How to Enjoy Fall in Vermont as a Wheelchair User
By Cory Lee
When thinking of places to visit in the fall season, one destination immediately comes to mind for me - Vermont! I have dreamed of experiencing fall in Vermont for years and I finally had the chance to do just that at the end of September. Sure, I tremendously enjoyed typical fall activities like drinking cider at an apple orchard and rolling in nature on accessible trails, but I also discovered that there are a variety of other Vermont activities to enjoy in fall… or any other season, for that matter.
From adaptive biking to eating as much ice cream as possible at the Ben & Jerry’s factory and so much more, my time in Vermont was truly phenomenal. If you are thinking about visiting Vermont as a wheelchair user, here are some of the things that you should be sure to do while there and I’ve also included information about where you could stay toward the end of this blog post.
VINS Nature Center
One of the first attractions that I visited was the Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS) Nature Center in Quechee, Vermont. It was about an hour and a half drive from Burlington, where I stayed for the duration of my time in Vermont, but it made for a wonderful day trip.
At the VINS Nature Center, I was able to see raptors & reptiles, roll on a canopy walk among the trees, and roll on another accessible nature trail (the McKnight Trail). This place allowed me to fully enjoy the great outdoors as a wheelchair user for a couple hours and I absolutely loved it! There is so much to do at VINS Nature Center, so plan enough time to enjoy everything. I’d suggest 2-3 hours at a minimum.
You could start your visit by checking out one of the raptor programs. These presentations occur multiple times per day in the on-site pavilions and give you a chance to learn about raptors and see them up-close. Additionally, you can view raptors in the raptor enclosures at any time.
Another wheelchair accessible trail that I enjoyed rolling on was the McKnight Trail. This trail isn’t paved, but it has a hard-packed surface and I didn’t have any problems rolling on it. I’m not sure exactly how long the McKnight Trail is, but I’d guess that it’s about one mile roundtrip.
VINS Nature Center is truly a special place in Vermont that aims to be, and is successful at being, inclusive for everyone. When I was leaving, I even noticed companion care restrooms available near the entrance and gift shop. VINS was one of my favorite attractions in Vermont and it’s the perfect place to enjoy a fall day.
Quechee Gorge Village & Covered Bridges
After leaving VINS Nature Center, my mom and I went to Quechee Gorge Village. It’s only a few minutes away from VINS, so very easy to visit after enjoying the great outdoors.
Quechee Gorge Village has a general store, a toy store, an antique mall, a candy shop, a winery, a cheese shop, and more. No matter what you’re looking for, I can guarantee that one of the shops at Quechee Gorge Village will have it. In the general store, there were hundreds of maple products for sale and of course, I had to buy a few as souvenirs.
We shopped for a while and then hit the road toward Killington, Vermont, where we were excited to see a beautiful waterfall (I cover it in the next section, don’t worry!). It was about a 45-minute drive from Quechee Gorge Village to the waterfall, but you can see covered bridges along the way. It’s a beautiful drive!
The covered bridges in Vermont are pretty iconic to say the least, so I tried to see as many of them as I could during my trip. Two of my favorites were the Lincoln Covered Bridge and the Taftsville Covered Bridge, both of which were between Quechee and Killington. It was so cool to see these covered bridges on our drive!
Thundering Brook Falls
I always love seeing waterfalls, but they aren’t accessible to get to very often. However, the trail to Thundering Brook Falls near Killington is perfectly wheelchair accessible and I was able to see it on a sunny afternoon while in Vermont.
The Thundering Brook Falls Trail is a 0.4-mile out-and-back trail that actually connects to the Appalachian Trail. About half of the trail is a boardwalk path and the other half is hard-packed gravel/dirt. It was incredibly smooth for me to roll on and I had no issues with my powered wheelchair.
Once we reached the waterfall, there was a boardwalk platform available, so I was able to take in the best views of Thundering Brook Falls from that area. I was in awe of how big the falls were and how fast the water was rushing down. Honestly, it was one of the most impressive waterfalls I’ve ever seen, so we stared at it for quite a while before turning around and heading back out.
Of course, it is free to visit Thundering Brook Falls and accessible parking spaces are available at the entrance to the trail. I did not see any restrooms, so be sure to keep that in mind before visiting.
