The moniker Northeast Kingdom conjures images of castles, cozy villages and bucolic countryside. You won’t find real castles here in Vermont’s most northeastern region, and the villages are authentic New England rather than Olde England. But you will find some of the prettiest countryside to be found, with rolling farmland, long views of mountain ridges and a quiet unassuming lifestyle.
The area is outside the Green Mountains which form the central backbone of Vermont, having been created by a glacial ice sheet that left behind high peaks and valleys filled with lakes and rivers.
Situated between the Connecticut River and the Green Mountains, and bumping up against the Canadian border, its biggest town is St Johnsbury toward the southern end, but don’t let the word “big” throw you – its population is less than 8,000. The Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium, and the St Johnsbury Athenaeum are the key draws here.
At the northern end is Newport, the only place in the Kingdom designated as a city. It has a population of less than 5,000, suggesting perhaps a sense of greatness that it has not yet achieved. It does have an attractive waterfront, sitting at the southern end of Lake Memphremagog, a 31 mile long lake on the border, stretching deep into Quebec. Newport’s downtown area is pleasant, with shops and restaurants.
There are two ski mountains in the region, Jay Peak at 3,968 feet and Burke Mountain at 3,270 feet, both sporting ski resorts bearing the peaks’ names. There is an indoor water park at Jay Peak, the delightful Old Stone House Museum & Historic Village in Brownington and the seasonal Great Corn Maze in Danville. Beyond that, you’re not going to find much entertainment beyond the region’s quirky little spots of interest, like the Museum of Everyday Life in Glover and the Vermont Reindeer Farm in Barton.
What you really come here for are the crystal clear glacial lakes, heartbreakingly beautiful little villages like Peachum, Irasburg, Craftsbury and East Burke, long rambles along country roads with epic views around every bend, and hiking and biking along the many trails.
On the lakes, you can paddle, fish and watch loons, falcons, ospreys and bald eagles, or just take in the serenity of it all. Lake Willoughby is stunning, with Mount Hor and Mount Pisgah on the western and eastern shores rising 1,000 feet from the water’s edge. The lake is over 320 feet deep in places and there are beaches on the northern and southern shores should you want, shall we say, a bracing swim. Other lakes of note include Caspian Lake in Greensboro, where you can also pop into Willey’s Store, a true Vermont experience, Seymour Lake in Morgan, Island Pond in the town of Island Pond, and Crystal Lake in Barton. And there are so many more.
You may not run into King Arthur, but spend a bit of time here, and you won’t care.