It’s that time of year when a successful day boils down to two tasks: Find a swimming hole and find a cone of soft serve ice cream on the way home. It sounds easy enough, but finding both on the same outing takes some forethought. And they do have to be on the same outing to make the summerness of it all work, which brings me to a critical factor. An appropriate soft serve place should have a window or outdoor access, so you can go there in a wet bathing suit and questionable footwear.
But I’m getting ahead of myself already. First, one needs the swimming venue, which can be tricky, especially in unfamiliar territory or with time constraints. The best swimming holes aren’t advertised. Finding them can range from a little searching for turnouts, to trips down dirt roads with bad directions, to cracking the top secret honor code that protects the finer oases. And rope swings? Forget about anything but the most vague directions to those, which doesn’t really matter anyway because the best ones get cut down as soon as they become popular.
The second part—finding the soft serve (or creemee if you live in Vermont)— is not without challenge. My kids accuse me of overthinking the ice cream part, but I maintain that the seasonality of this excess makes it all the more vital. I have a good friend who remains fit year round despite her creemee-a-day habit in the summer. It’s just the right thing to do. This is not an exhaustive, comprehensive or in any way professionally researched list. It is merely the product of one person’s quest to maximize a summer day.
We’ll start with my personal hall of fame of both swimming holes and soft serve, both beyond my typical range. Warren Falls on Rte 100 in Warren VT is the gold standard if not THE king daddy of swimming holes, with several cascading pools and rock/cliff-jumping options as well as a tame shallow pool at the very bottom for the littlest of visitors. If you go there, your creemee stop is the Village Grocery in Waitsfield where two flavors of serve-your-own are on tap year round. When it’s maple it’s real maple, which might actually be the law in Vermont. I haven’t checked that. It’s darned good but not the best on our list. For that, we go to a less showy but very refreshing swimming hole under a jumpable bridge on Rte 12, just west of Bethel. Backtrack mere minutes to where Rte 12 meets Rte 107 and the Creekhouse Diner serves up a mean maple creemee at the outdoor window.
There are some very logical stops that are also far afield but on the way home from other adventures. Enduring either a hike up Mousilauke or a day at Whale’s Tale (minus the Dipping Dots) calls for a stop at Fat Bobs of 25 on the way home. There has to be something on the way back from the crazy Ammonoosuc Upper Falls (see cautionary article on swimming holes here) that we hit after hikes in the Mt Washington area, but we typically make it all the way to the Whippi Dip in Fairlee for our fix, rather than blow it on a Circle K “Freal” (which is perfectly acceptable in other seasons, but not in summer).
Closer to home, some places just go together:
From outings at Lake Morey or points north, the Whippi Dip is the place to go for servings so generous that my kids once stalled to leave because “Mom! A kid just ordered a large!” They had to at least see it, and as a sheer challenge to physics it did not disappoint.
From places on Lake Fairlee, like Treasure Island (a true community treasure) King Cone in West Fairlee is your spot.
Further south any of the swimming holes in the Union Village Dam area, like the Chutes or Sandy Beach, the Lyme Country Store is an excellent option. I’ll put their chocolate vanilla twist up against any. (This is also where one might stop after a top secret trip to the best rope swing on River Rd or the forbidden Copper Mines, but you didn’t hear it from me.)
The rope swing off the Rail Trail on Mascoma Lake (just around the bend from Ice House Rd) calls for Mickey’s Roadhouse Diner. If you’re on the other side of Mascoma at the public beach your closest fix is the Baited Hook.
Working backwards on the Rail Trail towards Lebanon, whether dipping into the Mascoma River or the Lebanon Pool, Dairy Twirl has the strong allure of six soft serve flavors, hard ice cream, multiple dips and supersized pulls.
I have yet to visit True’s Ledges, just south of West Lebanon’s 12A commercial snarl off True’s Brook Rd, but the clear destination from there is Golf 4 U, for ice cream cones “as big as your head,” a dazzling array of hard serve and multiple soft serve options.
And finally, a relative newcomer into the soft serve realm is an old timer—Dan and Whits. True to their “If we don’t have it you don’t need it” motto, they have vanilla, chocolate or twist, in just one size that’s the perfect end to a summer day. You can’t really argue with that.