POMFRET, Conn. -- Traffic may be backed up in other scenic foliage-watching areas of New England this fall, but all will be serene in Connecticut's "Quiet Corner."
This is New England at its best: placid Colonial villages, welcoming inns, and many scenic drives. But the leaf-peepers have yet to discover this bucolic enclave in the northeast corner of the state.
This is also one of the best regions in New England for seeing the autumn color on foot. The Quiet Corner is part of the Quinebaug and Shetucket Rivers Valley National Heritage Corridor, the region dubbed by the National Park Service as "The Last Green Valley." The rural landscape of green fields and forests covers a 1,085-square-mile area, a treasure in the midst of one of the most urbanized regions in the country.
For the 13th year, the Heritage Corridor will sponsor an annual Walking Weekend, which has proved so popular it will actually run for two weekends this fall, with 95 free guided tours. Walks range from rambles around village greens to hikes through the highlands, with special routes planned for families, birdwatchers, and history buffs. Walk leaders include archeologists, Army Corps of Engineers park rangers, municipal historians, college professors, authors, farmers, and naturalists.
The Heritage Corridor also publishes a guide to 32 choice outings on your own, in town and country. Settle into one of the small inns that dot the region and the pamphlet will lead you to some wonderful discoveries.
The Quiet Corner alone offers 11 state parks and forests and another half-dozen preserves with miles of hiking trails, clear streams for fishing or canoeing, village greens ringed by houses dating to Colonial days, abundant farmland, and wooded roads blessedly free of traffic.
The region is divided into hill towns and mill towns. The latter developed in the lower areas along the Quinebaug River, which once powered many kinds of mills. The mill owners tended to live in the villages on the hilltops, and that is where you will find appealing towns such as Pomfret and other unspoiled villages where open land has been jealously preserved.
The Connecticut Audubon's Bafflin Sanctuary in Pomfret, located on Day Road off Route 169, has about eight miles of designated trails on some 500 acres. Especially recommended is the Golden Hill Trail, an easy two-mile loop that travels along the edge of a large hayfield, through forest, and past a wetland favored by bird watchers.
Hikers up to climbing hills can try Mashmoquet Brook State Park and Wolf Den, on Route 44, one mile west of the junction of Routes 44 and 101 in Pomfret, where a 4.75-mile blue-blazed trail passes "Indian Chair," a rock formation on top of a 20-foot cliff providing an overlook to the whole valley. The trail also passes the Wolf's Den, where folklore says the last wolf in Connecticut was killed in 1742 by Israel Putnam, who would go on to become a hero in the Revolutionary War.
Chickadee Cottage, a small bed-and-breakfast, offers a setting on four rural acres, with easy access to the Rail Trail, a former railroad line turned hiking trail that runs for miles behind the property.
Besides hiking trails, you will find many pleasant stops in Pomfret, such as Lapsley Orchard on Route 169 for pick-your-own apples and horse-drawn hayrides on Sundays through October. Martha's Herbary, 589 Pomfret St., has herbs for sale as well as demonstration gardens for touring.
Sharpe Hill Vineyard is set on 100 acres of rural landscape with well-maintained and reproduced 18th-century buildings. Fifteen acres of lush vineyards rise over 710 feet above the surrounding countryside. In addition to wine tasting, visitors can enjoy grill specialties for lunch and dinner in the Wine Garden at the base of the vineyard or indoors at the Fireside Tavern.
Back in the car, you quickly see why Route 169 has been declared a National Scenic Highway. One of the prettiest towns farther north on this road is Woodstock, a hamlet of stone walls and historic houses that date to 1686. The gracious Inn at Woodstock Hill is a recommended stop for lodging or dinner.
Woodstock is a quintessential hilltop village. There is no Main Street, just a green surrounded by an early meetinghouse (circa 1821), a graveyard with stones dating from 1687, the 1865 Woodstock Academy, and many fine 18th- and 19th-century homes.
The Palmer Arboretum, located behind Palmer Memorial Hall, has parking and is the recommended starting place for a 7-mile stroll, easy to shorten if you wish. Park here and walk south along Route 169, turn east on Child Hill Road, walk around the Common and return along Route 169.
Among notable buildings are the Inn at Woodstock Hill, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Bowen House, also known as Roseland Cottage, a National Historic Landmark. Roseland Cottage, a bright salmon-pink, Gothic-style house, was built in 1846 for a wealthy gentleman named Henry Bowen, a New York newspaper publisher, who installed the best of everything, right down to a private bowling alley.
The house and gardens and barns, owned and operated by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, are open to visitors. An annual Arts and Crafts Fair traditionally takes place on the grounds the weekend after Columbus Day.
For more activity, the fairgrounds in Woodstock will be hosting the fifth annual Connecticut Renaissance Faire for four weekends, Sept. 27 to Oct. 19, featuring live entertainment, armored knights in combat, a human chess match, a Kid's Courtyard, and 75 vendors.
A nother lovely walk awaits to the south in Putnam. The 1.34-mile River Trail extends along the Quinebaug River from Route 171 through Rotary and Simonzi parks to a pedestrian bridge over the river.
Putnam has worldlier lures as well. The old mill town has found new life as an antiquing center. More than a dozen shops are located within the two or three blocks of the village center.
Continuing to the south on Route 169 is Brooklyn, another charming discovery. The hostess at Friendship Valley, an inn in a historic home, delights in telling guests about local history. Among the sites is the Daniel Putnam Tyler Law Office, circa 1822, and Putnam Elms, a 1784 home that has been in the Putnam family for over 200 years. Now open to the public, it is maintained by descendants of General Israel Putnam.
The New England Center of Contemporary Arts in Brooklyn is a rustic gallery with changing exhibits of work by living artists, displayed in a four-story barn.
Brooklyn's Golden Lamb Buttery is a unique dining stop, offering gourmet fare in a farm setting. Come early for a free pre-dinner hayride through the fields, or to sit on the deck watching the ponies, donkeys, and horses graze quietly in the Quiet Corner.
Eleanor Berman is the author of six nonfiction books and 12 travel guides.