“They call that the Golden Dome,” I told my 3-year-old son, Theo, pointing toward the shining roof of the Statehouse as we cruised into Montpelier.
“Let’s go there!” he said excitedly.
I promised Theo we’d check it out later in the day. First, we had several other spots to visit in the state capital.
Our first destination was Birchgrove Baking, a cute-as-a-button bakery and café on the edge of town. I ordered a latte and shared a pear tart and a sweet, eggy breakfast cake coated with sesame seeds with Theo. While we ate, we marveled at an elaborate gingerbread haunted house on display and flipped through some photo books, oohing and ahhing at the bakery’s gorgeous birthday and wedding cakes.
A three-minute drive from the bakery is North Branch Nature Center, a 28-acre reserve along the north branch of the Winooski River. The narrow trails snaking through grassy fields are completely out in the open and easy to navigate — perfect for a mom who is prone to getting lost and a boy who likes to run ahead.
One trail led us up to a natural playground with a wooden swing hanging from a branch, a yellow plastic slide burrowed into the side of a steep, leafy bank and a felled tree trunk perfect for walking across. When Theo insisted we start off on opposite sides of the trunk and meet in the middle for a “balance beam hug,” I was happy to oblige.
Nearby, a muddy area with cast-off baking tins and kitchen utensils beckoned to Theo, but we had neglected to bring his boots. Luckily, I was able to pull him out of the muck before his sneakers soaked through.
A bridge brought us over the river and into North Branch River Park. Back on the other side, we blazed a trail down to the water so Theo could get his hands wet and throw in some sticks for good measure.
When we had our fill of the great outdoors, we headed back to the capital and snagged a parking spot directly in front of the Statehouse. Theo wasn’t intimidated by the imposing structure. He sprinted ahead of me, ascending the steps Rocky-style and crinkling his face into a fierce warrior expression when he reached the huge cannons flanking the building.
“The Statue of Liberty!” he said proudly, upon seeing a larger-than-life marble sculpture of a figure with a hand raised next to the building’s front door.
“Nope, that’s Ethan Allen,” I corrected. “He was the leader of the Green Mountain Boys…”
But Theo wasn’t listening. He had spotted a dangerously high stone platform to jump from and was running toward it.
If you go:
This post was written by Kids VT contributor Alison Novak, who lives in Shelburne with her husband and two kids. Every week this fall, she and her 3-year-old son, Theo, will embark on an inexpensive excursion to someplace they’ve never been. The Blue Backpack Chronicles — named for Theo’s trusty travel backpack — is a blog series about their adventures.
This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.