Need some family-friendly Vermont daycation ideas?
A couple of times a year, my son’s daycare closes for the week. My husband and I can’t usually take the whole week off from work, so we initiate what we refer to as “the juggle” and split our time, each of us taking 2-3 days off to spend with our son. Since our son is a very active 4-year old, staying home all day for a week is out of the question. Instead, I usually write a short list of day trip or daycation ideas in Vermont—places that I want to explore within a short drive.
If you have limited time to get away with your kid(s) and work out those wiggles, but you can’t think of how best to spend your day, here are some of my top daycation ideas for families in Vermont to help get you started. I hope it inspires your next day off!
Montshire Museum and VINS
One of my more recent daycation ideas took us to the Montshire Museum in Norwich and the Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS) in Quechee. The Montshire Museum is located 1 hour and 40 minutes from our home in Burlington, and VINS is located less than 20 minutes away from Montshire, so it made sense to me to try and tackle both destinations in one day. If you’re really ambitious, you can also stop by King Arthur Flour for lunch, as it is very close to the Montshire Museum.
We stopped at the Montshire Museum first. It’s the Summer of Dinosaurs, so dino bones and eggs can be found on multiple floors. There is aquatic life like fish and turtles to see. We saw bees as they entered an enclosed beehive and deposited their pollen. We rolled pennies and balls. We floated tissues and paper airplanes. And we spent some quality time in the small kids’ play area (for ages 5 and under). Then, we decided to grab a snack outside and explore the grounds.There were a dozen kids outside in swimsuits playing in the David Goudy Science Park. I changed my son into a swimsuit so he could join in the fun, and I think he would have been happy to stay there for the rest of the day, but I convinced him to walk around with me along the trails.
It was then I realized just how much property there was to explore, and how little time we had to do it. So, we made a deal to return another day this summer.
After grabbing some lunch, we made our way to VINS. Personally, I was excited to go on the Forest Canopy Walk, but I thought my son would enjoy seeing all the raptors (after all, they are basically dinosaurs). We arrived about 10 minutes before a Predators of the Sky presentation so we decided to sit and learn about a few of the raptors, as well as VINS rehab work.
Just beyond the presentation area is the raptor enclosure area, which we walked through 3 times—my son enjoyed finding the raptors in their enclosures, and I enjoyed getting within an arm’s reach of a Bald Eagle. From there, we moved on to the Forest Canopy Walk, and while the walk wasn’t as long as I imagined, it was really cool and totally worth the trip. The wooden walkway feels very safe and stable, and there are some interesting sculptures along the way. My son and I climbed down into a roped pit that looked like a spider web. There were a lot of giggles for that part in particular, as we clumsily tried to climb in and out. (Pro tip: don’t wear a skirt!) The best part of the canopy walk is a treehouse-like structure that will work out your legs, and give you an incredible view of the land surrounding VINS.Leaving the Forest Canopy Walk, we entered a small building with a tree and slide, which my son loved. As we made our way back to the car, we found a natural play area, and so we stopped for about 15 minutes to get the last bit of wiggles out before the long ride home.
After our busy daycation at the Montshire Museum and VINS, we realized you could easily spend a whole day exploring either location, so keep in mind that a 1 day trip to both locations likely means you’ll miss a few things. However, that just gives you more to explore on your next visit!
Stowe Recreation Path & Main Street
The Stowe Recreation Path is remarkably well maintained. I took my son there during one morning mid-week, with the intent to bike as far along the path as we could, then stop for lunch and stroll around some of the shops off the Mountain Road or Main Street. I packed up our bikes and a bag full of snacks, and we made our way out to Stowe.
There are several access points for the Stowe Recreation Path, but I wanted to begin near Main Street, so I decided to park at Lintilhac Park which is located just behind the Stowe Community Church. We found the last available parking spot, and given it’s prime tourist location, that wasn’t surprising. Biking past some of the other access points later, we saw that there were plenty of free parking options to be found.
