Posted November 13, 2019 – Narrated by Carmen
See our 5-Bambi rating legend at the end of this review.
“It’s not the thing you fling, it’s the fling itself.“– Chris Stevens (Chris in the Morning) Northern Exposure
A watched pot never boils and the trees rush for no man.
Despite our best laid plans, we missed peak Autumn foliage in Vermont. Two weeks of carefully planned leaf-peeping only rewarded us with teasing blushes from the canopy.
But we’re not complaining.
Viewing the most coveted displays of blazing fall leaf color in New England was not in the climate cards for us.
Fortunately, James (Jean-Luc) Beaubeaux plans for every snafu and wisely booked us in advance at Little River State Park where an abundance of superb kayaking, cycling and hiking made central Vermont feel like home-sweet-home.
Also, the nearby villages of Stowe, Waterbury, Montpelier and Burlington – all, less than thirty miles from our beautiful campsite captivated our senses with the blessings of harvest, and filled our days with a flurry of once-in-a-lifetime activities.
The Parks History
Like so many state parks, Little River began with a flood in 1927. Torrential rains caused a disaster that drove residents to their rooftops. Between 1935 and 1938 the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, constructed Waterbury Reservoir and Dam. The CCC camp at the park site was a fully operating, thriving community with more than 80 buildings housing more than 2,000 during its peak years.
Today, Little River State Park is one of the most popular recreational areas in central Vermont.
Open from mid-May to late October, Little River has 70 dry-camp RV sites (no water, electricity or sewer hookups). There are parking areas to accommodate day use.
Two large camping loops are split in half by Stevenson Brook. Loop A has 57 camping sites, 7 wood-sided lean-tos, and 4 cabins.
Loop B has 23 campsites, 13 lean-tos, and one cabin. The cabins have electricity and many have private lake views. When we arrived in mid-September, loop B was closed for the season.
In addition to the large loops, Little River also has 27 first-come first-served lakeside campsites which are only accessible via boat or kayak and are free of charge.
All RV sites are back-in with hard packed dirt pads and gravel driveways. Most sites are thickly shaded, so charging batteries with solar is a no-starter. We purchased propane a few miles away at the Waterbury Hardware Store next to Shaw’s Supermarket.
Most of the sites are spacious with dense buffer strips to provide privacy and sound barriers between sites. While most sites can accommodate the largest RVs, there are some slanted and tiered sites that can only accommodate car and tent camping.
The campground is clean, not a shred of micro-trash anywhere. Upon departures, a johnny-on-the-spot park service team arrived within moments to thoroughly clean and prep the site for new occupants.
There is only one dump station near the entrance. Potable water and a boat wash area are also near the entrance. Trash and recycling bins are beside the road on the way to loop B.
Our weBoost cell service booster kept us connected. The park does not provide WiFi but we had 3 bars LTE and experienced no service problems accessing the internet – but as we explored the park, we noticed that Verizon coverage varied throughout.
Leashed pets are allowed on all the trails and in the boat launch area.
Pets are not allowed in the designated swimming area, neither are pets welcome in the cabins – although Bear Cabin has recently been designated as pet friendly, with restrictions.
Little River is a kayaking paradise. The 850-acre reservoir meanders through the Green Mountain foothills.
The authorities allow canoes, kayaks, standup paddling, and bass and trout fishing with a license.
Motor boating and water skiing are allowed but much of the lake is quite shallow and marked “no wake,” so it’s safe, and desirable, to paddle along the jagged, rocky shoreline to view the forest edge.
Inside the park, the miles and miles of uncrowded hiking trails ranging from “easy” to “difficult” insure many days well spent with Mother Nature. Most hikes are a nice gentle ascent up the mountainside and loop back down to the campground.
Trails are well marked and maintained. We particularly enjoyed the historic Ricker Mills farm settlement.
While the park offers an extensive maze of mountain-bike trails, we prefer rail trails. There are dozens of scenic rail trails within 20 miles of the park.
There are no laundry facilities within the park, but the hot showers are happy to take your quarters. Eight minutes will cost $1. There are three shower locations within the park. Two of the shower facilities have been updated. The old facility might be 50 years old, but it is clean.
