When Escape Brooklyn is looking for a quick, easy getaway, we head to the Catskills. When we’re looking to really get away, though, we head to Vermont. Though our inner New Yorkers hates to admit it, it’s just so much more beautiful there! Vermont doesn’t allow billboards, neon signs, subdivisions, or roadside litter. Strict laws protect its picturesque towns, roads, greens, historic covered bridges, and lush mountains. These unspoiled landscapes make it a beloved destination for outdoorsy types searching for the perfect location for hiking, skiing, water sports, and camping. We visited several times over fall and winter of last year, and left itching to return during warmer months.
We found the Hermit Thrush Treehouse on Airbnb in early spring, when owner Rik Sassa had begun accepting reservations for his listing but hadn’t had officially opened for business yet. As spring rolled on, Rik’s calendar filled up (treehouse stays are quite popular these days), and as summer arrived, Escape Brooklyn were the first-ever guests to experience the Hermit Thrush Treehouse. The drive is 230 miles from NYC and takes about four and a half hours. It’s ten minutes from the New York/Vermont state borders, skimming the Catskill and Adirondack Mountains much of the way.
Rik is just the type of guy you’d imagine to build a treehouse, greeting us with a big smile upon introduction and a big hug when we left. He’d had a long career in stone masonry and woodworking before he started Airbnb-ing his other property, the Hickory Ridge Log Cabin, when he realized he could retire on the income it was generating. So last year, Rik quit his job and began his new project: an adult-sized treehouse.
The Hermit Thrush Treehouse is named after Vermont’s state bird, appropriate for its woodland setting. The two-story treehouse sleeps five total, with a double bed and desk on the first floor in the “master” bedroom. Upstairs, three additional single beds are neatly stacked. Though it’s not heated, multiple layers of blankets are heaped onto the beds, keeping guests cozy under the covers. Both floors have electricity for lighting and charging phones. Just outside the master bedroom, there’s a small porch with a table and chairs, overlooking the surrounding trees, perfect for bird-watching or just appreciating nature. Below the house, a pair of hammocks invite visitors to unwind and read a book or take a nap. Though staying in a treehouse may feel like camping, you’re by no means “roughing it”–just steps away, an enormous outdoor shower puts many tiny houses to shame, complete with hot water, a sink, and a privacy curtain that can be opened to look out into the woods. Adding to the list of amenities, a pavilion shelters a full kitchen, equipped with a fridge, stove, grill, sink, and an oversized live wood picnic table that Rik crafted himself. An outhouse and fire pit are just steps away from the pavilion, too.
Next summer, Rik hopes to add an additional treehouse, but first he’s got his sights set on finishing his “hobbit house.” Straight out of a J. R. R. Tolkien novel, the small home is built into the side of a hill, hidden by a layer of soil and turf. The entrance is a round door that he’s crafted himself; inside, a fireplace and lofted sleeping space creates the same sense of fun and lightheartedness as the treehouse does. His other Airbnb property, the Hickory Ridge Log Cabin, is equally lovable with details like beautiful live wood floors, an indoor/outdoor shower made to look like a cave (complete with a waterfall!), a bathroom whose walls are made from shattered antique mirrors, and even a bed cocooned in a tree. You can’t make this stuff up! Staying at any of Rik’s rental properties is such a special experience–you’re guaranteed to feel like a kid again, full of wonder and delight. No matter which one you pick, prepare to be amazed.
What To Do in West Pawlet, Vermont: Hiking At a Farm & Nature Preserve, A Trip Down the Middlebury Tasting Trail
Vermont is the land of food and beer, but it’s also the land of beautiful roads and byways. About an hour away, the town of Middlebury is really cute; it’s also the home of the Middlebury Tasting Trail, made up of seven pitstops including three distilleries, two breweries, a cidery, and a winery. Even though they’re pretty close together–within five miles actually–you should plan on making a day of it to enjoy each of the experiences and different locations.
To spend the day outdoors, check out the Merck Forest and Farm Center, an educational non-profit with 31,000 acres of forest and 62 acres of farm land with multiple hiking trails. Admission is free, but bring some dollars to make a donation in the visitors center, where you can also pick up some local farm products and a trail map. From there, it’s a ten minute walk to the actual farm where the trailheads begin. At the farm, picture-perfect barns and several pastures are home to chickens, horses, pigs, sheep, and cats. But the real treat is the 360º degree view here, where you’re surrounded by mountains, pasture, and pine forest. To continue hiking, those looking for a short trail will prefer the Stone Lot loop; though there’s no grand overlook, it’s a lovely walk and passes some of the Farm Center’s unique cabin rentals. For a day of hiking with the best payoff views, check out Mount Antone, the tallest mountain on the property. Set aside 3-3½ hours for the five mile trek.
Where to Eat and Drink in West Pawlet, Vermont: Land of Craft Beer, Spirits and Farms
It’s difficult to pull yourself away from the Hermit Thrush Treehouse, so you should plan on enjoying at least one meal each day there. The kitchen is fully equipped with all the modern amenities you need to make a meal in the great outdoors. To stock up on groceries, there’s a huge Hannaford in Glens Falls where you can pick up all your basic needs; but save groceries like eggs, cheese and milk for the many dairy farms closer to the rental. (Wayward Goose Farm is just down the road and really, really cute!)
If you must venture out, the 25 minute drive to Rathbun’s Maple Sugar House Restaurant is well worth it. Pancake stacks begin around $7 each, are very generous portions, and served with their famous maple syrup, which is made on-site. Cute wood booths and an industrial-sized complete the family-friendly vibe in this mom and pop joint.
Last, while in Vermont, it would be a crime not to drink some Vermont craft beer–after all, Vermont is home to Heady Topper, the holy grail of IPAs. Unfortunately most of “beermont” is further north in Vermont than West Pawlet, but you can still get ahold of some great beer if you know where to look. Try your luck at The Barn Restaurant in Pawlet. The two-level restaurant and tavern serve up your typical American fare, with burgers, sandwiches, steaks and pastas. The highlight is the tavern, where Vermont craft beer is perfectly complimented by one of our favorite guilty pleasures: potato skins with lots of cheese. To visit a brewery, the closest, best brewery is in the town of Brandon at Foley Brothers Brewing. The small brewery is located at the end of a dirt road in a small refurbished barn. Though it’s well off the beaten path, expect to rub shoulders with beer lovers from all over the country. Check the Vermont Brewers Association for a complete list of breweries in the area.