Biking with Vermont Adaptive
I enjoyed a variety of experiences in Vermont, but adaptive biking was undoubtedly the highlight of my trip. I have always wondered what it would be like to go biking and I finally got to do it thanks to the incredible folks at Vermont Adaptive.
Vermont Adaptive specializes in inclusive sports and recreational activities year round. In the summer season, you could try sailing, kayaking, and cycling to name a few. In the winter, you could try snowboarding, skiing, or snowshoeing. They are on a mission to make all of these experiences accessible for all abilities, and after biking with them, I fully trust that if anyone can do it, it’s Vermont Adaptive.
When I arrived at Vermont Adaptive’s office in Burlington, they showed me the tandem bicycle and asked how they could best assist me with transferring over to it. I told them that I had an ableSling to help with transferring, so they lifted me out of my wheelchair and put me on the bicycle. The bicycle seat was surprisingly comfortable and they had straps to keep me secured in the seat. They repeatedly asked what else could make me more comfortable and had a solution for everything I mentioned. After about ten minutes, I was ready to venture outside and start biking.
Since I was on a tandem bicycle, the person in front of me (Molly) had full control of the bike. All I had to do was sit there and enjoy the ride. We biked throughout Waterfront Park and I had such a fun time. This was my first time ever biking and it was something I’d love to do again one day!
Adaptive biking with Vermont Adaptive was a great fall activity, but I am already considering going back to Vermont to try other experiences that are offered. I especially have adaptive snow skiing front of mind, so you may see me back in Vermont rather soon… hopefully! But no matter what experience you try with Vermont Adaptive, I am confident that you’ll enjoy it.
Ben & Jerry’s
Before I was actually in Vermont, I had no idea that the Ben & Jerry’s factory was in the state. As soon as I heard about it though, I had to check it out for myself. After all, how could I turn down ice cream?! The Ben & Jerry’s factory is located about 30 minutes from downtown Burlington, so we drove over for an afternoon of deliciousness.
Our visit started in the gift shop area and there was a family/all gender restroom available. As our tour began, we went to the elevator (called the VanillaVator) and met our group inside a theatre, where we watched an interesting movie of how Ben and Jerry were two college friends who first thought about starting a bagel restaurant, but then decided on ice cream and how their business has grown. It was really fascinating to see how the company has grown to now be a worldwide brand.
Next, we were treated to sample some cookie dough bites and we looked through a glass wall to the production room. Here, the workers were busy at different stations making the ice cream and packaging it. And can you believe the ice cream is stored at -70 degrees?! Burr! Our last stop on the tour was the sample room, where we were treated with a generous portion of strawberry cheesecake ice cream. It had real strawberries and chunks of graham cracker crust in it. Delicious!
After our tour ended, we visited the nearby Flavor Graveyard. Here, there were tombstones with hilarious sayings of flavors that they no longer produce. It was a funny attraction and you can actually explore the Flavor Graveyard for free, even if you don’t do a factory tour.
What a terrific tour this was and it only cost $6 per adult! I would definitely suggest booking tickets for the factory tour online in advance of your visit, as it was packed! We got lucky and snagged some tour tickets last-minute, but I saw people getting turned away toward the end of our visit, so booking in advance would certainly be best. This was so much fun and I’m proud to say that I am now a Ben & Jerry’s fan for life!
Burlington Farmer’s Market
One of the best places to try local delicacies and interact with locals is at the Burlington Farmer’s Market. This market takes place every Saturday from late spring through fall. They also have a special winter market that runs on select dates. Just click here for all of the details.
The Burlington Farmer’s Market is completely outdoors and has dozens of vendors selling everything from apple cider and donuts to fresh produce and clothes. I liked visiting each vendor’s booth and seeing what they specialized in. There were many food options, so come hungry to the market.
The market was fully wheelchair accessible and the terrain was composed of small gravel, but I had no problems rolling to all of the different vendors. Some of the vendors only accept cash, so be sure to hit up an ATM before you visit the market.
Spirit of Ethan Allen Cruise
Lake Champlain is in Burlington, Vermont and the best way to experience it is by being out on the water with Spirit Of Ethan Allen Cruises. A cruise on Lake Champlain can give you a different perspective of the area and you can enjoy a variety of different cruise options with Spirit of Ethan Allen.
