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Make the Most of your Spruce Peak Stay by Planning Ahead.

This past January, an Instagram video about Golden Dog Farm in Cambridge, Vermont appeared in my feed. In the clip, which has since gone viral, a dozen golden retrievers with teddy-bear faces and wagging tails in shades of honey blond poke out of the back of a navy-blue pickup truck. As soon as the tailgate opens, the dogs fly out, bounding in all directions across a wide open field.

The video was showcasing the “Golden Retriever Experience,” a play date on a beautiful farm with a joyful group of dogs owned by longtime breeders Dana and Susan Menne. For $75, you get to play ball, cuddle, and enjoy refreshments with the pack.

Enchanted, I forwarded the video to my friend Alyssa, who’s obsessed with the breed. We tried to get tickets, but to our disappointment, it was booked solid all winter. So when I told her I’d have the chance to attend with a plus one for this story, she dropped everything to drive up from Connecticut for the weekend.

Following Alyssa’s GPS along twisty back roads, we admired the mountainous vistas, early morning mist rising from the cliffs. A chic sign with a laser-cut silhouette of a golden retriever told us we’d made it. Grapevines lined the long drive into the farm and the still visible white streaks of ski trails in the distance added a dramatic backdrop. We arrived to 360-degree views of wooded paths, grassy fields, and forested peaks.

Owner Doug Worple was waiting for us, his friendly demeanor making us immediately feel welcome. He pointed us toward a gently sloping path through the woods, which ended at a scene that could be the set of summer camp movie: A stand of evergreens frames a large barn with picnic tables and Adirondack chairs out front; there’s a shed full of firewood, a tennis court, and a pond, plus acres of green space to run and play. Doug’s wife Becca met us outside the barn, pointing out the Long Trail, Smuggler’s Notch, and Mount Mansfield. Her warm greeting included the origin story of her “love affair with goldens,” which began with Addy, the first dog she and Doug shared.

The Worples came to the property in 2020. With their two kids off to college, they decided to leave behind their corporate careers and travel the country in an RV. “It was around early September when we arrived in Vermont,” Becca told me. “We loved the natural beauty of the state, the water, the mountains, the craggy granite outcroppings, the lifestyle.” Despite having no previous farming experience, they took a leap of faith and bought the 270-acre farm.

Now, when they’re not beekeeping, boiling sap, or making wine, the Worples offer tours of their orchards, vineyard, sugarbush where they tap maple syrup, and two apiaries. (In their immersive “Bee Experience,” visitors suit up and witness first-hand how a colony functions.) They have three dogs who sometimes participate in farm tours, but they’ve become known for their guests of honor: Dana and Susan Menne’s brood of 12 dogs who visit for Golden Retriever Experiences. Dog lovers travel from near and far to frolic with these charismatic canines; they’ve had visitors from Mexico, the UK, and Puerto Rico. 

Alyssa and I had a shorter distance to travel but were no less delighted to meet the “happy” of Butternut Goldens–a term Doug coined to describe a group of golden retrievers because of the boundless joy we humans feel when we’re around them.

Before long, the truck from the viral video pulled up playing the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love.” Ten alert, angelic golden heads smiled out at us. One dog, named Gina, even stuck her two front paws out sideways, making everyone giggle. We started snapping photos right away, and Alyssa rested her cheek against one of the dogs’ big heads and closed her eyes in pure bliss.

A hush fell over the group as the pickup backed up to a ramp for the dismount. “The dogs are going to explode out,” Becca warned. And they did! “Like champagne coming out of a bottle,” said Doug admiringly, as we watched a flood of gold flow into the field. They took off running in all directions, then circled back in search of the tennis ball Susan brought along. They bounced as they ran and bumped into each other in their frenetic excitement. I could feel myself grinning from ear to ear like a little kid as their tongues hung out and their gleaming tails wagged furiously.

I have a soft spot for perfectly imperfect creatures, so my heart melted at the sight of Piper, a dog with facial paralysis from a benign, inoperable mass in her cerebellum. It makes one side of her face a bit droopy, but she’s healthy as can be. A sense of calm overtook me as I looked into her wise brown eyes. I hugged her neck and didn’t want to let go.

After playtime, we headed into the cozy barn where hot chocolate awaited. (In the summer, the Worples serve maple lemonade.) The dogs mingled as if they were A-listers at a party. Each of us had our own little moments with them, drying off their muddy paws, talking to them, and lavishing them with cuddles. Some dogs still held on to the tennis balls; in a particularly silly and adorable incident, two goldens grabbed hold of the same ball and sat locked together in a lazy tug-o-war. 

While we relaxed and enjoyed snuggles with our furry friends, Becca and Doug told us about the farm and passed out maple syrup samples from the trees on their property. The intensely flavored syrup is rich and toasty, carrying a hint of smoke from its wood-fired boil. A gift shop inside the barn sells golden-themed gear and clothing, stuffed dogs, and maple syrup. 

Before saying goodbye, Becca, a professional photographer, made sure we got plenty of photos surrounded by the majestic goldens, whose jubilant nature stayed with us long after we left the farm. “My cup is full,” Alyssa texted when she’d arrived safely back home. The Golden Retriever Experience was not one we’ll soon forget.  

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