Franklin County—Tourist season is about to begin.
As visitors head to the area, each city has its fair share of attractions, but it’s usually up to visitors to find its hidden gems.
Franklin County does not have an overarching regional body that controls tourism and marketing initiatives to attract people to the area, and it is often left to towns and businesses to pass on information that highlights the best things to do.
For example, St. Albans – as the county’s largest population center – attracts its fair share of visitors due to its retail and dining options, historic downtown, and recreational opportunities.
With the only state-recognized downtown in Franklin County, St. Albans markets itself through numerous councils and municipal organizations, including the nonprofit St. Albans for the Future, and the group attracts residents and visitors alike through events such as the Summer Party Series And the Winter Festival of Trees.
But Lisamari Charlesworth, director of the Franklin County Regional Chamber of Commerce, said she also sees a lot of people searching outside St. Albans for many of the same types of attractions.
She said she would often send people looking for things to do to the county’s quaint little towns and villages. She said places like Swanton and Enosburgh, in particular, can provide visitors with a good meal or a cup of coffee while also bringing them closer to some of the wider county’s recreational opportunities like the Missisquoi Valley Rail Trail.
“From a Chamber perspective, we tend to promote regionally, if something is up in Bakersfield or Swanton or Highgate, we’ll spotlight it,” she said.
This does not mean that visitors come to the county without a plan. Charlesworth said they usually know what they plan to do if they come to the area, but sometimes, they miss places of interest if they’ve already put together an itinerary.
“I have found that people who come to Franklin County are educated and specific about what they want to do and have planned their trip very carefully,” Charlesworth said.
If they’re open about it, Charlesworth advises if they call or walk through the front door, and where you’re sending them is usually determined by what each is looking for.
“I love sending people north because I think the scenery is great and the access to the railway track is very unique,” she said. “Every city has its own flavor and that’s what I usually tell people.”
For the more artistically minded, she said, she’ll highlight attractions such as Cold Hollow Sculpture Park or an event organized by the Swanton Arts Council.
For those looking for something historical, you might recommend a visit to the St. Albans Museum, the Swanton Railroad Museum, or head to the President Chester Arthur Historic Site.
And for those looking for something a little different, you’ll consider sending them east to Montgomery – Vermont’s Covered Bridge capital.
At the Black Lantern Inn, co-owner Beth Crane said she’ll see visitors come to Montgomery to experience the city’s unique local culture of artisans, local food growers and outdoor enthusiasts influenced by the prominent French-Canadian crowd who have second homes in the space.
“It’s an interesting city. “It’s a diverse population,” she said. “We have a lot of people like second home owners from Canada, from Quebec. There are many Airbnb companies here.”
Inn at Buck Hollow owner Jaquie Schwartz has also mentored her clients by helping them find what they’re looking for if they’re interested in exploring what’s available.
Our restaurant guide prepared. When people want something to eat, we send them to either Fairfax or St Albans.
While the shopping and restaurants can bring in travelers, Franklin County’s biggest attraction is its recreational opportunities, and each part of the county offers something a little different.
Particularly in the summer, visitors tend to congregate on the western side of Franklin County to take advantage of the waters of Lake Champlain, said Emily White, Vermont’s regional director of state parks in the Northwest.
They help operate 12 parks in the broader state area—most of which are within an hour’s drive of each other—but the three in Franklin County tend to attract crowds looking to cool off from the summer heat. In total, the 12 parks receive approximately 200,000 visits annually.
At Kill Kare State Park in St. Albans, White said the park often sees large crowds in the daytime walking the beaches, swimming, and taking the park’s ferry, The Island Runner, to Burton’s Island State Park, which is only accessible by boat.
“[Burton’s Island] It is one of the most famous camps. It has a full-service 100-slip berth, White said, and there are ample opportunities for daily use as well. “It’s one of the most unique state parks in our system.”
Franklin County’s third park, Lake Carmi State Park, tends to attract more local audiences. As the state’s largest campground, White said many Vermonters have camped there over different generations, and visitors tend to lean more toward locals than other parks in the system.
“It’s a beautiful lake. “Wali fishing is common there,” she said.
However, county state parks aren’t the only places visitors spend time outside in Franklin County.
Central County, for example, has its fair share of seasonal camping spots and grounds that attract people looking for some hiking in the higher elevations of the county’s eastern side.
Outside the towns of Franklin County, Bakersfield and Richford have some of the most seasonal camping spaces in the area, according to state-sponsored property registries.
Schwartz, who is in Fairfax, said she and her husband’s hostel have been doing well since 2021, their best year ever. She said they’ll take visitors for hiking, kayaking, and fishing throughout the summer months.
The hotel industry has really raised their prices to make up for the losses we’ve incurred. “We kept our prices the same,” she said. “We get a lot of returning guests who come here with their families. They come from Maine and California and they’ve been in our pool for days. It’s a big draw in the summer.”
However, in the cooler months, visitors tend to head east to peep the leaves during the fall or hit the slopes in the winter.
White saw the same in the number of visits to Vermont’s state parks. Underhill State Park – the easternmost park in the Northwest Park District – receives the largest number of visitors at the time.
“The busiest time in Montgomery for us is definitely ski season,” said Crane.
“I think there is a lot of natural beauty in the city,” she added. “And the proximity to recreational opportunities is the reason, and I think people work in it too – making our city such a vibrant and a place people can enjoy coming to.”
For residents, this is obvious.
“We definitely have our own flavor here, our own language, our own place of things that people like here. But it varies from city to city and province to province,” Charlesworth said.