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Home » PEOPLE AND PLACES » VERMONT » Ethan Allen Park and Intervale, Burlington, Vermont
View of Lake Champlain from Ethan Allen Tower
Ethan Allen Park and Intervale, Burlington, Vermont

By Mike Dunphy | June 14, 2012

Ethan Allen Park marks the unofficial start of Burlington, Vermont’s “New” North End, a pre-suburbia suburb that runs along Lake Champlain up to the Winooski Delta.

Putting behind him the martial deeds of a hero, Ethan came here in 1787 to till the soil as a peaceful farmer.” - a sign at Ethan Allen Park.

Marker in Ethan Allen Park

The entrance to the shabby little park does little to betray the acreage and biodiversity that lie beyond the tree line skirting the playground.   The jumbled mound of dense woods, twisting paths and rough-cut boulders on the other side is not easy on the feet.   There are plenty of roots, divots and jutting rocks that stub, prickers that poke, and bugs that bite.   A coat of mosquito repellent is necessary for the maintenance of sanity anytime outside of winter.

In short, it’s a fitting tribute to Vermont’s scruffy, irascible Revolutionary War Hero, Ethan Allen.   As leader of the Green Mountain Boys, captor of Fort Ticonderoga, outspoken Deist, writer and philosopher, Allen’s firebrand independence has made him the spiritual founder of the state (and probably accounts for the state’s ongoing banishment of McDonald’s from the capital).

The park is more than just homage, however, as the entrance also marks both the edge of his estate as well as the location of Allen’s death, popularly told (and accepted) as the result of a drunken fall off his sleigh.

Ethan Allen Tower

Fortunately for those less fleet of foot, there’s a paved road going into woods from the parking lot that leads to the path for to the memorial tower: a red-stone rook built in 1905 on the former “Indian Rock,” a look-out point for the local Abenaki Indians and highest point of Burlington.

The tower is open from 6:00am to 9:30pm (weather permitting) and offers sweeping views of the Green Mountains and Lake Champlain.

From there, you can scramble back down to the smoother pavement or follow a dirt path through the woods for about ¼ mile until you reach the park’s second peak known as the Pinnacle. Largely ignored by most trekkers who tend to split off onto the new bike path extension, the quaint clearing quietly remains some of the best reading and picnicking real estate nationwide.

From the Pinnacle, you can either retrace your steps down the road to the bike path or simply follow the signs through the woods. Either way, you’ll find yourself crossing a footbridge over Route 127 (locally known as the “belt line”).   Bear right and plunge into the 350 acres of farmland, nurseries, trails, and wetlands collectively called the Intervale.   Your first stop is the Ethan Allen Homestead, built by the man himself upon his retirement in 1787. The majority of the house is original and there’s also an accompanying museum that provides both historical and biological information of the area.

As fascinating as Allen’s life is, the real treasure lies down the numerous trails leading off from there. Easily accessible by pedal or shoe, the ultra-fertile soil supports impressive botanical gardens that include more pickleweed, mallow, cottonwood, ground nut, black locust, pasture roses, jack-in-the-pulpits and skunk cabbage than you can shake a stick at. There also enough bees, dragonflies, birds, and butterflies darting around to consider a helmet if the hundreds of squirrels, chipmunks, crickets, and toads hopping underfoot don’t throw you off balance.

View of Winooski River

In late summer, the heavy overgrowth can also become unpleasant for those with sensitive skin, so consider covering your legs and feet.   Perhaps the sweetest aspect of the area, however, is the solitude. For such a pristine location, it’s often distinctly bereft of people. Good. It makes it a glorious place to read, write, de-stress, or find inspiration.

Eventually, you’ll reach the organic farms on the other end of the Intervale.   Plots are available for rent but screening is strict and farmers must abide by strict rules of organic produce. You also have to choose a funny name to fit in with the others: Half-pint, Digger’s mirth, Fat Mitchell’s pumpkin patch, Open Heart, Hen’s and Hands, and Stray Cat.

Most are independently owned and supply farmers’ markets and wholesalers while others, such as Sugar Snap farm, supply its own restaurant. Based on the production of typical New England crops like carrots, potatoes, gooseberries, and so on, Allen’s own description of the area as “equal to any tract of land I saw,” seems to still hold true.

Whatever the case, make the trip part of your itinerary and don’t forget to bring the bug spray.


Ethan Allen Park

1006 North Avenue, Burlington, Vermont 05408

(802) 864-0123

Ethan Allen Homestead

Burlington Vermont 05408 (exit off Route 127)

(802) 865 4556

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