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St. Johnsbury: 60 miles N of White River Junction; 75 miles E of Burlington; 125 miles N of Brattleboro

Vermont's Northeast Kingdom has a more wild and remote character than much of the rest of the state. Consisting of Orleans, Essex, and Caledonia counties, the region was given its memorable nickname in 1949 by Vermont Sen. George Aiken, who understood the area's allure at a time when few others paid it much heed. What gives this region its character is its stubborn, old-fashioned insularity.

In contrast to the dusky narrow valleys of southern Vermont, the Kingdom's landscape is open and spacious, with rolling meadows ending abruptly at the hard edge of dense boreal forests. The leafy woodlands of the south give way to spiky woods of spruce and fir. Accommodations and services for visitors aren't plentiful or easy to find here, but a growing number of good inns are sprouting up in these hills and forests.

This section includes a loose, slightly convoluted driving tour of the Northeast Kingdom, along with some suggestions for outdoor recreation. If your time is limited, at least stop in St. Johnsbury (which has two of excellent Vermont attractions, the Fairbanks Museum and St. Johnsbury Athenaeum), and try to cruise through at least a couple of small towns on my route on your way elsewhere. Fall foliage can be brilliant, though it arrives a bit earlier here (figure late Sept to very early Oct) than anywhere else in New England.

The entire tour described below, from Hardwick to St. Johnsbury by way of Newport, Derby Line, and Lake Willoughby, is approximately 90 miles by car. Allow a full day or more if you plan to take advantage of hiking and biking in the region.

Visitor information for the region is available from the Northeast Kingdom Chamber of Commerce (tel. 800/639-6379 or 802/748-3678; www.nekchamber.com) at 51 Depot Square, Ste. #3, in downtown St. Johnsbury.