We did a lunch cruise and it was fantastic! During the 90-minute cruise, we learned a lot about Vermont thanks to the narration throughout the journey and the food was delicious. There was an onboard lunch buffet with pasta, chicken, salad, rolls, and more. Taking in the great views of Lake Champlain while having a nice lunch was perfection.
Accessibility onboard the Spirit of Ethan Allen Cruise was wonderful. It was easy for me to get onboard in my powered wheelchair. There were ramps available and an accessible restroom was on the lower level, which is the only wheelchair accessible level of the ship.
I had spectacular views during the entire cruise. The large windows allowed me to see everything with ease and I would highly recommend cruising with Spirit of Ethan Allen if you’ll be in Vermont!
Adam’s Apple Orchard
When I first started planning my trip to Vermont, one of the main things I really wanted to do was visit an apple orchard. It’s a fall necessity after all, isn’t it? Needless to say, I had high expectations for my apple orchard visit & I’m happy to say that Adams Apple Orchard & Farm Market certainly lived up to them!
The orchard was a little muddy, but I had no issues rolling throughout the orchard in my wheelchair. The orchard even had dedicated areas for wheelchair users, where there was flatter terrain & low-hanging apples that I could reach from my chair. I predominantly stayed in these more accessible areas, but I ventured further as well and had a great time.
Of course, I had to try some apple cider and a maple bacon donut (so much yum!!!!) at the orchard! There were a couple different vendors selling food items, including burgers, but the number one must-have that you should get is the cider. It’s made by Adam’s Apple Orchard and is by far the most delicious apple cider I’ve ever drank.
It was a beautiful day to be outdoors and I had so much fun at Adam’s Apple Orchard! It’s only about 20 minutes outside of Burlington, so if you’ll be in the area, definitely check this place out for a fun autumn activity that’s wheelchair-friendly!
Robert Frost Interpretive Trail
About an hour outside of Burlington, Vermont is the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail. This trail is wheelchair accessible and has a mix of boardwalk and hard-packed gravel paths.
The trail was smooth to roll on in my powered wheelchair & I tremendously enjoyed the scenery. Poems by Robert Frost were also displayed along the 1-mile loop trail, hence the name of the trail, including my favorite poem “The Road Not Taken”.
In terms of accessibility, I also liked that an accessible restroom was available at the beginning of the trail and benches were along the trail for anyone that needed to rest. The benches were even accessible with extra space on one side for a wheelchair & no armrest on one side to make transferring to the bench easier.
I could easily tell that accessibility was a priority when they made this trail and that made me love it even more. I spent about one hour enjoying the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail.
When in Vermont, you have to buy/eat all of the maple syrup. One of the best places to do this near Burlington is Shelburne Sugarworks!
Shelburne Sugarworks has maple-inspired shirts for sale, tons of maple syrup, and there is an ice cream shop on-site. I bought some maple syrup to take back home, but I also enjoyed some delicious maple pumpkin cheesecake ice cream. It was delicious! Other ice cream flavors included maple blueberry and maple peanut butter, just to name a couple.
Shelburne Sugarworks was the last place that I visited in Vermont and it was the perfect place to finish my trip. There’s nothing better than maple and I’ll be enjoying all of the syrup that I bought from here for many months to come.
Where to Stay: Doubletree by Hilton Burlington Vermont
While in Vermont, I stayed at the Doubletree by Hilton Burlington Vermont. It’s in a great location, just a short drive from downtown Burlington. As mentioned above, I also took easy day trips to Killington, Quechee, and more from this hotel. It was a great base for my time in Vermont.
My wheelchair accessible room was spacious with one queen-sized bed and a sofa bed. A hoyer lift could roll under the bed, as there was plenty of clearance underneath, but the bed was probably too tall if you need to self-transfer. However, I talked to management about the issue and they’re planning to lower the bed with a different mattress. It should be fixed very soon, if it isn’t already.
In the bathroom, there was a great roll-in shower, grab bars, and a pull-under sink. The bathroom worked perfectly for my accessibility needs!
My time at the Doubletree by Hilton Burlington Vermont was great and I will definitely consider staying there again the next time I’m in Vermont. If you’d like to learn more about this hotel, just click here.
Vermont lived up to all of my expectations and so much more. As a wheelchair user, I was able to do things I’ve never done before and things that I couldn’t do in many other destinations, to be honest. Vermont is an inclusive destination that has something for everyone to enjoy, no matter what your abilities are or what season you decide to visit in.