough shops and restaurants that it felt like a full experience.
5. Know where to stay
You won’t find many of your standard chains in Vermont, but you don’t need them. Bed and breakfasts are often tricky with accessibility, but if you’re looking on Airbnb, VRBO, or HomeExchange you can filter by disability access. Ski resorts are another great option. I only knew of the big names like Stowe and Killington, but it turns out Vermont has 26 ski resorts! Most of these have lodges with accessible rooms.
6. Know where to eat
This is a fun one! And also one you don’t want to mess up. There are too many top notch restaurants in Vermont to waste your time at a tourist trap. Let’s start with the basics. Obviously, try the maple syrup – but also, you should stock up while you’re there. Also, the cheese. Oh my cheddar. Eat it everywhere you can. Maple creemees are another local treat you should try while you’re there. Stop at every farm you pass that has these things and you will go home fat and happy.
Ok, on to restaurants. If it’s got a billboard or a big sign on the main stretch, it may not be your best bet. My game changer is the GoWhee app. Since the creator of the app is a Vermont local, there are loads of hidden gems in the app. These are all rated for family friendliness, and you can filter by accessibility. You can just pull up the app and see what’s near you! Next best is to ask a local! Find your front desk person, or your Airbnb host, or whoever. They’ll be happy to brag about the local gems, and you’ll be happy you asked.
7. Know what to do
Now that you’ve figured out getting here and around – what do you do??
- Drive. We drove a long time to get here, but I didn’t mind driving more just to take in the breathtaking colors (side note, my five year old daughter disagreed – so you may need to balance your activities!). Here are six of the best scenic drives to get you started, but there’s really no bad drive in October. Driving is also an easy wheelchair accessible option.
- Hike. This is the next best way to soak it in. Go back to that Traillink list or check out one of the accessible parks and spend some time in nature!
- Visit a farm. Vermont farms seem to be a part of the fall experience. We enjoyed Billings Farm in Woodstock. the indoor displays were fully accessible and most of the farm was manageable. You can also check out a farm tour, or one of the many fall festivals.
- Ride to the top of the mountain. I mentioned the wheelchair accessible ride in Stowe, but if you can handle a regular chair lift you can hitch a ride at many of the 26 ski resorts!
- Find a vista. Most of the drives are through the valley, but it’s nice to catch some views from the top. Quichee Gorge is a great view without having to drive up high. The bridge overlook is right on the main road, with a wheelchair accessible path from all the nearby parking lots. If you want to head up in elevation, you can pay $20 to take your car up the winding path on the Mount Equinox Skyline Drive.
- Eat. I know I’ve already mentioned this, but I really need to make sure you don’t miss out on cheese and syrup… and cheese. Got it?
8. Know what to wear
Maybe this is a silly side note, but I was surprised by how cold and muddy we got. I suggest boots and a real coat! We had sweatshirts, but that wasn’t enough. The higher elevation visits drop the temperature and raise the winds.
You may even want a second pair of shoes. And a tarp for under the wheelchair. Our van was destroyed by the time we came home. Check out more accessible fall foliage trip ideas here! If you have any questions, need any direction, or I missed something, please let me know! Staying home this season? Check out my fall bucketlist for all the season’s feel-goods.