Despite the fact that we went on a cloudy day, it was the most beautiful and relaxing day. We biked at our own comfortable pace and stopped several times. First, we stopped in a large open field to throw a disc and race my son’s Hot Wheels. Next, we stopped at a bench to have a snack. Then, a path to the right of a bridge caught my son’s eye and he asked if we could walk down to the water and throw pebbles in the stream. There was a nice spot to put out a picnic blanket, so we sat there for almost an hour, having snacks, playing with toys, and watching other bicyclists pass by.After a while, we raced back to Lintilhac Park, loaded our bikes back in the car, and walked along Main Street. We decided to visit Stowe Mercantile, and walked through to browse the odds and ends of general store items such as candy, clothing, soaps, socks, books, and games. There is even a small section with toys just for little kids. From there, we walked over to Stowe Sweets (located right near our parking lot) and I treated us both to ice cream. My son chose Cotton Candy ice cream, and I ordered the Peanut Butter Pie flavor. Afterward, we were both pretty tired from our daycation in Stowe and ready for a long nap.
Whales Tails and City Center Park
If you’ve driven along I-89 in the Williston area, then you’ve likely seen the random site of two whale tails, or flukes, protruding from the ground. This sculpture, named “Reverence,” was created by Jim Sardonis in 1989. A decade later, the tails found their home in Technology Park. Most (or perhaps everyone) who sees the sculpture has the same question: What do whales have to do with Vermont? Well, the Champlain Valley was once known as the Champlain Sea, having been connected to the ocean long ago, and the bones from a marine whale were discovered in Vermont more than 170 years ago.
After seeing the whale tails lit up around the holidays, my son really wanted to visit. So, I made a daycation plan. I searched for information and found access details on Trail Finder, which indicated that the path to the sculpture was easy. To access the trail, we entered Technology Park in South Burlington and found a spot near Planet Fitness. We walked across the street, and made our way along the grassy path toward the highway, with a clear view of the whale tails in the distance.While the entire path (which is actually a loop) may be 1.7 miles, it was a much shorter distance walking straight from the parking lot to the tails, so this is a very accessible trail for younger kids. Once we got to the tails, my son was in awe. He ran up and around them a few times, and even rolled down the small hill on which the tails are located. We decided to stop and put out our picnic blanket to have a bite to eat.
Currently, there is new construction in front of the whale tails, so the view from the parking lot to the sculpture is not what it used to be. However, my son found our visit really exciting. Construction trucks were moving in and out, and it provided a lot of unexpected entertainment.
Though City Center Park may not seem like a complementary trip to our Reverence adventure, this was another daycation destination I had been meaning to check out, so we decided to include it in our itinerary for the day. It was a little hard to find information about this new park, and the directions weren’t specific, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I had only heard that there was a natural playground and I figured it would be an interesting addition to our day.
After leaving Technology Park, we drove into South Burlington to find City Center Park, located in an unassuming location—a residential neighborhood just off Barrett Street and Iby Street. (Eventually, the main access point will be from Market Street, where you can currently find a park with duck sculptures in development, which makes for a nice ten minute stroll.)The City Center Park is located in a wooded area with paths that lead to a center, much like a maze. There, you’ll find a small, natural playground with wood structures to encourage climbing and imagination play. This portion of the park has been cleared of some trees, allowing more sunlight to penetrate the space, while still feeling surrounded by nature. The sound of birds is ever-present as you wind your way through the connecting paths. It’s a small park, but there is something really special and peaceful about it. My son was so excited to run through and around all the wooden structures, much like an obstacle course. He burned the last of his energy racing me back through the path to our car, and we ended our daycation on a very happy note.
Get Air Trampoline Park and Spare Time
Because we live in Vermont, inevitably we’ll have a cold and/or rainy day, and outdoor adventures are less than ideal. On those days, we lean toward indoor activities where we can still burn a lot of energy. Originally, we had planned a daycation at Lake Willoughby. If you’ve never been to Lake Willoughby, it is located in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont and it is breathtaking—an absolute “must visit” (just be sure to read up on the nude beach so you don’t accidentally stumble into it, like I did). Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t in our favor on this particular day, so we had to roll with the punches, and instead my husband decided to take our son to Get Air Trampoline Park in Williston.
As the name implies, Get Air is a trampoline park full of trampolines, but also foam pits, dodgeball, a ninja obstacle course, and more. There is space available for kids and adults, with a Kiddie Court area just for kids under 46 inches tall. This was great because our main concern with a trampoline park is injury from playing in a space that is too challenging for our son’s small stature, and also in a space where bigger bodies might accidentally knock into him. Having a designated space for younger kids alleviated those concerns. Additionally, there is designated toddler time available.If you’re looking to burn some energy, this is a great place to do it. Jumping and throwing foam—my son’s personal favorite—tired him out in a short period of time. My husband also enjoyed the space but joked how he tried one of the Ninja obstacles and quickly realized that despite his daily exercise routine, it was not easy. “How do those Ninja Warriors do that!?”
