You there: Step away from the Mrs. Butterworth’s.
It’s maple season in Vermont, that oh-so-sweet time of year when the Green Mountain State harvests that amber, pancake-topping nectar of the gods. The season began in late February and ends early April, so March is prime time — and we’ve got the best places to head for the pure stuff.
It sounds like something out of a storybook, but it’s real: The Sugar Shack sits on Sugar Shack Lane, in the tiny town of Arlington, tucked in the valley between the Taconic Range and the Green Mountains. Along the drive, you’re apt to see big barns, grazing cattle, green pastures, and, once you arrive, buckets collecting sap from maple trees. Take a free tour of the sugarhouse, but note that the boiling process requires cool nights and warm days, so call ahead if your aim is to see that part.
Sample various grades of syrup, and savor the fresh maple donuts and maple frosted sugar cookies from the bakery. Stock up on maple butter, maple candies, maple cookies, even maple mustard. If all this makes you feel you’re stepping into a Norman Rockwell painting, your hunch isn’t far off. Rockwell lived in Arlington from 1939-’53, and painted in the area. The Sugar Shack has a Rockwell exhibit. 29 Sugar Shack Lane, Arlington. 802-375-6747. sugarshackvt.com.
Make a weekend of it and stay at the nearby The Inn at Manchester, where the “Maple Getaway” package includes a behind-the-scenes tour of the Sugar Shack, breakfast for two, and a breakfast to take home: quart of pure Vermont maple syrup and pre-made buttermilk pancake mix. Rates from $195 per night, two nights required, for two through April 15. 3967 Main St., Manchester. 802-362-1793. innatmanchester.com
If you’re bringing kids, you might want to head to Palmer’s Sugarhouse in Shelburne. On weekends, they host various demonstrations and tours. There’s also a petting zoo, nature trails, horse-pulled wagon rides with view of the Adirondacks, sweet treats, and live music each weekend through Easter. 332 Shelburne Hinesburg Road. 802-985-5054. www.palmersugarhouse.com/
Save the date for Vermont’s Maple Open House Weekend on March 25 and 26, when participating sugarhouses throughout the Green Mountain state open their doors, and offer various activities. (vermontmaple.org/openhouse) For instance, at the 19th Annual Whitingham Maple Festival, about 2.5 hours northwest of Boston, you might tour several sugarhouses, hit up the craft fair, take a horse-drawn sleigh rides, enjoy a pancake breakfast, and a pancake lunch, among other activities. www.whitingham-maplefest.us
If you go, you might want to stay at Shearer Hill Farm Bed & Breakfast, a few miles away. The working farm and six-room B&B also boasts their own sugarhouse. Wake to a breakfast that starts with baked apples with fresh maple syrup. 297 Shearer Hill Road, Halifax. 802-464-3253. www.shearerhillfarm.com.
Aside from a picturesque inn and property that boasts a Robert Frost poem-vibe, the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe also makes homemade syrup at its sugarhouse. Take a guided hike — or snowshoe, depending on trail conditions — to tour the sugarbush, learn the process and sample. The Lodge sugars the old-fashioned way, with buckets and taps and a wood-fired evaporator. $15 for non-guests. Tour times vary; check site or call ahead. 700 Trapp Hill Road, Stowe. 802-253-8511. www.trappfamily.com.
For a sweetheart deal, you may want to head to The Red Clover Inn & Restaurant in Killington Valley. Their maple package for two includes maple cookies upon arrival, $100 toward a candlelit dinner for two on-site, a tour of Baird Farm Sugarhouse about 20 minutes away (www.bairdfarm.com), breakfast for two including pancakes and Vermont maple syrup, and keepsake syrup and maple lollipops. From $295 per night. 802-775-2290. 7 Woodward Road, Mendon. www.redcloverinn.com.
Burlington’s ultra-hip Hotel Vermont — which boasts a minimal-chic Wes Anderson vibe, local art, and locally-made products — offers a “Maple Madness” package that includes a full breakfast and bus tour to a working sugarhouse with lunch included along the way. Bring your phone to Instagram #waterfalls, #barns, #coveredbridges. You’ll also nab a bottle of pure Vermont maple syrup to take home. Through April 2. Rates starting at $549 for two. 41 Cherry St. 855-650-0080. hotelvt.com/home