To New Englanders, March means one thing: maple syrup. Maple sugaring is one of New England’s most cherished rites of spring, perhaps because it’s one of the first signs we see of the changing seasons.
Warm days and nights below freezing are just what maple syrup makers dream of. That’s when the sap runs the fastest and they are the busiest turning it into liquid gold. Kids never tire of watching this miracle that turns what looks like water into sweet syrup and candy and, for many families, like ours, a trip to a sugar house is an annual event.
New England is dotted with dozens of places that not only make syrup but welcome visitors to watch. Your kids can see how sap is gathered in buckets hung on a tree or by plastic tubing that looks like miles of spaghetti strung through the woods. Most of all they love the warm, steamy, sweet-scented atmosphere of a sugar house.
Some sugar houses welcome visitors whenever they are boiling, others only on weekends and others only on the state’s Maple Weekend. It’s always best to call ahead to be sure the sap is running, as nature is a fickle thing and sugar houses don’t boil if there’s no sap.
New Hampshire’s annual Maple Weekend is March 24–25, when sugar houses all over the state welcome visitors with free samples and other maple specialties, such as maple ice cream and cider or maple-glazed doughnuts.
Many sugar houses are also open on weekends throughout New Hampshire’s official Maple Sugaring Month, March 10–April 1. Among those in Southern New Hampshire are Folsom’s Sugar House in Chester, where they use a wood-fired evaporator. Others open weekends through April 1 are Sunnyside Maples in Loudon, The Rocks in Bethlehem, Turkey Street Maples in Chocorua, Woodard’s Sugar House in Surry and Meadow View Sugarhouse in Union.
If you want your kids to see sugaring done the traditional way with buckets instead of tubing and sturdy draft horses hauling the sap from the woods, Stonewall Farm in Keene provides that opportunity at their annual Sap Gathering Contest, scheduled for March 24. Among the day’s events are obstacle courses for the workhorses to navigate, demonstrating the unique skills that made them a vital part of sugaring and farming. There’s also a variety of maple sugaring and other farm activities, including hay rides.
If you prefer to observe the sweet season with a getaway for two, a trio of inns in the Mt Washington Valley celebrate Maple Madness Saturday, March 24, with packages that combine a cozy room for two with inn tours, maple goodies, games and visits to sugar houses. The inns offering these special weekend packages are Mount Washington B&B in Shelburne; Notchland Inn in Crawford Notch; and Buttonwood Inn in North Conway.
The 2018 Vermont Maple Open House Weekend is also March 24–25, when sugar houses welcome visitors with tours, demonstrations and free samples of syrup and often maple cream, maple fudge or maple milkshakes. Some sugar houses add sleigh rides and traditional sugar-on-snow, a confection made by drizzling warm syrup on snow to create an almost taffy-like candy. And like their counterparts in New Hampshire, many Vermont sugar houses welcome visitors on other weekends while they boil.
The whole town of Lunenburg in northern Vermont gets in on the fun with their annual Top of the Common festival March 24. After a pancake breakfast, guests can see antique sugaring equipment and demonstrations of tree tapping, win door prizes, sample syrup and maple treats and take a self-guided tour to local sugar houses to watch syrup being made.
You can visit the sugar house, tour the groves and learn how trees are tapped at the Merck Forest & Farmland Center in Rupert and, on Maple Open House Weekend, your family can enjoy a farm-fresh breakfast of pancakes with Merck’s certified organic syrup, farm-raised sausages and eggs, then your kids can take wagon rides, join a scavenger hunt and take part in other outdoor activities. At the Sugar Shack in Arlington you can sample maple syrup and treat the kids to the season’s first soft-serve ice cream — maple, of course.
Green Mountain Sugar House in Ludlow, open daily whether they are boiling or not, offers visitors free samples of sugar-on-snow and donuts with maple cream, along with coffee made from maple sap. They are just three miles north of Okemo ski area, and if you plan to do a little spring skiing, you can make a maple/ski weekend of it by staying at the cozy B&B at Smith Maple Crest Farm in nearby Shrewsbury, an 8th-generation farm with its own sugar house. Learn how to make on-snow, and sample some of this sticky candy made here since 1808.