Tourists stroll the streets of Woodstock, Vermont, taking photos of the covered bridge in the center of town. They dart in and out of shops, and wander through the tree-canopied village green that separates Central Street. Bright leaves drift from the crowns of maples and oaks that are at the peak of their fall glory. Across the horizon, the Green Mountains look as if they have been randomly spattered with buckets of rust, crimson and maroon paint. The so-called mountains are relative hills to Coloradoans. However, it’s a fair trade-off since the fall colors range far beyond the Centennial State’s subtle golds.
It’s been a cloudy day, with occasional light rain that hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of those who’ve come to experience the place dubbed “The Prettiest Small Town in America.” Woodstock is nearly ideal, made even more perfect when the sun bursts through the clouds, casting long shadows, enlightening the colors and warming the air. Woodstock is one of the state’s many hamlets that seem designed to sell postcards. This is the part of the United States that defined quaint, and that attracted the champion of small-town life, Norman Rockwell. Rockwell created some of his most famous paintings, including Saying Grace, Rosie the Riveter and The Four Freedoms, when he lived in Arlington, Vt., from 1939 to 1953.
Every autumn, my globetrotting parents visited Vermont. I had planned to go along with them at some point, but the busyness of life intervened. My mother passed away a few years ago, so when my husband asked where I wanted to travel for our 35th anniversary, it wasn’t Paris or Italy that sprang to mind, it was the tiny New England state. We flew into New York City and spent a few days there before boarding Amtrak’s Ethan Allen Express for a five-and-a-half hour ride. As the Express sped down the rails, the Hudson River cut a slow swath beside the tracks and stately mansions stood in relief against the vivid fall colors. The train arrived at Rutland station, which is directly across from the historic downtown. Spires of churches stood tall and red brick storefronts lined the main road. Some of the 108 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places house casual coffee shops, art galleries and outstanding restaurants.
A highlight of our trip was a visit to Plymouth Notch, a preserved village where Calvin Coolidge, the nation’s 30th president, grew up. Home to the Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site, the village was tucked into velvet fields in the middle of a national forest robed in fall colors, and is virtually unchanged from the morning Coolidge’s father swore in his son after the sudden death of Warren Harding. I knew little about this president, other than he was fortunate enough to be born in one of the most beautiful locations in the country. Coolidge was a quiet, reserved man who took action to bring Harding’s corrupt “Ohio Gang” to justice. His boyhood frame and clapboard farmhouse and the town dance hall served as his summer White House during his years in office.
The village also includes a general store, post office, church and barns. The still-operating Plymouth Artisan Cheese factory, which was established by Coolidge’s father, sells delicious granular curd cheese to the public and gourmet restaurants in the region. Coolidge and his family are buried in the hillside cemetery outside of town. Plymouth Notch was one of the indications that this is a pastoral state, filled with farms and fields where horses graze while barns stand sentry. Covered bridges shelter narrow tree-shaded byways and towns are spread apart, allowing visitors to take leisurely drives of discovery. Some “peepers,” (fall tourists nicknamed by locals) don't make reservations, they simply head out and pick a place to stay at the end of the day. We had an itinerary, but found ourselves falling behind each day as something caught our eye and we couldn’t help but stop—especially if we saw a map symbol for a covered bridge anywhere nearby.
One day we drove to Killington Mountain Resort, where we took the gondola, then hiked to the top for stunning views of the valley and surrounding hills. Along the drive we noticed huge sculptures of animals made from hay. These humorous works of art were entries in the Killington Hay Festival, a unique community event which showcases the sculptures from Labor to Columbus Days. Both the Long and Appalachian Trails pass through Killington, making it the perfect destination for hikers and adventurers.
Another cloudy day we followed our map to Weston, a quintessential New England village that was packed with tour-bus riders who’d come to browse the original Vermont Country Store. This huge memorial to days gone by is decidedly kitschy, but that’s what makes it fun. Inside, the meandering store offered nostalgic candy such as Black Jack chewing gum, Bonomo Turkish Taffy and Slo Pokes. In another section, Vermont cheeses, maple candies, fudge, and other confections filled glass cases. Curious and hard-to-find items such as suspenders, enamelware and Tinkertoys dotted the aisles. Some people browsed for hours, while other tired shoppers rested in white rocking chairs scattered along the store’s front porch. Some visited the old grist mill and others browsed vintage items at the annual Weston Antiques Show.
There were many other roads to navigate and towns to explore, but unfortunately not enough time. So, like my parents before me, a visit to Vermont in the fall will become a yearly habit.
United Airlines connects to Rutland Southern Vermont Regional Airport via Cape Air with a layover in Boston. RUT also services private jets.
Affinia Manhattan: Located directly across the street from Amtrak’s Penn Station. 866-246-2203; www.affinia.com.
Woodstock Inn & Resort: The property features a spa and a four-diamond restaurant.
Hawk Inn & Mountain Resort: This property features beautifully decorated rooms and one- to three-bedroom villas. The River Tavern has received accolades for its wine list and culinary offerings. 800-685-4295; www.hawkresort.com.
Red Clover Inn Restaurant & Tavern: An intimate bed and breakfast style setting, with an on-site restaurant that features localvore dining with European flair. 800-752-0571; www.redcloverinn.com
During harvest time, Southern Vermont hosts many farmer’s markets, craft and antiques shows. Vermont Antiques Week, the first week of October, features shows in five different locations. www.westonantiquesshow.org/vermont-antiques. For an events calendar with listings of crafts shows and farmer’s markets go to www.visitvt.com.
Roots the Restaurant: Featuring seasonal dishes crafted from fresh, local food products. 802-747-7414; www.rootsrutland.com.
Table 24: A family friendly restaurant with comfort food cooked over a wood-fired grill. 802-775-2424; www.table24.net.
Long Trail Brewing Company: Try the Harvest or Pumpkin Ales while dining on this craft brewery’s riverside deck, overlooking the rushing Ottauquechee River. 802-672-5011; www.longtrail.com.
For more information about Vermont, visit www.vermontvacation.com
Daniel Junge is a documentary filmmaker, director and won an Academy Award and 2 Emmys for his film "Saving Face." Learn more in recent CE!