Lake Memphremagog in Newport, Vermont
I've always been enamored with geographical enclaves within the United States. These are parts of the country that have a particular culture which has been shaped either by geography or by indiscriminate state and county boundaries. For whatever reason, such boundaries have generated unique cohorts with strong regional pride. A few examples of these would include Downeast Maine, Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Northern California, the Olympic Peninsula of Washington and Eastern Oregon. So when I heard about the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, otherwise known as the N.E.K., I was intrigued and wanted to visit. Although somewhat of a tourist-y move, I decided to visit over the Columbus Day Weekend for the fall foliage.

The Northeast Kingdom has been heralded by poets, artists and outdoorsmen alike as one of the most peaceful and most desirable places to visit in America. In the opinion of this traveler, there is no grander place for fall foliage hiking and relaxation!
Vermont Fall Foliage Hike
Hiking Jay Peak, Vermont

After a very long three day weekend filled with work, I was so ready for this mini-vacation. I'm originally from California so I simply had to see if "leaf-peeping" was as amazing as everyone says it is. As I have been commuting to Portland (Maine) from my tiny town of Gorham, I'd actually been deliberately taking longer commutes just to enjoy the foliage. However nothing compares to the brilliant display of color that happens in Vermont. I could scarcely keep my eyes on the road as I was meandering down country lanes and county highways. To my delight, it seemed like I left all the RV's and car tours behind as soon as I crossed the New Hampshire-Vermont state line.

Jay Peak was my first destination. Its one of New England's 50 Finest and high up on my list of mountains I'd like to climb during my tenure in this part of the country. Although its mainly known as a ski resort, the famous Long Trail crosses its summit and this served as the trailhead. I hit the trail very early to enjoy the morning appenglow. There was just something so surreal about watching the sunrise through the fall forest. It really brought out the color contrast while on the trail. Taking a bad picture would have been impossible!
Great views from the Jay Peak Trail
One of the more delightful parts about hiking the Jay Peak trail is that there are several openings in the forest that provide panoramic views of the Green Mountains. Its also high enough and far enough North to have a real alpine zone. This created a unique tree line. There was a very clear line upon the mountains which separated the deciduous forests from the alpine. It was as if an artist had painted a lines of red an yellow next to a line of dark green. This was also noticeable on the trail I hiked- I very quickly passed that certain elevation which divides the two forests.

Once I summited, there was a full, 360-degree panorama. From Jay Peak I could see Mt Mansfield in central Vermont, the Adirondacks of New York, Lake Champlain Valley, and even the mountains and plains of Quebec. One of the best views was the view to the northeast where I could see Newport Vermont and Lake Memphremagog which are both bound by some isolated mountains.
View of Newport, Vermont from Jay Peak
The prominent mountain on the left is Owl's Head located in Quebec, Canada
I spent a good two hours atop this mountain just relaxing and enjoying the view. As a climber, I rarely get opportunities to simply enjoy a summit- usually the weather or schedule will only permit a few minutes taking a victory shot. It was nice to enjoy some simple moments of peace.

Hiking down was not disappointing though! With the sun hitting the leaves at a different time of the day, it felt as if I'd taken a different route down. I suppose me waxing poetic about the leaves further marks me as someone who is clearly not from New England. However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that of the few hikers that I saw on the trail, all of them were native Vermonters who were just up enjoying the same scenery I was. I later made the determination that the Northeastern Vermont is where real Vermonters go when they want to "leaf-peep".
Newport, Vermont
My next destination was the town of Newport, Vermont. Located on the Quebec Border in Orleans County, it is the one of the only major towns in the entire region. At just over 5,000 people, its the second largest town in the Northeast Kingdom which happens to be the least populous region of the 2nd least populous state in America.

I've been to many small towns in America and this was one of my favorites. With the migration of people away from cities and the rise of rural appeal, many desperately cling to their small towns status amidst the economic growth. Some New England towns have since become small cities with an identity crisis (i.e. Bar Harbor, Maine and North Conway, New Hampshire). But even with the Northeast Kingdom becoming a somewhat well-known destination for 4-season tourism, Newport has retained its status as a down-home and genuinely-quaint community of friendly people. I was as captivated with Newport as I was with the foliage on Jay Peak
Orleans County Courthouse
Hiking Gore Mountain, Vermont

The next day's adventure was in Essex County which is the most rural county in New England. Here lies a mountain of no importance to anyone but those who are climbing New England's Fifty Finest- Gore Mountain. It was very difficult for me to find any information on any trails in the area and it seemed as if there were none.

Fortunately the kind folks of the Green Mountain Club have a cut a trail though the dense forests and bogs. While its not a very wide or visible trail, it is enough to get you to the top and hence bag another one of the 50 finest. Other than that very reason, there is little motivation for the average hiker to climb this mountain as there are only fleeting views and no remarkable sights. Nevertheless, it was a nice hike which I had all to myself.
Gore Mountain Trail, Vermont
Despite its modest elevation and lack of sweeping views, Gore Mountain was still a wonderful mountain to hike. The trail weaves its way through the North Woods of Vermont and nearby some bogs. I saw a massive beaver dam and some evidence of bears. On occasion I was welcomed to a view through the trees of nearby mountains. I realized that this was just a nice place to be alone for a while!

One must pay close attention to the "trail" as it becomes somewhat ambiguous at times. There are a couple of signs which mark the way and a few of those white markers but it would be easy to lose your way. Bring a compass or GPS! After a little over 4 miles I was standing on the summit.
Just a walk in the woods!
The summit log simply made my day- I flipped though this notebook and discovered that I was only the 18th person of 2011 to have climbed Gore Mountain. Not only that, but since the log-book's inception in 2008, there had been fewer than 50 souls who had summitted and cared enough to sign it. July appeared to be the peak's busiest month- 3 people trudged up here on the 4th. Most other months had one or at most 2 hikers. It was safe to say I was alone for about 5 miles in all directions, which gave me a sense of joy!

Those who know me well would probably not guess that I'm much into meditation, but I find that its hard not to do this while in such a serene place. I don't mean meditation in the "new-age-y" way that its often associated with. For me, it was simply just being on top of a lonely mountain and listening to the wind and few birds which provided me company. With all the business of graduate school and work, it was wonderful to take some moments and thank the Lord for all the blessings that come with living in Northern New England.

An old fire lookout, long abandoned on the summit of Gore Mountain
Well it was time for me to return once again to my busy life out in Portland, Maine. The best thing about returning was that just outside my door I have a perfect view of a dairy farm and some woods which are just changing color. It made me laugh to think that my last apartment's "great view" was that of the 405 freeway.

It was quite the move for me to go from the left-coast to Maine. I miss my 14,000ft peaks, high deserts, redwood forests and of course, the beaches. Then again, California doesn't have beautiful seasons, empty trails and 300 hundred year old small towns. To me, there's a lot to miss about California and a lot to love about New England.

Read. Plan. Get Out There!