Traveling With Kids: Smugglers' Notch
I have always been on board with the regional riches of Vermont (trees! cows! cheese! ice cream!) but over the past few years in particular, my family and I have spent a lot more time there and have fallen deeply in love with this great state. So when Smugglers’ Notch invited me up to check out their summer offerings, I was immediately intrigued, both to explore Smugglers’ as a summer destination and also to scope it out as a potential ski venue. (Last year was our first real season of skiing as a family and it was AWESOME.) Jon was traveling last week, so I decided to bring Laurel (age 12), Violet (age 6), and my Mom, and then my sister Stephanie also ended up joining us. This was of course fun from a girl trip perspective, but editorially I was already thinking OK, can this place handle the varied needs and wants of a Korean squad spanning 6 to 80 years old? Here’s my report:
1. A do-able distance from Boston
Smugglers’ Notch is about 3.75 hours from Boston and I will say plainly that my kids and I typically get pretty squirrely after the 3-hour driving mark. However, it was a really smooth, quiet ride with literally just a few turns (the majority of the trip is on 93 and 89) and the final section driving through Mt. Mansfield is simply spectacular -- like going through a winding tree and rock tunnel. I definitely recommend doing whatever you can to travel off hours. We traveled up on Tuesday (July 4) and returned on Friday, which meant we completely avoided traffic in both directions.
2. A full-service property
Smugglers’ Notch is an expansive, full-service property -- you literally could choose to spend all of your time on the resort (though there are lots of local attractions, which I’ll get to later). At the heart of the property is the Village Center, which includes guest services, shopping, food, and activities. I had originally anticipated stopping at a grocery store to stock up on breakfast fixings but the Village Center Country Store had everything we needed (butter! coffee! eggs! wine! UNO! coloring books!). Around the Village Center radiate 5 accommodations communities and throughout the resort are different activities, which I’ll also get to later. There are shuttles that run all over the property (you can dial them at any time) but I ended up driving given that we were juggling a full range of ages and needs; parking was never a problem. Also, it's worth noting that even if you don't phyically get yourself off the property, you can enjoy plenty of local fare. Smugglers’ integrates independent businesses and artists via a regular farmers’ market on Mondays and a country fair on Thursdays.
3. Awesome accommodations
True story = when we walked into Owls #5 (our 3BR condo in the North Hill Community) the first words out of my Mom’s mouth were, “I never want to leave.” And repeatedly through the trip, my mom talked about how much she loved the condo, which is saying something given that she and my Dad used to be in real estate and my Mom is picky. But beyond my mom’s opinion, yes, the condo was fully appointed, spacious, and incredibly comfortable. Also, all of the Smugglers’ Notch properties include a kitchen, which I love so you don’t have to eat out all the time. Personally, I also loved that the North Hill Community is the most remote of the 5 accommodations communities. The Village Center can be quite bustling (it was especially so on July 4 when we arrived, due to holiday activities) so to be able to retreat among the trees is simply wonderful. And of course, Violet is obsessed with all things owls, so she couldn’t believe we were surrounded by owl trappings during our stay!
4. Abundant outdoor adventures
I feel like we just scratched the surface of outdoor adventures -- there was so much to do! On a future visit I would like to hike to the top of Madonna Mountain but otherwise, Smugglers’ offers a variety of walking and mountain biking trails. My sister and I managed to get out for an intermediate hike (which got awesomely remote in a hurry), and a major highlight of the trip was a llama trek that I did with my sister and the girls. I was initially concerned that a 3-hour trek would be too long for Laurel and Violet, but the pace was relaxed, there were plenty of rest stops (including a riverside picnic!), and the girls were so excited about walking our llama Riley that they had no idea what time it was. Smugglers’ also offers day camps, disc golf, and paddling (which was on my list but we regretfully did not get to), as well as all manner of more adventurous options (e.g., zip lines, treetop obstacle courses, climbing).
