Scenic Drives: Lake Champlain Loop

Scenic Drives 2002 Pic E

Skiers who appreciate Vermont's snowy glades and starry nights are sometimes surprised to learn that northern New England is also beautiful in its summer guise, after icicles give way to apple blossoms. This route runs through the heart of north-central Vermont ski country and zips over to the beaches of the Lake Champlain Islands. Pack the golf clubs, sailboards and children. Expect enough activity to make everyone in the family tired and content at bedtime-preferably with an old chenille spread pulled up to the chin and a yellow moon rising in the warm evening air. That's Vermont.

From Waterbury, head north to Stowe. Think of this stretch as the highway of food: with ice cream at the Ben & Jerry's factory, yummy cider doughnuts at the Cold Hollow Cider Mill and Vermont cheddar at food specialty shops. Much has been said in praise of Stowe village's white spires and old-time Main Street. The good news? Stowe isn't ruined by success. Hardcore hikers-with black-fly welts to prove it-sidle up to tall microbrews at the bar next to spa-loving South Americans. Shop, snack and sightsee, then steer the car toward Mt. Mansfield, at 4,393 feet the state's highest peak. The mountain road will test your driving skills. It winds through Smugglers' Notch, whose caves and boulders once provided cover for bootleggers and shady traders.

Over the pass, the landscape becomes more remote as you descend toward Smugglers' Notch Resort, where children troop about with their camp counselors. Families love this place. Check out the water slides and cascading pools-complete with water guns that kids invariably master before their adult handlers can take cover. Then it's through the countryside to historic St. Albans, the birthplace of the Central Vermont Railway Co., and once host to 24 sets of rails crossing its main thoroughfare. Cross the bridge to the "The Islands,'' as Vermonters refer to the 27-mile archipelago at the northern end of Lake Champlain. The Islands are connected by bridges and causeways and dotted by parks and beaches. If it's Saturday, stop at the Alburg Auction House, run by the Tatro family for 44 years. Lurking among the Naugahyde couches and used TVs are some bona fide antiques and collectibles.

In nearby Isle La Motte, people pray for miracles at scenic St. Anne's Shrine, not far from the spot where French explorer Samuel de Champlain sailed the lake in 1609. Along with pilgrims and explorers, the little island attracts geologists who come to study the world's oldest known coral reef at the Fisk Quarry Preserve.

Head south through the islands to South Hero, a favorite of windsurfers, many of whom stop for provisions at South Wind Market on Route 2. For sweeping lake views and a glass of white, tour the Snow Farm Winery.

For dinner, try Burlington, a jewel of a downtown on the shores of Lake Champlain-always alive with students and tourists. From the right table, you can take in mountains and lake in the same vista-and dream about next year's ski trip. -Molly Walsh

Drive Length 180 miles
Drive Time Four hours, more with stops, which are a must.
Try To Avoid Hiking in the higher elevations without bug spray and long pants in early summer, when black flies are voracious.
Don't Miss Snow Farm Winery, 190 West Shore Road, South Hero, 802-372-9463
Get Out Of Your Car At The St. Albans Historical Museum, 9 Church Street. Visit the railroad room. Call 802-527-7933.
Contact Smugglers': 800-451-8752,;
Stowe Resort: 800-253-4754,;
Champlain Islands Chamber of Commerce: 802-372-5683.