BOSTON HERALD
September 15, 2011

Vermont is just about to burst into brilliant red, yellow and orange — a stalwart reminder that no matter what Hurricane Irene threw at the Green Mountain State last month, fall foliage is on the way.

And so, too, are the leaf peepers.

In the next few weeks, the state's storied foliage will evolve from mid to peak viewing, and meteorologists are predicting an outstanding season.

“From a weather perspective, we had good conditions to produce great color,” said Bill Kirk, chief executive of Weather Trends International forecasting service. “We had a warm, wet spring and then seasonal temperatures in May and June. Last year we had a drought and extensive heat. That makes everything fall prematurely. We didn't have that this year — July through September was warm, but wet, which is a positive to trees being healthy.”

Vermont dodged a bullet as far as foliage conditions go. While Irene did cause damage, it primarily knocked down evergreen trees. Deciduous trees, like the maple, have much larger root systems. Branches came down, but not entire trees.

“All of that is adding up to a spectacular foliage season,” Kirk said. “The best in four years.”

The next trick is predicting when peak season will be. There is no set date, since there are so many elements that go into creating the natural fireworks display. Still, plenty are keen to make a guess.

“As you start to run into the early weeks of October, all depending on the weather, it could really be peak,” Vermont Deputy Commissioner of Tourism Steve Cook said. “It depends on when we get the first cold snap. Once we get that cold snap, it starts to inspire leaves to change from green to gold. Really in the first two weeks in October you can expect to see peak fall foliage in parts of the state.”

And if you're looking for leaf-peeping bargains, check out the midweek offers from many Vermont inns and hotels. It will all start in the Northeast Kingdom. By this time next week, the mountains and forests in the northern region will be ablaze with color. A 200-mile loop starting in St. Johnsbury will usher leaf peepers out of town via Route 2 onto Route 102 north. Follow the Connecticut River into Bloomfield, and then 105 west. Route 114 will take you straight back to St. Johnsbury, and the Fairbanks Inn (401 Western Ave.).

A midweek Manager's Special at the Fairbanks Inn chops a courtyard-level room from $150 down to $89 a night. A deluxe suite — a living room, master bedroom, a balcony overlooking the Sleeper River and a Jacuzzi — can be had for $143.99 a night. (To book, call 802-748-5666, or go to stjay.com. Be sure to mention the “bogo special” for the special rates.)

The Golden Eagle Resort (511 Mountain Road, Stowe) puts you just minutes from the Trapp Family Lodge and offers an “Off the Beaten Path” driving tour. A reduced, midweek two-night stay in a Superior category room with breakfast and vouchers for a nearby apple orchard costs $147 per person. (To book, call 802-253-4811, or go to goldeneagleresort.com.) A self-guided driving tour leads leaf peepers through Smuggler's Notch and some of the best foliage in the state. Stowe is home to Vermont's tallest mountain — Mount Mansfield — and Route 108 through the notch is renowned for its views. Follow Pleasant Valley Road and wander off onto the side roads around Cambridge, Johnson and Jeffersonville for vistas that make even the locals pause. Smuggler's Notch was spared the brunt of Irene's wrath, and temporarily closed roads are again open, allowing for easy access to the back roads that wind through these foliage-rich villages.

The Golden Eagle Resort is also a quick drive from the Cabot Creamery, Cold Hollow Cider Mill and the Ben and Jerry's plant in Waterbury. (1281 Waterbury-Stowe Road; tours are $3 for adults, children 12 and younger are free.)

Farther south in Manchester, early reports say autumn has begun to show its face. Visitors to Manchester, which was left undamaged in the recent storm, can take advantage of unique, guided tours: a Revolutionary War and Foliage Tour (9:30 to 11:45 a.m.) or the Vermont Fall Foliage Sampler Tour (1 to 4 p.m.) The tours are $30 per person, and guests travel in an eight-person touring van. The guided tours allow the curious to get off the beaten path and visit abandoned marble quarries, small villages, farms, artist studios and an alpaca plantation. This is Vermont, of course, so expect the occasional covered bridge. The Revolutionary War and Foliage Tour also features stops where Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys met, lived and camped, and visits to more than 25 points of historic interest.

Inns and bed-and-breakfast lodgings abound throughout this Bennington County village. A midweek arrival at the North Shire Lodge and Mountain View Pub (97 Main St.) runs $99 a night. (To book, call 888-339-2336.)

The majestic Wilburton Inn (located on River Road) offers a sweeping Victorian experience on a 20-acre grand estate. The inn sits on the crest of a hill overlooking the Green Mountains, providing a completely unobstructed view of the changing leaves. A midweek arrival and stay in one of the inn's mansion rooms, cottages or suites costs $165 to $250 a night. (To book, call 800-648-4944 or go to Willburtoninn.com.)

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