There are two playgrounds, but, why? With all of the outdoor activities – hiking, swimming, sandy beaches and boating, Little River is already a family paradise. Canoe and kayak rentals are available.
A volunteer-run outdoor museum has fun, hands-on activities so children and adults can learn more about the natural and cultural history of the park.
Sublime solitude in this protected woodland is a real bargain. We paid $23.50 per night for our 14-day stay, at a cost of $329.
Nearby Waterbury has some wonderful restaurants like Maxi’s, The Reservoir, and Prohibition Pig brewery. Just up the street in Stowe we stopped in to pay homage at Idletyme Brewing Company and Achemy Brewery.
In Montpelier, the state capitol …
we visted Morse Farm Maple Sugar Works for a free self-guided tour of the authentic Sugar House and had a fascinating stroll through the Maple Trail.
Cold Hollow Cider Mill – just down the street – has a free demonstration and samples of their freshly pressed cider.
Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory – only a ten-minute drive from the Little River campground rolls out the red carpet with a cheerful visitors center, museum, gift shop and free tour.
The delightful 30-minute tour includes a documentary film, a viewing room of the factory and a free sample of the daily flavor which is sometimes an experimental flavor. We wrapped up our visit at The Scoop Shop where limited edition flavors are featured with old favorites.
Free parking and an RV lot are provided. Ben and Jerry’s is American culture at its finest.
Burlington on Lake Champlain – about a thirty-minute drive from Little River State Park – hosts the largest Oktoberfest in Vermont. If we’d known how cool this event is we would have adorned ourselves in lederhosen and dirndl. Oh well, next time.
Just be warned … Beer, live music, and sunset on Lake Champlain on a warm Autumn evening can result in serotonin overload.
As we sampled local brews the sun slowly melted into the sparkling harbor with the Adirondack Mountains in the distance, the sky constantly changing color and hue like a torch singer changing her dress between sets. “Oh, you like that, huh? Well how about this?”
The Vermont Pumpkin Chuckin’ Festival punctuated the end of an epic two-weeks of Autumn in Vermont.
Without any expectations we quickly learned that the VPCF is a serious competition and a mighty display of derring-do by dedicated trebuchet engineers of every age and gender.
It is a day of heartbreak when wind-conditions or a loose cable or some off-beat factor cuts the pumpkin’s flight short of it’s planned goal. And it is a day of exhilarating joy when one’s squash exceeds all expectations on the field of glory.
But in the end, the victory is in knowing that it’s not the thing you fling, it’s the fling itself. (Just don’t let the pumpkins know that)
With no evidence of rain, seasoned audience members brought umbrellas. We learned that’s because when a squash reaches a certain velocity it will explode while airborne. The score is measured by the chunk that lands farthest in the field.
We also learned to stand well behind the tape and to wear a hat …
and that picking seeds and pumpkin flesh off the back of your neighbors sweater is good form for audience members.
So, even though the experts said the season was in full swing …
we almost forgot why we were there … Oh yeah, the leaves. We also missed the crowds and the touristy bumper-to-bumper drive along Highway 100 … and to be honest we kind of enjoyed the anticipation.
Being in the right place at the right time can be an art or a science or a decision. We can’t think of a better place than Little River to miss peak season foliage, but if you know of one, please share.
Little River has a 21-day maximum stay, so we could have stayed another week. But we met a Canadian couple who advised us to cross Lake Champlain to see color.
Nice tip. Hmm … Canada was just 146 miles up the road with a French country winery to overnight along the way … we could almost smell the fresh croissant from Little River. Montreal, just the place to celebrate Jim’s 65th Medicare Birthday.
|Our “BAMBI” rating system explained:
– One Bambi: Should’a boondocked.
– Two Bambi’s: Better than a Cracker Barrel or Walmart.
– Three Bambi’s: Adequate for a short stay.
– Four Bambi’s: Great place! Met our expectations for an extended stay. Needs minor improvements or is not ideally situated for all our preferred recreation (walking, cycling, swimming, kayaking) without driving.
– Five Bambi’s: Destination Camping at it’s best! Critical as we are, there’s nothing we’d improve, and you can bet your sweet Bambi we’re going back!
If you want to see our exact route, click here.
*photos in this post (unless otherwise noted) were taken and copyrighted by Living In Beauty.