The heart of the town is the shady, elliptical Woodstock Green. The famous Admiral George Dewey spent his later years in Woodstock, and local wags may try to convince you that the green was laid out in the shape of Dewey's flagship. This is such a fine and believable explanation for the odd, cigar-shaped green that you'll be forgiven a moment of distress when you discover that the green was actually already in place -- in the same shape -- by 1830, or 7 years before Dewey was born. Oh, well.
To put other local history in similar perspective, stop by the Woodstock Historical Society, 26 Elm St. (tel. 802/457-1822). Housed in the 1807 Charles Dana House, this beautiful home has rooms furnished in Federal, Empire, and Victorian styles, and has displays of dolls, costumes, and early silver and glass. The Dana House and adjoining buildings with more exhibits are open from mid-June to the end of October, Tuesday through Sunday from 10am to 5pm. Admission is $5 to the Dana House (which includes tours on the hour), or $3 to view only the gallery and barns sections, which are open the same dates but only until 3pm.
There's surprisingly good shopping here for such a small village. Among the best purveyors is William Winand Chocolatier (tel. 802/457-3688 or 866/994-6263), at 73 Central St. Winand, a Baltimore native, studied and worked in the pastry arts in Paris and the Berkshires before opening this little shop, a short walk off the green. Among his featured items are tea-, herb-, and fruit-flavored chocolates, as well as hot- and iced-chocolate drinks -- and creamy, crunchy macaroons, among the best I've tasted in North America. You can try small free samples at the counter and watch the owner work; there are plans for a second location and cafe in the near future. The shop is open Wednesday to Sunday, year-round.
If you need a break from all the walking around, the full-service Euro Spa (tel. 802/457-3224) recently opened its door at 63 Central St., very close to the green. Drop in and ask about the latest offerings of massage, hydrotherapy, facial, and other treatments.
Beer Here Now! -- In Bridgewater Corners, a few miles west of downtown Woodstock on Route 4 -- it's between Woodstock and the junction with Route 100A -- sits the brewery that is headquarters to the Long Trail Brewing Co. (tel. 802/672-5011; www.longtrail.com). The company's easy-to-drink ales are renowned throughout the region, and if you visit you'll learn why.
Self-guided tours of the brewery are offered, but even if you don't have time for that, drop by anyway for free samples of the current seasonal brews (ask the bartender to set you up); nosh on a basket of free popcorn; buy a six-pack or T-shirt for the road at the small gift shop; or hunker down for some burgers and beer on the patio, with its woodsy views. The surrounding hillsides are beautiful in autumn and winter.
Glory Road -- While visiting downtown Woodstock, the Billings Farm, or the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller Historic Park, you might also ask a local for directions to the historical River Street Cemetery. These gravestones include the final resting places of 11 African-American veterans of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry -- the Civil War regiment immortalized in the 1989 Hollywood film Glory (for which actor Denzel Washington won an Academy Award), and the first African-American fighting unit in American history.
A Trip to Quechee
About 5 miles east of Woodstock is the riverside village of Quechee (kwee-chee). This picturesque town still revolves spiritually and economically around the restored brick mill building along the falls. Simon Pearce Glass (tel. 800/774-5277 or 802/295-2711), at 1760 Main St., makes fine glassware and pottery from the former Downer's Mill, a historic structure that now houses a glassmaking operation, retail store, and well-regarded restaurant. Visitors can watch glassblowing Monday to Friday and summer weekends from a downstairs viewing gallery. It's open daily from 9am to 9pm.
Birders and other wildlife aficionados will enjoy a trip to the Vermont Raptor Center (tel. 802/359-5000), at 6565 Woodstock Rd. (which is Route 4), home to two dozen species of birds of prey that have been injured and can no longer survive in the wild. The winged residents typically include bald eagles, great horned owls, peregrine falcons, saw-whet owls, and an array of hawks. From May through October, it's open daily from 10am to 5pm; the rest of the year, it's open Wednesday to Sunday only, usually from 10am to 4pm (check ahead to make sure it's open before coming in the off season). Admission is $8 adults, $6.50 children ages 3 to 16.
