harvesting maple syrup from trees

Sugar Shacks and Maple Syrup Harvesting: Vermont Sugaring Season in Late Winter

Sugaring Season and Vermont Maple Syrup Traditions That Run Deep

Vermont maple syrup is legendary for its rich flavor and exquisite sweetness, made the old-fashioned way for generations on family farms spread throughout the state. In fact, the delicious maple syrup we serve at breakfast  (available for purchase in our lobby) is made just up Rte. 100 by a third-generation maple sugar maker who ran his first sugarhouse at age 12 and has spent the past six decades perfecting his craft! 

From the eastern region of Canada down through New England, dense hardwood forests produce maple sap in late winter every year, first tapped by Native Americans, who called it “sweet water” and showed European settlers how to harvest the prized nectar lingering just below the maple tree bark. It takes dedication, as maple trees don’t produce sap until they’re at least 40 years old, with most trees not hitting their prime until several decades later. 

Maples also only “sugar” or produce sap for 4-6 weeks between late February and early April, so those weeks are non-stop action at the nearby sugar shacks, where family-run crews gather all the maple sap they can during that time window. Vermont produces 2-3 million gallons of syrup annually, almost 50% of total US production, in a trade that continues to flourish as our treasured maple trees grow ever more prolific with age (100+-year-old maples are not uncommon).

When you visit during the sugaring season, you can’t miss the subtle and sweet scent of maple wafting through the Green Mountains as springtime beckons and Vermont maple syrup flows bountifully for a few cherished weeks. The maple mania hits a fever pitch during Maple Open House Weekend (March 23-24, 2024), when local maple producers open their farmhouse doors to celebrate the annual tradition. From our Waterbury bed and breakfast, you’ll be within 30 minutes of several iconic sugar shacks, where you can tour their farms, sample different grades of maple syrup, purchase the most delicious syrup and assorted maple treats you’ve ever tasted, see how maple sap boils down into syrup, and experience firsthand the magic of the late-winter maple harvest. Ready for even more maple? Come visit April 26-28, 2024 for the Vermont Maple Festival in nearby St. Albans.

jars of maple syrup on shelves
Maple in Montpelier - Sweet (and Sticky) Family Fun

Less than 30 minutes down US Route 2 and just outside Montpelier, you’ll find one of the oldest Vermont maple syrup operations at the Bragg Farm Sugarhouse. With maple trees on their property over 300 years old and 2,000+ trees tapped for over eight generations, visiting the Bragg sugar shack is like stepping back in time. Bragg family letters dating back to the 1860s speak of harvesting these same trees and boiling down maple over the same wood-fed fire – a timeless tradition that renews itself every sugaring season. To get the full range of flavors, like tasting different varieties of fine wines, try their syrup sampler of three different syrup grades – perfect for discovering which you prefer. Their maple-infused milkshakes, donuts, and peanut butter will satisfy your sweet tooth.

Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks is also just outside Montpelier, an easy stop to incorporate into a day trip to our state capital (the smallest capital in the country and certainly one of the most charming). When you visit, make sure to watch the delightful video detailing the sugar-making process, featuring Burr Morse – a talented writer, musician, and storyteller in addition to sixth generation maple sugar maker. Even through the winter and when it’s not the sugaring season, they are open to visitors from 10 am – 5 pm, when you can walk their nature trails, see their vintage farm equipment dating back generations, taste different grades of syrup, and purchase everything from maple kettle corn and creemees to maple-themed cookbooks and pet toys in their old-fashioned country store on site. After your farm tour, finish the day with a tasting at Barr Hill, one of our favorite local distilleries three miles away on the banks of the Winooski River in downtown Montpelier. 

More Maple at Mt. Mansfield

Start your dive into Vermont maple syrup at Stowe Maple Products, just eight miles from downtown Waterbury on Vermont Route 100. For over three decades, Stephen and Robin Pierson have harvested four stands of maple trees to produce small-batch syrups in addition to unique snacks like maple popcorn and maple candy shaped into a maple leaf (an excellent stocking stuffer). The centerpiece of their tight-knit operation is a 150-year-old evaporator, where the maple sap boils down over intense heat. Their adorable and inviting shop is open daily, conveniently on the way to and from Stowe Resort, so if you plan to ski or snowboard on your Vermont getaway, stop for some maple goodies on your way back to Waterbury after a day on the slopes.

Just another few miles away, Nebraska Knoll Sugar Farm runs their storied maple farms on the forested flanks of Mt. Mansfield. The Coty family has been tapping their stands of maples for over 40 years, producing multiple grades of maple syrup (golden delicate, amber rich, and dark robust) during the yearly “sap run.” They will close shop on December 23rd but will open back up in late February or whenever the sap starts flowing, offering free tours between 10 am and 2 pm.

Stay with us – the sugaring season is just around the bend, and Vermont maple syrup will soon flow again!