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The Lure of Smugglers’ Notch
By Diane Berry
Just a few miles beyond the tourist destination that is Stowe, VT lays the pastoral haven of Smugglers’ Notch State Park. A narrow pass through the Green Mountains with 1,000 foot cliffs on either side, Smugglers’ Notch began as a mere foot and horse path. However, an Embargo Act, prohibiting trade with Great Britain and Canada passed by President Thomas Jefferson in 1807, changed the history of this nameless, seemingly insignificant trail.
The Embargo created a severe hardship for residents of northern Vermont, as Montreal was much closer than other markets from which they might obtain goods. Many Vermonters continued illegal trade with Canada during this time, herding cattle and other goods through what had now become known as Smugglers’ Notch. Later fugitive slaves used the Notch to escape to Canada and during Prohibition in the 1920’s liquor was smuggled in to Vermont from Canada.
The actual notch is a passage way between Mt. Mansfield and Spruce Peak. Smugglers’ Notch State Park provides scenic views, great hiking and unlimited adventure. Recreational opportunities abound in the area, from hiking and rock climbing, to kayaking and exploring hidden caves. But one need not be an athlete to simply relax and enjoy the natural beauty. This magnificent landscape is literally a feast for the eyes as it contains everything from steep cliffs to house-sized boulders to panoramic views and mountain-top vistas to the still and peaceful Sterling Pond. There is something for everyone.
For the typical visitor who requires more than one day to appreciate and explore all that the area has to offer, Smugglers’ Notch Campground is located within the park. A peaceful, heavily wooded refuge, the campground consists of 20 tent or trailer sites and 14 lean-tos, a unique aspect of camping in the Eastern part of the country that involves a simple three sided shelter into which a tent or sleeping bags can be placed. No hookups are available, but the campground has two restrooms, one of which has a hot shower. Interestingly enough, though the restroom was sparse but clean, it also contained a small serenity fountain for a calming effect. Sites are large and widely spaced and allow for peace and privacy within the campground. Serenity abounds.
The campground is close to miles of some of the most beautiful hiking trails in the country. Whether in the mood for a leisurely stroll, a vigorous hike or an actual mountain climb, everyone is sure to find a path to please in this peaceful setting. Beautiful and majestic Mount Mansfield, the highest peak in Vermont at 4,395 feet above sea level, can easily be seen from the campground. Climbers may either hike to the summit from the trail near the campground or drive most of the way via the Stowe Auto Toll Road for a nominal charge. It is then a short 2.8 mile round trip hike to the top of this picturesque state and it is indeed a journey worth making for some of the most beautiful views in Vermont.
The Notch holds much to see with regard to flora and fauna as well. Many species of plants found here grow no where else in the state. These alpine plants thrive in the arctic-like conditions of the cold, moist, rocky cliffs. Additionally, peregrine falcons have been nesting among the cliffs in the Notch. Visitors interested in walking, hiking, bird watching, swimming and mountain climbing will find many activities available in the Park.
Drawn to the area by the mountains and the scenery, visitors find the sleepy village of Stowe a welcome surprise. It is filled with quaint shops and superb restaurants, as well as picturesque cottages and white-steepled churches, which evoke memories of an earlier time. In much the same way as Smugglers’ Notch is reminiscent of earlier days of trade, Stowe provides the casual traveler with a step back in time as well. That is only on the surface, however.
Stowe is peppered with restaurants offering a wide array of delectable treats that make the mouth water. The fare consists of everything from gourmet pizza to fresh seafood to the finest European cuisine. Atmosphere varies as well, from extreme casual to the most refined dining establishment. There is truly something for every appetite and taste.
A few miles out of town, the Trapp Family Lodge is perched in an alpine setting overlooking farmland and valley below. Established by the von Trapp family profiled in 1965 motion picture
The Sound of Music,
the Lodge offers three exceptional restaurants, including both an Austrian Tea Room and the world class Main Dining Room and is a destination in itself. Chef Juergen Spagolla was born, raised and trained in Austria and creates the European-style cuisine featured in all three restaurants. Additionally, while winter guests may enjoy snow-shoeing and cross country skiing on the establishment’s trail system, summer visitors are greeted with gardens overflowing with colorful blooms, the vivid green of mountain meadows and music performed in the Concert Meadow. Rooms at the Lodge are comfortable and spacious and the service is superb.
As you leave the village and head up the mountain toward Smugglers’ Notch, you cannot miss Stowe Mountain Resort, another hotbed of entertainment in all seasons. Restaurants, both casual and formal, provide for skiers and vacationers year round. Activities abound even when the last of the snow disappears. The Resort features an Alpine Slide, on which guests may experience a 2,300 foot ride down the Mountain in a wheeled plastic sled, rather than swooshing down snowy slopes on skis. It is no less exhilarating. Other attractions include a rock climbing wall, gondola skyride and bungee trampolines.
For a sweeter, less adventurous diversion, Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory is just minutes away. Offering tours of the factory for a nominal charge, Ben and Jerry’s will take visitors behind the scenes to observe the delectable treats being made and watch new flavors being created. At the end of the tour, guests are treated to samples of whatever flavor is on tap that day. There is also a sweet shop on site offering souvenirs of the visit as well as every flavor of ice cream the company produces, in both ready-to-eat Sundae form or packaged to take along home.
Shopping is plentiful in the area as well. Due to the popularity of skiing at Stowe Mountain and Spruce Peak, there is a plethora of ski and sporting goods shops, both at the resorts and in the village below. These offer the latest in ski gear and fashion for the discriminating vacationer looking for a quality souvenir of the trip. Johnson Woolen Mills, long a Stowe area staple, provides a wide variety of high quality wool items at a reasonable cost. The Stowe Mercantile, in downtown Stowe, carries everything from maple syrup and other delectable treats to traditional Vermont clothing to reading material about the area to Vermont-made furniture items.There are also a number of festivals taking place throughout the year in Stowe, from the Vermont Culinary Classic and the Stowe Wine and Food Clinic in June to the Foliage Arts and Crafts Festival every October. Everyone will find something of interest in this lovely area of north central Vermont. Smugglers’ Notch State Park and Stowe, VT present a wonderful escape for the traveler seeking adventure as well as serenity. They are as alluring today as when they were the sole source of trade goods for residents of northern Vermont.