There's also a popular, touristy attraction just outside the village on Route 4, Quechee Gorge.
Hole-y Cow! A Visit to Quechee Gorge -- Five miles east of town, Route 4 crosses Quechee Gorge, a venerable attraction that has reliably sucked in bus- and carloads of tourists for decades. The sheer power of the glacial runoff that carved the 165-foot-deep gorge some 13,000 years ago must have been dramatic. Equally impressive, though, is the engineering that took place over the resulting chasm afterward. The gorge was first spanned in 1875 by a wooden rail trestle; the current steel bridge was constructed in 1911, also for the railroad; and then the tracks were torn up in 1933 and replaced by Route 4.
The best view is from the bottom of the gorge, accessible via a well-graded gravel path that descends south from the parking area on the gorge's eastern rim. A round-trip walk on this path should take no more than 45 minutes. If you're just planning to snap some quick pics from up top and move along, resist the macho temptation to climb over the protective fencing separating you from the edge. (Trust me, people do.) It's there for a reason.
Leaf-Peeping Etiquette: A Viewer's Primer
Each October, tens of thousands of tourists (and more than a few locals) descend upon the best stretches of road in Vermont, New Hampshire, and -- to a lesser extent -- Maine to get a free look at the amazing natural spectacle of maple, oak, birch, and beech leaves turning fiery reds, oranges, and yellows. If the weather has been just right -- clear, ice-cold nights after gradually cooler days are best, but a warm or rainy September can kill the whole deal -- it's as breathtaking as a van Gogh painting. To fully appreciate the spectacle, here's my 8-step insider program; follow these simple rules, and you'll enjoy this year's foliage season more than ever:
1. Plan ahead. Leaf-peeping means big bucks to regional tourism, so each state now has set up a website and a toll-free hotline giving daily updates on the areas and times of peak foliage. Use them; Mother Nature is notoriously crafty about the timing, intensity, and location of the best leaves each year. Get a map and a good highlighter; mark it up, and give it to your co-pilot.
2. Find a secret spot. Check local magazines such as Yankee, Vermont Life, and Down East; check the travel section in big newspapers such as the Boston Globe. Ask a local at the diner over doughnuts -- whatever it takes.
3. See the leaves at an off-peak time, if at all possible. First and foremost, come midweek if you can; traffic is considerably worse on Saturday and Sunday. Otherwise, try to see the foliage very late in the afternoon or early in the morning. (As a bonus, the light of early morning and near-sunset is best for shining through and showing the lovely colors of the leaves.) Early Sunday mornings are the lowest-traffic times in New England -- folks are at church, you understand -- so that's one option. But setting out on a Saturday or, especially, a Sunday afternoon in peak season is asking for an invitation to a molasses-speed parade you don't want to be part of.
4. Once you've selected your route and travel dates, do not creep along the road at something like 20 miles below the prevailing speed limit so that you can get the best look and digital camera shots. There will be people behind you. A lot of people. Find a turnout, viewpoint, or parking lot, somewhere off the road. This is particularly important for those driving an RV.
5. Do not inch over to the side of the road into the guard rails in an area where there's no actual pullout, necessitating a squeeze-by of two lanes of traffic. Find a real pullout. State road officials helpfully provide these for you (sometimes); at other times, at least wait until you find a spot where the breakdown lane is actually the width of your car, then hit the hazards.
6. Here's my super-secret tip for avoiding traffic jams: Rent a bike or strap on hiking shoes. If you're physically able, you've suddenly got access to tons of scenic back roads and mountain paths, as well as leaf-route handbooks written by the diehards who make up local bike and hiking clubs. And you won't find much, or any, auto traffic on these routes. To start, contact the local hiking club (the Appalachian Mountain Club and Long Trail are two) or the local bike shop.
7. Do not say "we're leaf-peepers!!" when questioned about your reasons for visiting. Is any explanation necessary here?
8. Do eat local pie. Again, no explanation is necessary. New England villages and diners are famous for their pie, and pie (preferably apple, but blueberry and pumpkin will more than do) just tastes better with great foliage. A scoop of vanilla or maple ice cream? Well, that doesn't hurt, either.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.