March 7, 2013

The day temperatures reach into the 40’s, night temps stay below freezing, sunlight lingers a bit longer, and birds flit from maple tree to maple tree in the sugarbush. It’s maple sugarin’ time in Vermont!

March is the time of year the sap drips out of the same maple tress that display the bursts of color folks flock to Vermont to experience in the fall. But in early spring, Vermonters celebrate their fifth season: Mud-n-maple.

Legislative conversations are currently active surrounding changing the uniquely Vermont maple syrup grades, mostly because being categorized differently from maple syrup made elsewhere inhibits Vermont maple producers from competing at a global market scale.

Vermont maple producers agree that flavor of Vermont maple syrup, sugar, cream, candy is one of the best natural sweeteners (in addition to honey) and should be available everywhere. However, the details and Vermont brand strength surrounding food are forefront in the debate which may conclude in the coming weeks – stay tun

For folks living or visiting Vermont, maple sugarin’ is the best way to get outside and enjoy nature after a cooped up winter or as an alternative to spring skiing. This guide to a day trip out of Burlington combines nature, maple syrup, and some other Vermont products.

From Richmond, head south to Huntington Road heading towards Camel’s Hump. When the road begins to climb, veer right onto Sherman Hollow Road to Audubon Vermont. Trails weave around beaver ponds, orchards, and woodlands amidst 230 acres home to some of Vermont’s most educational conservation programs. The sap flows sweetly into old-fashioned buckets hanging from maple trees and is then wood-fire boiled to maple syrup in an aesthetically pleasing sugar shack compound.

Hot maple syrup is poured over fresh snow at traditional Vermont sugar-on-snow parties held at Audubon Vermont Sun., March 17 and Sat.-Sun. March 23 and 24 (Maple Open House weekend – statewide), 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

The trails are open daily from dawn to dusk and if sap is boiling, follow the smoke, pop into the sugar shack and say hello, perhaps even being invited for a fresh taste.

Avoid the highway (89) and take Rte. 2 East into Waterbury, turning left at the Rte. 100 junction, heading north to Cold Hollow Cider Mill. Known as one of New England’s leading apple cider producers, the Cold Hollow Luncheonette is just the stop after hiking through the sugarbush for a sandwich, panini, wrap, or salad featuring a hearty selection of local ingredients.

The gift shop also boasts one of the state’s most diverse selections of Vermont maple products—from all grades and sizes of syrup to maple butter, sugar, candy, kettle corn, granola, and more.

As a large maple retailer, Cold Hollow provides many small Vermont maple sugar makers with a steady and well-visited destination, helping the maple economy grow. Cold Hollow is open daily with special sugar-on-snow events during sugarin’ season weekends.

Strap on the boots, shift into four wheel drive, and keep heading north on Rte. 100 to well-marked Moscow Road on the left. Just after Trapp Hill Road, take the next right onto Nebraska Valley Road. Cross Miller Brook and take the next left onto Falls Brook Lane and splash through the snow and mud up to Nebraska Knoll Sugar Farm.

Located at the foothills of Mt. Mansfield, a visit to Nebraska Knoll offers a short yet good muddin’ drive and a visit with an authentic maple sugar family home business. Open daily 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., visitors can shop in the retail shop, take a tour if sugar makers are not too busy boiling sap, and explore the maple landscape which includes views of Trapp Meadow.

Backtrack a bit to Moscow Road, take a left, and then take the next left to the Trapp Family Lodge. The “Sound of Music” Austrian schloss webbing over some of Vermont’s most breathtaking countryside has, in recent years, seasoned a new definition of locally sourced. Scotch Highland cattle dot the hills beyond the produce gardens and lavish greenhouse all providing food for the multiple dining options at this mountain resort.

A visit in March however, is for the maple where the centuries-old tradition of making syrup has been renewed. In the woods behind the Trapp Family Lodge ski shop, sap is boiling at the sugarhouse each Saturday of maple season. Guided snowshoe tours are available throughout the week which may include a view of sap being gathered by sled and a team of draft horses.

Finish a day of maple sugarin’ at the Trapp Family Brewery where beer is brewed with on location mountain spring water. Three American versions of Johannes von Trapp’s ancestral Austrian lager are on tap as well as a seasonal microbrew.

A Vermont and Austrian light fare menu is served featuring what’s local and in season. And in Vermont in March, that would be maple—an ingredient that creates culinary wonders in meats, salads, and of course desserts!

March 23-24, 2013 is Vermont Maple Open House Weekend where even the smallest and most back woods maple sugar shacks open their doors for sugar-on-snow parties. The best way to explore the maple trail that weekend, is simply to follow the billowing smoke on the back roads north of Burlington to north of Stowe through villages like Fairfield, Jericho, and Morrisville. Let "VERMONT: An Explorer’s Guide" help you navigate the course.

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