Take the Kids: A day in Norwich and White River Junction Vermont
Ed Vigneau, of Windsor, Vt., pulls Jack Howard, 4, of West Hartford, Vt., and Marek and Braedon Rogers, 4, of Plainfield, N.H., on his mini steam engine alongside the historic locomotive Old No. 494 during the Glory Days Festival in White River Junction in Sept. 2012. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)
From left, Sophia Guertion, 9, and Natalie Guertion, 11, of Blackstone, Mass., Alex Moore, 9, of Meriden, N.H., Alison Fairbairn, 14, of Dover, N.H., and Emerson Moore, 11, of Meriden, N.H., take part in a Liquid Rainbow activity to demonstrate the density of liquids at the Montshire Museum of Science in August 2012. (Valley News - Jenna Schoenefeld)
As a pedestrian passes by, three teenagers wait for a ride from one of their mothers in Dec. 2008. After school, the four walked to downtown White River Junction, Vt., to hang out. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)
Laura Channell, co-owner of Your Farm in Fairlee, Vt., arranges organic produce for sale at the farmers market in Norwich, Vt., in June 2010. (Valley News - Jason Johns)
Just a leap across the Connecticut River from New Hampshire, the town of Norwich, Vt., is a tranquil pocket of rural beauty. But don’t be fooled: A summertime day trip here offers more than enough to keep kids entertained. Here’s an itinerary that includes a stroll through one of the best farmers markets in New England, a miniature outdoor water park and a whole museum full of science experiments waiting to be explored – all within an hour’s drive of Concord.
Head north up Interstate 89, one of the most scenic drives in the state, especially in summer. Right after you cross into Vermont, take the exit for Interstate91 north, and a few minutes later watch for Exit 12. From the exit, follow Route 5 north for just a few miles, and you’ll see the first stop on your right: the bustling Norwich Farmers Market.
Each Saturday, from May through October, the market is held in a grassy square next to fields and community gardens. It’s a happy place: About 50 vendors form a little town square full of fresh vegetables, meat, crafts, jewelry, ice cream and other goodies. At the center is a shaded pavilion where local musicians play, children dance and families relax.
Walking through the wooden archway entrance, you’ll see freshly cut flowers, intricate purses, and necklaces made from a rainbow of stones. And you’ll find plenty to savor – baked goods, jewel-toned homemade jams, fruit-flavored yogurt, fresh bagels (they sell out quickly!), cheeses and tamales made to order. For the full experience, be sure to stop by the Hurricane Flats Farm stall and buy a bag of Ruby Red popcorn from the smiling, bearded farmer who always inspires us to dream, just for a minute, of taking up farming, too.
If your kids get bored with the stalls of food and crafts, direct them toward the market’s central pavilion, where a rotating cast of musicians, storytellers and other performers put on a show every Saturday. We once saw a troupe of children performing Morris dances here. Other weeks, there are accordionists or bluegrass bands. And kids are always encouraged to sing and dance along.
Depending on the time of day, you may want to grab lunch at one of the stalls here – pizza or fresh pasta, for instance. When you’ve had your fill, head north for about five minutes on Route 5 to the Montshire Museum of Science, a great place for both indoor and outdoor learning. The Montshire occupies three floors, with hands-on exhibits that encourage kids to put themselves at the center of the action.
Exhibits rotate regularly, but the stand-bys include miniature weather stations, a working honeybee colony, a mounted moose specimen, a collection of fossilized mammoth and mastodon teeth and tanks full of fish, frogs and turtles. There are lessons on physics, biology, natural history and meteorology here, but your kids will likely just have fun jumping, throwing and blowing. Infants and toddlers will enjoy Andy’s Place, a special area full of tactile and visual interactive toys.
Outside, the Montshire offers even more, including 100 wooded acres laced with 5 miles of walking trails, a scale model of the solar system and other exhibits on natural history. But the centerpiece of the museum’s outside exhibits is the winding artificial river – dotted with wading pools, terraces and mechanical fountains – known as the Rill. Kids can drop a ping-pong ball into the head of the stream, and follow its progress downstream, through miniature dams and waterfalls. It’s like a water park built for elves, and splashing and wading are encouraged, so be sure to bring bathing suits. Chances are, your children won’t leave the place dry.
If you missed lunch at the farmers market, you’ll find sandwiches, salads, drinks and ice cream for sale at the museum’s outdoor Hughes Pavilion in summer months. Kids’ options, including peanut butter and jelly, yogurt and fresh fruit, are available, too. Or you can bring your own picnic lunch to enjoy on the many tables and benches beneath the giant white tent. Back inside, the museum gift shop has an impressive range of educational books, toys, posters and other items.
If you’re in the mood for a more substantial lunch, head a few miles south to White River Junction, a slightly rough-edged old railroad town with an artsy fringe. The compact downtown here has a handful of eating options, but our favorite is the Tip Top Café, a great place for parents to satisfy their inner foodies while keeping the kids happy. The bistro is bright and sunny, and diners of all ages are sure to love the crispy fries with fresh garlic aioli (or ketchup, on request). The food is comforting and inventive, and the talent of the kitchen staff is obvious in every dish. Try the fried green tomato BLT or the Cuban sandwich with house-made pickles. And thirsty parents might want to browse the impressive wine list or sample one of the many Vermont beers on the menu.
Just a few blocks away is an unexpected destination for kids: Vermont Salvage, a sprawling architectural salvage store located in a creaky, sagging train depot. This is a giant, labyrinthine place – each room bursting with materials stripped from old homes, churches, schools, stores and factories. Imagine a ramshackle version of Grandma’s attic – if Grandma spent decades collecting giant stained-glass windows, figureheads from old sailing ships, and antique claw-foot tubs.
Kids will have run prowling the maze of slightly-creepy storage rooms, where they’ll never guess what lies around the corner: maybe several dozen old-fashioned school desks, row after row of wooden church pews, old lampposts, phone booths and piles of antique doorknobs. The treasure hunt may last all afternoon.
If you’re looking for a final snack or drink before heading out of town, be sure to stop at the Upper Valley Food Co-op. The Sweet Lilac deli, located in the rear of the store, sells delicious pastries and coffee, as well as more substantial fare, like soups, sandwiches and salads. With a full belly, your only remaining challenge will be figuring out how to get that clawfoot tub back home.
If you go . . .
Norwich Farmers Market: 301 Route 5, Norwich, Vt.; Saturdays, May-October, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.; norwichfarmersmarket.org.
Montshire Museum of Science: 1 Montshire Road, Norwich, Vt.; Admission $12 to $10, free
for those younger than 2; Montshire.org.
Tip Top Café: 85 N. Main St., White River Junction, Vt.; tiptopcafevermont.com.
Vermont Salvage: 2 Gates St., White River Junction, Vt.; vermontsalvage.com
Upper Valley Food Co-op: 193 No. Main St., White River Junction, Vt.; uppervalleyfood.coop.