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Sampling Vermont's Rivers & Inns
A canoe feels like an unstable vehicle. So, naturally, I have always thought of canoeing as something one does on flat, stable bodies of water. If the vehicle can't be stable, at least the water should be.
Looking over a wilderness experience catalog, the listing which caught my eye was the "Best of Vermont River Sampler," and some of the listing's wording, "inn to inn," and "fine food." The trip is a six day/five night journey operated by BattenKill Canoe, based in Arlington, Vermont. Trips start in late April and run through mid-October each year. The trip is excellent for anyone wishing to explore several of Vermont's rivers without having to arrange the logistics of shuttles for put-in and take-out, not to mention making accommodation and dining arrangements. BattenKill Canoe has all the bases covered.
Initial contact with BattenKill Canoe will get an information packet forwarded to you. This packet gives greater trip details, describing the rivers, the accommodations, and a loose schedule of the trip. I say loose because although the accommodations are set, the rivers to be canoed are not. Each inn location is in the vicinity of enough rivers to give a choice of rivers for each day. Many times the choice comes down to water levels and flows. If one river is too low, another is substituted.
Guests begin arriving late Sunday afternoon, and dinner that evening is the first meal of the trip. A full trip is considered to be twelve guests with two guides. The trips draw a diverse group from all across the United States.
The excursion begins at the Three Stallion Inn, in Randolph, nearly the geographical center of the state. Vermont derives its name from two French words, "vert" meaning green and "mont" meaning mountain. Driving to Randolph, one readily sees the reason behind the name, with green mountains rolling one into another. The mountains are part of the Appalachian chain that stretches from Alabama to Canada. There are no billboards in Vermont (by state law) blocking the lovely views.
Three Stallion Inn is located on farmland that once belonged to Justin Morgan, breeder of the famous "Morgan horse," the first pure breed of horse developed in the United States. The inn sits on the 1300 acre Green Mountain Stock farm with plenty of recreational opportunities including hiking and biking trails, tennis, sauna, pool, and fitness center.
Monday morning the guests are ready to tackle their first river, which is usually the Winooski. The name is Native American for "wild onion." The Winooski cuts a deep gorge across the Green Mountains as it makes its way to Lake Champlain. This river has a little quick water, with many calm stretches for leisurely paddling or simply drifting along. The exception is "Tire Iron Rapids," so named because it is shaped like a tire iron. After giving instructions on running this little Class II set of rapids, the guides then give guests the option of running the rapids or portaging around them. Near our take-out the river passes through a scenic area of high granite walls.
The second night's stay is in the Stowehof Inn, a Swiss-Austrian style structure. The inn's builder took weathered boards from five old barns to use as interior and exterior wall coverings, this coupled with the two huge sculptured white maple trees supporting the entrance-way makes for an architecturally distinct place of stay. The maples were cut from the property, hauled in on a flatbed and erected in their current positions. The inn's location high on the hillside offers spectacular views of the surrounding area. Many guests find the hot tub a welcome sight after the day on the river.
The next river of exploration is the Lamoille. There are a few rapids, but this river is mostly appreciated for its scenic beauty as it passes through low-lying farmlands with the ever-present Green Mountains on the horizon. At noon guests pull out for the usual riverside lunch, after which the van and trailer are used to portage around a set of waterfalls for the afternoon's canoeing.
That evening finds guests at the Village House Inn, a Victorian-style home in Albany. Dinners are exquisite and quite popular with the local population. The inn itself is quite cozy, with its eight rooms each with private bath.
The next day presents guests with a fairly long ride to the Connecticut River, which forms the border between Vermont and New Hampshire. The Connecticut handles 40% of Vermont's total drainage, and its 407 miles in length make it New England's longest river. The put-in is on the New Hampshire side of the river by the Columbia covered bridge. There is a long stretch of flat water before hitting a few rapids. The rapids are quite minor, but at low water levels, one must skillfully maneuver around the rocks, some barely visible just under the water. On down-stream a few cows wander into the edge of the water to check out passing canoes. If the water levels are very low, near the take-out, you will find yourself selectively picking your way through rocks and low places.
The Willough Vale Inn overlooking Lake Willoughby is the accommodations for that night. Robert Frost wrote of his stay in the Willough Vale in his poem, "A Servant To Servants." Sitting on the wide veranda enjoying the fresh air, view, and relaxing atmosphere, one is tempted to wax poetic.
The rivers of choice for the next day are the Clyde or the Black. Of course, a day of shopping in Newport is an option to those needing a break from the rivers. The Clyde was our river of choice for the day, and it was by far the most technical. Narrow, boulder-strewn, fast water with overhanging trees, the Clyde is a "pinball" challenge, dodging one obstacle after another. It gives guests a chance to use all the techniques learned during the week. Once on the river, there isn't any time for relaxing, constant attention is demanded to avoid the obstacles.
That evening it is back to the Three Stallion Inn, where guests had left their vehicles at the trip's start. The White River is the river for Friday. The best is saved for last, as the brochure says. It is one of New England's favorite rivers for canoeing. It seemed that every other vehicle we passed had a canoe strapped to the roof. The White's quick water, rapids, and ledges provide ample challenge and a memorable end to an excellent week.
Village House Inn
PO Box 228
Albany, VT 05820
Phone: (802) 755-6722