5. Plenty of other outdoor play options too
Aside from the aforementioned outdoor adventures, there are plenty of of other outdoor play options. At the heart of the property, the Village Playground offers basketball, sand volleyball, shuffleboard, and horseshoes, and there’s also a tennis center and mini-golf, which was a huge hit for our crew (added bonus = you can get ice cream at the Refuel Cafe right after). There are also lots of opportunities for swimming and water play. There are 3 larger water play areas that include things like waterslides, flumes, and splash pads, and then there are other smaller pools, a few of which are condo-specific. For example, the Owls property had its own small pool and fitness center and while I initially thought my kids would want to go to the big water playgrounds, Violet was happy to splash around in the small pool. Logistically this was great because we could just walk to/from our condo instead of driving or hopping a shuttle.
6. Indoor activities
As for indoor activities, we didn’t make it to the art workshops as I had hoped (actually, I had it on my potential list but was pretty sure we would not have time!), but the major indoor thing we did explore was Fun Zone 2.0. Now, I said this on Instagram, but I will be very candid and say that usually when I hear the term “fun zone” I groan internally and prepare myself to follow my kids around and get super bored while they jump around on inflatables. Now, there were, in fact, inflatables at Fun Zone 2.0 but Laurel and Violet visited those only briefly and instead we spent most of our time running the American Ninja Warrior inspired tracks and scaling the rock wall. Personally, my mind was kind of blown by all of this because I have been thinking about trying a ninja course and rock climbing but have lacked the motivation to actually pursue it locally. I did not realize that I would get to do both of these things on this trip and really, Laurel and Violet were the motivators to get me up the wall and on the ninja course so GREAT JOB GIRLS! The rock climbing wall had an option to climb face to face up a plexiglass wall and it was pretty amazing to climb with Violet. There is also the requisite game room (+ a laser tag arena) and you guys will not believe that I actually did the claw game and retrieved a Minion doll ON THE FIRST TRY. This never happens you guys! (I of course followed this victory by blowing ~$10 trying for a second Minion without success.)
7. Health & Wellness
In addition to all of the aforementioned activities, it warrants mentioning that Smugglers’ Notch offers TONS of health and wellness options, such as aqua-aerobics, aqua-volleyball, yoga, and meditation. Also, my sister booked our Mom a massage at the Mountain Massage Center given that ninja courses aren’t exactly her thing and she gave it a thumbs up.
8. Food options
When we travel I always prefer to book a place with a small kitchen (or at least a refrigerator) so we have the option to just do a light breakfast at home base before we head out. As I mentioned, the Village Center offers lots of food options (groceries, quick bites, sit down options) and my favorite restaurant on the property is the Hearth & Candle, which sources local ingredients (and at which I had some crazy delicious lobster sliders). We also enjoyed two fantastic meals at the 158 Main Restaurant & Bakery in nearby Jeffersonville (be sure to order the seafood chowder and the chocolate cake, and also SORRY MY KIDS ATE ALL OF YOUR DELICIOUS BREAD).
9. Local attractions
As I mentioned at the front end of this article, Smugglers’ Notch is a true, full-service resort, but with more time, I would love to explore more of the local attractions. Notably in close proximity to the property are the Boyden Valley Winery & Tasting Room, The Vermont Maple Outlet, Lake Champlain Chocolates, the Smugglers’ Notch Distillery (which I actually saw at the Smugglers’ country fair on Thursday but didn’t stop at because, well, MY MOM), and The Farm Store in Jeffersonville. However, as I mentioned earlier, you can still support local businesses through the Smugglers’ farmers’ market and country fair. At the country fair on Thursday, I loaded up on gifts and goodies from Northern Vermont Llama Co (the same folks who run the llama treks), Chubby Chicks (delicious jams and pickles), and Davis Family Maple (syrup + I bought maple covered cashews there and wish I had bought 8,000 more bags).
In a nutshell, Smugglers’ Notch is fantastic for all ages; our party spanned the ages of 6 to 80 and we all had an amazing time. My mom is a pretty spry 80-year-old but she has been having some problems with her foot so when we did things like the Fun Zone and llama hike, she either chilled in the condo or enjoyed her massage. EVERYONE WAS HAPPY and this trip further solified my love for Vermont!
Disclosure: Smugglers’ Notch kindly hosted my family while I explored the property for editorial consideration. All opinions and experiences are, of course, my own.