The approach of spring in the Northeast is heralded by the running of sap in certain trees and the production of maple sugar, a ritual that makes a perfect excuse to pack up the car and head out for a weekend or a weeklong getaway.
Tree-based sweetener is such big business in New England that the Vermont Maple Foundation is having a statewide open house so you can watch the process on the weekend of March 23-25. Driving up from New York City? You could make your first stop in Bennington County at places like the Mance Family Tree Farm, where they'll show you how syrup is made. Or, you could go up to the Burlington area in Chittenden County, where the Chucklin Sugarworks offers horse-drawn wagon rides - if the sap is running. The timing of the sap run depends on the weather and when the trees are ready.
Whether you go to Vermont on that weekend or some other time of the year, the New England Maple Museum at Rutland has exhibits, demonstrations and tastings. And when your appetite takes over, you can go to their gift shop and buy syrup by the gallon. Next, click on "Area Attractions" for links to Chambers of Commerce for places to stay and other things to see and do, like shopping in Killington or taking in the Vermont scenery all over the region.
Would you rather stop off in neighboring New Hampshire? That state has its own Maple Producers Association where you want to click on "Events" to see that the New Hampshire Maple Weekend has the same dates as Vermont. You'll have to check back later for details, but in the meantime you might want to look for "Sap Season" to learn about when and why the sap runs in the spring. Visit the state's Division of Travel to pick up maps and ideas for places to stay. Maybe you could even get in some late skiing.
A little farther south, Massachusetts has a two-weekend Maple Days festival, March 17-19 and March 24-26, at Sturbridge about 60 miles west of Boston. Click on "Golden Maple Treasure Trail Map" for local lodging packages, the Maple Days Baking Competition and a map. Along with the maple festival, there's a "Shopping" to click on to see where you can browse through antique and specialty shops in the area. Then hit "Points of Interest" to pick up some extra things to see including the Old Sturbridge Village history museum, two-century-old Rider Tavern, and the Worcester Art Museum.
Turn west and you can visit maple producers all over New York state during their Maple Weekend which actually is two weekends this year, March 17-18 and 24-25. Click on "Locations" to choose your weekend destinations from a list of 40 counties. Then try "Pancake Breakfasts" to see where you can eat your fill before a hard day of sightseeing. And if you can't wait for their breakfast, try out some of their recipes.
You'll have to hustle to get a representative sample of Maine sugarhouses, because instead of a weekend they just have a single day for their promotion. At the state Department of Agriculture click on "Maine Maple Sunday" to search by county or town. Bookmark that Web site for reference later in the year for pick-your-own farms, Great Maine Apple Day and Tomato Tasting Week. For more information on places to go and stay, the Maine Office of Tourism has guides, an interactive map and "Getaway Packages."
If you want to turn this into a longer trip, head north. In the province of Quebec click on "Activities" and look for "Sugar Shacks." For Ontario look for "Festivals and Events," then "Celebrate the Seasons" and check out the links for spring.