Our son was tired after Get Air, but there was still plenty of day left, so after grabbing a bite to eat, they headed over to Spare Time in Colchester. Spare Time offers bowling, a Game Zone arcade, and laser tag. There is also a restaurant if you want to eat there, or just order food to eat at your bowling lane.
For us, a great use of time has been to play one game of bowling, and a couple games in the arcade after. We usually set a budget for ourselves, and expectations for our son in advance, so that our son doesn’t complain or beg for more games. Otherwise, it can be easy to spend more than you’d like.
For bowling, my husband set up the bumpers and used a dragon bowling ramp. The bowling balls are still too heavy for our son to roll very well on his own, but he loves to push them down the ramp (because he is “super strong and super fast”). The music and lights were exciting to him, and he had a great time.Afterward, my son and husband played air hockey, Skee-Ball, and some other games in the arcade, all in an effort to collect points on their card for redeeming in the arcade store. A lot of the arcade store prizes are beyond what you could reasonably collect for points in one day, so you can just keep the balance on your card for a future date, or decide on a small item to take home. My son chose a small bouncy ball and a candy necklace. By then, he was ready to go home and play with his new toy.
Another indoor option to consider if you have younger kids is Monkey Do, an indoor playground in Williston. It has a lot of fun spaces for kids to explore, climb and play in, and admission for one kid includes two adults for free.
Burlington Greenway Bike Path & Parks
As a Burlington resident, I would be remiss not to include the Burlington Greenway Bike Path on my list. This 8 mile long paved path is popular for all kinds of recreation—walking, running, jogging, rollerblading, roller skating, skateboarding, biking, and more. What makes this bike path particularly special is the view. Along much of the path, you’ll catch incredible views of Lake Champlain. Despite being just a 5-minute bike ride from my house, any time spent on this bike path makes me feel like I’m on a daycation. It also offers easy access to a number of parks, beaches, and the downtown area. So when given a random day off (or even just hours), my first thought is always this bike path.On a recent day off with my son, we rode north along the bike path and made several stops along the way. He was adamant about biking his little legs all the way to Airport Park in Colchester. (If you bike just beyond Airport Park, you’ll find yourself at the Causeway, which is a great ride with beautiful views, and another worthy destination). I questioned whether my 4-year old could really make the more than 3-mile bike ride from our house to Airport Park, but I figured we had the day at our disposal and we could take our time with stops along the way.
First, we stopped at Starr Farm Park. There, you’ll find a small playground, large fields for recreational sports, and a dog park. We spent a while at the playground before moving up the path a short distance to a public beach, where we walked along the sand, collected rocks, and enjoyed the view. A little further North, we rode over a bridge that crosses the Winooski River. There are a couple of areas where you can pull off to the side to take pictures or appreciate the view. Just North of the bridge, we found ourselves at a sharp right turn in the bike path, leading into a Colchester neighborhood. At the curve, I noticed a sign for Delta Park. Having lived in Colchester when I was younger, I was surprised I’d never heard of this park. We decided to make one more stop and check it out.The entrance to Delta Park is structured to prevent bicycles from entering, so we left those to the side and walked in. After walking down a short path, we found ourselves amidst tall grass from the marshy wetland and a sandy beach, where a group of kitesurfers were entering the lake. My son was enamored with the kitesurfers, and we watched them for a bit before deciding it was time to venture to our ultimate destination—Airport Park.
Airport Park is a great destination for families with time on their hands. There is a playground, tennis courts, volleyball courts, soccer fields, ball fields, horseshoe pits, a large covered pavilion with picnic tables, and jogging trails. It was a great place to spend the final hours of our daycation before hopping back on our bikes and making the long trek back home.Given another day off, our next adventure on this bike path would likely lead us elsewhere. Perhaps North Beach for a swim, the Rock Point trails for a hike, a trip to ECHO (Leahy Center for Lake Champlain), or picnic and playground time at Oakledge Park. All of these locations are accessible from the Burlington Greenway Bike Path, which makes this a really great daycation destination.
However you choose to spend your next daycation with your kid(s), remember that even the smallest of adventures can make the biggest of memories. It’s really all about quality time. Hopefully, this has given you some new ideas on places to visit or explore in a single day with your family in Vermont.