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Taking the Kids to Vermont for Fall Foliage and More

Red maple or hemlock?

The trees in the northern Vermont forest look a lot different when you’re looking at them from 75 feet above the ground, through branches that anchor zip lines—as long as 1,000 feet—on a zip-line canopy tour.

“Our mission is to educate and inspire and help families connect with nature,” says Michael Smith, the managing partner of ArborTrek in Jeffersonville, Vermont, near Stowe, who has built zip-line courses around the world. Let’s not forget the chance for a shared adventure: eight zips, two rappels (40 feet) and crossing two bridges 35 feet off the ground. That and the running commentary on the flora and fauna have made this a top-ranked zip line in the country and worth the $99.95 tab, say guests who were back for second and third times.

Safety, of course, is a prime concern, with highly trained guides, courses inspected daily, and harnesses checked and triple-checked, says Smith, who is on the board for the Association for Challenge Course Technology. He notes that today there are as many as 1,000 zip-line and aerial-adventure parks just in the United States and Canada. A decade ago, there were no more than a dozen.

Families of all stripes and ages are attracted to the thrill and the chance for a shared adventure in the woods. Kids can zip as long as they are at least eight and weigh 70 pounds, and some customers have been in their 90s.

On the adjacent obstacle courses, kids are clipped in and able to climb a tree without parents worrying that they might fall. The lowest course allows parents with young kids to share the adventure—the zips are just a few feet off the ground and there are bridges, nets, and ladders. The cost is just $29.95 for kids.

But the challenges get harder—more than 70 elements in all. Do you think you could cross an accordion bridge that is 28 feet above ground? Only half of those who attempt the most difficult parts of the course succeed, Smith said.

If you think visiting Vermont in fall is just about the foliage, glorious as it may be, think again. There are mountains to climb and there is golf, disc golf, kayaking, canoeing, and mountain biking to try. Besides the 50 or so miles of trails around Stowe, Vermont, Smugglers’ Notch Resort in Jeffersonville has added beginner and intermediate terrain, along with an entire program to teach newbies. It’s a lot different riding a bike on a single track, avoiding rocks and tree roots, explained program director Rick Sokoloff, who gave my husband and our friend, Enesi Domi, 15, a lesson one morning on a recent visit. “A lot more work than I thought it would be,” said Enesi, who preferred the rush of the zip-line adventure.

It’s also not as expensive as you might think, especially if you avoid the peak foliage times and come midweek with young kids who are not yet in school. Smugglers’ Notch, with its roomy condos, for example, touts the cheapest rates of the year and half-price child care from infants through age seven in its Autumn Fest deal—so you can try the zip line or play golf while the kids are happily entertained in the well-appointed Treasures Center.

We opted to stay in Stowe, one of my favorite New England towns; its historic downtown looks like what you would expect a New England town to be—a white church steeple, small shops and buildings dating back more than 200 years, and plenty of good restaurants like Crop, with its in-house brewed beer and locally sourced eats. Then there are the mountain views at the recently renovated Topnotch Resort, which is not only kid-friendly (think s’mores around the fire pit at night and indoor and outdoor heated pool) but also pooch-friendly. The menus at the two resort restaurants are fashioned from local farms. I loved that we were right on the town’s five-plus-mile Rec Path, along the river. There are townhouses for larger family groups, and there is a great award-winning spa that offers treatments for teens and kids should you want to bring them along. Let’s not forget the fresh-baked cookies every afternoon, the riding stables, and the tennis academy. “We don’t want to leave,” one mom with two young kids confessed.

That may be because “Stowe is a real mountain community with the same spirit it has always had and a lot of history long before skiing,” says Chuck Baraw, whose family has run the Stoweflake Mountain Resort and Spa for more than 50 years. Young families will love the on-site playground and the complimentary apres-ski activities in winter.

Whatever your kids’ ages—and however long you have for a Vermont break this fall—they won’t get bored. Not with corn mazes to try, apples to pick, cider to sample, and, of course, the chance to tour the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory in nearby Waterbury. You can also watch glassblowers at work at Little River HotGlass Studio or tour a Vermont farm.

Show kids where eggs and milk come from and teach them a lesson in sustainability at the nonprofit Shelburne Farms, about a 40-minute drive south of Burlington, where they can join the Chicken Parade, gather eggs at the fanciest chicken coop I’ve ever seen, card and spin wool, milk a cow, watch cheese being made, make friends with the baby goats, join in farm chores at the Children’s Farmyard, or go for a walk on the hiking trails on the farm’s 1,400-some acres that stretch down to Lake Champlain. Teachers come from all over the country for workshops to learn how teach sustainability in the classroom. On September 20, Shelburne Farms will celebrate the 36th Annual Harvest Festival. Without the kids, opt for a stay at The Inn, the spectacular 24-room lakefront inn that was originally the family home.

The best part, says ArborTrek’s Mike Smith: the chance to let go in the woods and “scream your brains out.”

Just remember to break!

(c) 2014 Eileen Ogintz Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

(Photos: Topnotch Resort and Vera Chang)

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