Burlington is home to some very creative people, not only in the arts, but also in promoting outdoor recreation, sports and just plain fun. The biggest and best event put on in Burlington each year is the Vermont City Marathon. The Marathon is held on the third weekend in May each year when there is very little else going on in Burlington. But for the Marathon area hotels and restaurants would be virtually empty. The Marathon fills almost every room available in the Burlington area and the restaurants are usually jam packed. Best to make reservations long in advance if you can. The Burlington Marathon adds over $3 million to the Burlington economy every year.
Much of the Marathon is run on the Burlington Bike Path and certainly the path makes for a much more enjoyable experience. Much of Burlington either participates in the Marathon, volunteers to assist or turns out to cheer the runners on. It is a real community event. We have already talked about the Jazz Festival that is probably the second most attended event.
Mardi Gras is held the first weekend in March. It includes a wild parade, a party atmosphere and a lot of free beads and candy thrown from some pretty crazy floats. It is always led by the City’s Mayor dressed in appropriate attire.
The Festival of Fools is a cultural festival of street theater with colorful costumes and makeshift contraptions racing down the streets of Burlington. See www.vermontfestivaloffools.com. It is held at the very end of July each year. Burlington hosts three sets of fireworks each year: one on the evening of the third of July, not the fourth. This event packs 20,000 to 30,000 people onto the waterfront. The other fireworks occur on New Year’s Eve at 9 p.m. for the kids and midnight for the adults as part of the celebration.
The Penguin Plunge is held on the first weekend in February each year. It is a fundraiser for Special Olympics Vermont and consists of a quick dip into the icy cold waters of Lake Champlain usually in below freezing weather. It is not for the faint of heart. The Dragon Boat races occur on the third weekend of July at Waterfront Park. It is a race for cancer survivors and their family and friends. The whole community is warmly welcomed at this event and encouraged to cheer on the teams. It is a fun and uplifting heartfelt event even for those that don’t know any of the participants.
The ECHO Museum (ECHO stands for Ecology, Culture, History and Opportunity), also known as the Lake Champlain Aquarium and Science Center, is a hands on, mostly for kids, interactive fun environmental lesson on lake ecology and geology. It is very entertaining and informative, especially for children 5 to 13 years of age. There are two entertaining lake cruise boats serving Burlington: The Spirit of Ethan Allen and Northern Lights. Both boats feature a recorded historical narrative about Lake Champlain. There are two charter sailing expeditions: the Whistling Man Schooner co. and Let’s Go Sailing. Sail boat rentals are also available with or without lessons at the Community Sailing Center. And there is one Segway tour company downtown known as Burlington Segways offering one and two hour Segway tours of the waterfront, downtown Burlington and UVM with an interesting historical narrative delivered in person by college interns. Queen City Ghostwalk is an entertaining and spooky tour through Burlington’s paranormal past and present put on by a superb storyteller and Burlington historical expert, Thea Lewis.
There is a brewery tour appropriately named the Brew Tour. They will pick you up at your hotel and shuttle you between local breweries for free samples and lunch or dinner usually at American Flatbread which has some of the best pizza in town. Drink up and leave the driving to them. There is also a Burlington Brewers Festival on the Waterfront each year where you can sample some of the best local microbrews available in the Burlington area. Get your tickets early. They often sell out. Burlington is famous for its farm to table restaurants and the Burlington Food Tour will take you to all the best food Burlington has to offer.
There are events going on almost every weekend in the event space at Waterfront Park throughout the summer. See Events for a complete listing. Two of our favorites are the Great Pumpkin Regatta that occurs over the Columbus Day weekend in October each year and the Maritime Festival which occurs at the end of the first week of August and includes a great air show some years put on by a single biplane that performs outrageous flying stunts as low as ten feet off the water just beyond the breakwater and high into the sky until he stalls and flips wing over wing in a death spiral before recovering in the nick of time. The best place to view this performance is Battery Park because you can watch him from higher than much of his flight pattern.
And no discussion of the whimsical in downtown Burlington would be complete without a mention of the local and very talented Grace Potter and the Nocturnals at the Grand Point North concert in the event space at Waterfront Park in early September each year. There are also unscheduled street performances on the Church Street Marketplace and much more. But that’s all we have space for here.
As for downhill ski areas within a short distance from Burlington we highly recommend Cochran’s Ski Area, one of only two non-profit ski areas in Vermont, located in Richmond, a very small mom and pop ski area with only 300 feet of vertical terrain run by Olympic Champion skiers – the Cochran family. Cochran’s only has surface lifts (no chairlift or gondola). But Cochran’s has a great top to bottom snowmaking system installed with private donations just over ten years ago that insures great consistent conditions all winter long. It is the least expensive ski area near Burlington by far. It is the epitome of skiing in Vermont. If you want to spend a lot more money on world class expert slopes visit the world famous Stowe Mountain Resort, Smugglers Notch or Sugarbush. Bolton Valley is much closer to Burlington and is also more reasonably priced. Mad River is more funky and is restricted to skiing (no snowboards). They don’t make a lot of snow so it’s best to “ski it if you can” after a big natural dump. Jay Peak is a bit further away but it usually gets a great dump of natural snow each year. They also have a great indoor water park open year round. The Middlebury Snow Bowl is run by Middlebury College and is reasonably priced and fairly close to Burlington. Hard’ack is the other non-profit small ski area which is totally free and located in St. Albans. Sharp Park offers snow tubing, downhill and cross country skiing when there is good natural snow cover for a reasonable fee. Call ahead to confirm it is open and has good sliding conditions. It is a walk up site. No lifts. It is only ten miles north of Burlington in Milton.
Killington is over two hours away but it is a world class resort with great conditions and usually the longest ski season in the east. All the areas mentioned above except Hard’ack and Sharp Park have ski rental packages and offer lessons and hot food and cocoa onsite.
The closest cross country ski area to Burlington is Catamount in Williston, but it is low in the valley and in bad snow years you need to check conditions before venturing there. Bolton Valley has cross country skiing and is reasonably priced. The Trapp family Lodge, built by the famous Von Trapp Family of the Sound of Music has great trails. It is located in Stowe.
Ice Skating is available at Leddy Arena in Burlington’s new north end and at Cairns Arena in South Burlington year round. Both facilities rent skates. Call first to check for open skate times. If you enjoy roller skating a new arena just opened in Williston called Skateland Vermont. And if electric go carts are your thing try out Essex Speedway and Action Center in Essex.
The Champlain Valley Exposition grounds in Essex is the home of Champlain Valley Fair late in August and early September each year. The fair features a midway with fried dough and the usual fair food selections, amusement rides and some headline national performances. The Exposition grounds also host a wide range of events the rest of the year. Check out their web site at www.cvexpo.org for a full list of events. Petra Cliffs offers indoor and outdoor climbing experiences. They are located in Burlington’s south end. Northern Lights Rock and Ice Climbing offers outdoor climbing, a zip line and ice climbing in the winter. Pizza Putt offers pizza with an indoor arcade, miniature golf and laser tag. Spare Time offers bowling and laser tag with an indoor arcade. The Essex Family Fun and Entertainment Center offers outdoor miniature golf, batting cages and a driving range just off I 289 in Essex.