Snowy white in winter, Vermont is on the map as a great family skiing spot. But in the summer, all those ski trails turn the state into a biker’s paradise. Now, thanks to generous landowners opening up over 100 miles of trails, and enthusiasts making mountain biking a family-friendly sport, the landscape of the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont can be explored by everyone. A Thule rack on your all-terrain vehicle marks you as a seasoned cyclist, but even if you haven’t got the gear, it’s easy to outfit the family once you get there. If your little one is still on a balance bike, that’s no reason to rule this spot out — there are activities for all. Let’s roll!
Wild about Biking in the Northeast Kingdom
For the uninitiated, the “Northeast Kingdom” is the name given to the three most Northeastern counties in Vermont. (It’s about a six hour drive, seven, with stops.)
Every kingdom needs a castle on a hill, and The Wildflower Inn might not have the turrets but it has the feel of a family encampment and lots more besides. With panoramic views angled for sunrise and sunset, the blush-colored buildings are set in over 300 acres of farm and woodland on Darling Hill Ridge. Owners Jim and Mary O’Reilly have been running the inn as a family vacation spot for over 30 years and have fully embraced the biking scene.
Converted barns and outbuildings are leased to companies offering bike rentals and sales, as well as tours and instruction. There are 25 guest rooms including suites of various sizes (from $115 – $475/night) and deals include bike packages that will set you up with rentals and a trail pass.
Other accommodation includes the WilloBurke Inn & Lodge with rooms starting at $135 (willoburke.com) or the upscale Inn At Mountain View Farm which has double rooms starting at $215 and suites upwards of $325 (innmtnview.com).
Trails for bikers of all levels
The biking routes are operated by Kingdom Trails and taking their cue from the ski resorts, the trail maps are marked for all levels of ability, whether it’s old cart roads and double track paths for beginners, or steep single tracks winding through trees for experts.
Bike rentals at the Village Sport Shop start at $20 for a kids half day ($25 for a full day) and $40 for an adult half day ($55 for a full day). Note: There are no half-day reservations on the weekend. Helmets are required and provided for anyone who doesn’t have one.
Once you have your trail pass, the staff will tailor a ride to your level, depending on the length of time you want to be out. The summer trails are open for mountain biking starting in early May through the end of October. A trail pass costs just $75 for the season, and during the winter, the same trails are used for cross country skiing and fat biking. (Fat bikes aren’t uncommon in the city — they’re the ones with oversized tires that are actually designed for soft, unstable terrain like snow; their arrival is rapidly making biking an all weather sport.
Hello Cycle School!
If you’d like some time to explore more challenging terrain without the kids, drop them off with a biking guide and they’ll take them on some trails appropriate for smaller bikers with less experience and skill, leaving you to explore the landscape at your own pace. Head down through the fields and farmland to the pine forests by the river.
Tour operator, Kingdom Experiences, housed in a building neighboring The Wildflower Inn, offers tours as well as day camps and training sessions for kids. A favorite spot for newbies is at the skills park where absolute beginners on balance bikes bust over the bumps along with kids on pedal bikes.
Camp options include a Saturday Morning Kid’s Camp for $45 (9 a. m. – noon) and a Momentum MTB Kid’s Camp with 2, 3 and 5-day options staring at $200 (9 a. m. – 1 p. m.) Camps run weekly from June 26 to August 18. Alternatively, guides can be booked by the hour starting at $60/hr.
Heart of the Action
While visitors to the area can choose from a variety of lodging options, the Wildflower Inn is at the heart of the action. Juniper’s, the restaurant attached to the inn, is open to the public and serves great food for breakfast, lunch and dinner throughout the summer.
Similarly centrally-located, the trailside Village Sports Shop is set up in a barn next to the inn and handles bike rentals, sales and seasonal deals. It’s also home to a bar with great sunset views, serving beers and wines and essential morning coffee. (In the evening, they also do a grilled cheese sandwich perfect for kids.) On Saturdays through the summer pick up a taco at the Trailside Taqueria and watch the sun go down before tucking into s’mores around the fire pit.
A Break from the Trails
In case of rain or just the desire for a change of pace, head into the picturesque town of Burke where you’ll discover the light-filled Café Lotti with its library of board games and some seriously comfy seating. There’s everything from Jenga to Candyland to keep the kids happy while you enjoy coffee, sandwiches and home-baked cookies.
Another great spot is Burke Mountain Confectionery, a tiny chocolate factory where husband and wife team, Tom and Nancy Taylor, make melt-in-the-mouth truffles, brownies and peppermint bark. (We highly recommended the vanilla maple truffles — inspired by the vanilla maple soft serve that’s a Vermont favorite.)
On the Water
Swap dirt trails for waterways with a kayaking trip with Clyde River Recreation, which offers trips that will match your workout on the bike paths. You’ll paddle through gently meandering waters into Pensioner’s Lake, a ride that takes between 2 to 3 hours depending on your pace. Double and single kayaks are available, and some of the kids’ singles have tow ropes to help pull them along if they get tired. Single kayak rentals start at $10.60/hr or $31.80/day. ;the double kayaks are 15.90/hr or $42.40/day. Lifejackets are included in the rental cost. (If you go, don’t forget bug spray and a bottle of water.)
More fun, on foot
You’ve biked and paddled, now it’s time to slow to walking pace. Head to Mt. Pisgah or Mt. Hor for incredible views and family-friendly hikes.
A dirt access road up Mt. Hor makes for an easy one-mile round trip. Afterwards, drop down to Lake Willoughby to enjoy the calm crystal clear water and the small sandy beach. The lake is a fjord, so it’s as deep as it is high, but the beach has a gentle gradient which makes it super safe. (And while it’s certainly a refreshing dip, the temperature isn’t icy.) Alternatively, head back to the Wildflower Inn and enjoy the sun loungers while the kids jump in the heated pool and play in the game room back on the ridge!
Head north on the I-91 to the 5 at Lyndonville and then the 114. Turn up Darling Hill Rd and when the asphalt runs out you’ll hit a well-maintained gravel path. In less than a mile you’ll reach The Wildflower Inn.
The Wildflower Inn
2059 Darling Hill Road
Have you and the kids explored the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont? Let us know in the comments below.
All photos are the author’s unless otherwise credited.
This trip was paid for in part by The Wildflower Inn, Kingdom Experiences, Village Sports Shop, Clyde River Recreation and Volkswagen. All opinions expressed here belong to the author.