In the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont — the corner of the state nestled next to the New Hampshire and Canadian borders and easily accessed by Interstate 91 — one small ski town has found a winning solution for maintaining tourism throughout the year.
In East Burke, Vermont, home of Burke Mountain ski resort, landowners and business people have teamed up over the years to create an incredible network of mountain biking trails. They call them Kingdom Trails and they attract bikers from Pennsylvania to Québec.
More than 100 miles (yes, you read that right) of interconnected singletrack and doubletrack trails are available to intermediate and expert riders. The variety is terrific. On a recent Monday visit, the Skimeister and I enjoyed twisting wooded trails full of roots, exhilarating downhills, old logging roads, wide-open, high-meadow paths, and trails that contoured the branches of the Passumpsic River.
The rivers are a godsend on hot days. It was humid and in the 80s during our visit and we dunked ourselves in the cold water three times during the day. Many bikers end their bike tours at the small swimming hole in East Burke Village and enjoy a cheesy pizza or generous sub from Bailey's & Burke – a great country store and take-out café. You'll find people dining at the picnic tables under the trees by the river.
When you ski at Burke Mountain Ski Resort, Bailey's & Burke makes for a good stop as well, to grab breakfast, lunch or dinner or to do some shopping. Other dining options in East Burke include the River Garden Café, the Pub Outback and the new Willy's Restaurant. Willy is a family name and the owner of the restaurant is the son of the owners of the Village Inn in East Burke, located right next door.
The Skimeister and I were splurging for our anniversary, so we forwent the busy campground at Burke Mountain this time and stayed at the Inn. We ate one of our dinners at Willy's, where the homemade bratwurst was delicious!
The Village Inn is comfortable and modest. You can walk to the small village and the main Kingdom Trails trailhead, and the family's gardens and a river behind the property make it a great place for summer stays. Be warned that you do hear a lot of traffic in the rooms that face the road – especially with the windows open. If you can afford it, the Inn at Mountain View Farm and Wildflower Inn look lovely. They have amazing perches on Darling Hill – with wide, rural, rolling mountain views.
Over at Burke Mountain, summer allows for drives up the Toll Road to the 3,267-foot summit. Some of the most demanding trails on the Kingdom Trails biking network also tumble down the side of the mountain. A couple years ago I recall tumbling on the trail called Dead Moose Alley!
The Burke Mountain area is unpretentious and the landscape is gorgeous. We did a late-afternoon hike up rocky Wheeler Mountain and enjoyed a spectacular view of Lake Willoughby – one of the gems of the Northeast Kingdom that is nearby.
Skiing here is a bit like stepping back in time, with really one ski lift to speak of and an old-school mid-mountain ski lodge, but Burke Mountain has terrific terrain that includes fun glades and very few skiers during the week. We have yet to catch some live music at the mountain, but they seem to host many shows throughout the year.
What's more, Kingdom Trails operates as a cross-country skiing network in the winter. We haven't yet skied the trails that we bike, but we hope to sometime soon.
The Skimeister and I like to ski one weekday each year at Burke Mountain and bike at least once a year at Kingdom Trails. It's our Northeast Kingdom get-away place.