Hiking & biking in Upper Valley

Hard to believe it’s been 3.5 years since our last blog post!  Then again, the world wasn’t really upside down since 2015 like it is in 2020!  Also, as much as we love Quechee, we never spent more than 10 days here at a time – even if we came up multiple times during the year.  But these aren’t normal times, and they give us the opportunity to experience other places that we might not otherwise check out!  AND during mud season!  TL; DR – we LOVED our time during Coroniavirus / MudSeason 2020 in the Upper Valley.  We didn’t hit Woodstock once during our 2 months here – including Worthy Kitchen (not that we don’t support our local businesses – more on that later).  But after 8 weeks in the Upper Valley, we found a few places we never really appreciated that we LOVE and need to blog about…

Path of Life Garden – we have hit this place a few times before but didn’t really appreciate it for all its beauty.  Yes, it’s a little crunchy and esoteric – but also some really amazing nature art / sculpture.  It was also nice that we barely ever ran into people there during the pandemic – as most were sheltering in place.  But we did the whole cycle multiple times – and discovered something new every time – from the hammock and hidden area near the end of the tour – to the cool campsites that they rent out.

My older daughter wanted to celebrate her birthday in camping fashion – which we did with 2 other families.  We did this with 2 other families – they set you up with 6 person tents with 3 sets of bunks – they’re pretty spacious tents and the bunk beds are pretty comfortable – unless you’re a side sleeper (which I am – but I made do).  They give you almost everything you need – from sleeping bags to cooking utensils – just bring your pillows and food / drink.  We grilled up a wood plank salmon for the adults, plus burgers and  dogs for the kids… the drank by the fire while the kids explored all night.  They also set up a huge bonfire for everyone (even those with their own tents) – and give you old pallets to feed the fire – which gets HUGE.  Very cool to see the wooden band glow in the nightlight of the bonfire.

if weather is good, the Connecticut River is right there – with a decent area for swimming / floating / kayaking if you’re so inclined.

Is it hardcore camping?  No – but unless you have all the equipment – this is a great way to introduce your family to camping – in a pretty low risk way… all 3 families were “first time” campers (post kids anyway) – and everyone had a blast and agreed to extend to 2 nights the following year.  If you run out of alcohol – there’s Harpoon Brewery or Silo Distillery within 10 min walk (Harpoon also has decent pub grub).  Bathrooms are joint spot a pots – with big buckets of water for showers.

We also did a river float – which was relatively inexpensive – about $25/person – with Great River Outfitters (which are affiliated with Path of Life).

Mount Ascutney

Northern Rail Trail – our kids are almost 7 & 9, so we bring their bikes and we typically run along this former rail trail.

Rope Swings – OK 

Rock Jumping

Grafton

 

Quechee Babysitters means nights out for Parents too!

I riff quite a bit about the fun activities for the kiddos and families in general… one thing I haven’t blogged about is adult time – but my wife & I get that a LOT in Quechee too.  After spending virtually all day with the kids, we also don’t feel as much guilt in taking off at bed time for a nice dinner and a few drinks!

We’ve been assembling a list of babysitters from the time we started having kids and visiting Quechee!  I think it’s one of those instinctive things all newer parents do anytime they meet a seemingly responsible young adult – immediately ask the question:  “Do you babysit?”.  Fortunately, we’ve found some pretty amazing sitters – including one family of 3 daughters – all of whom have watched our kids over the past few years.  We’ve also found a few lifeguards from the Quechee pool – hey, they’re trained in CPR and typically watch over about a hundred kids, so you know they’re qualified.

But honestly, I really love talking to these kids – typically high schoolers – about growing up in Quechee – they all have fond memories of participating in the Pentathalon over the 4th of July, or remembering the first time they swam out to the dock in Lake Pinneo, or being on the Quechee Ski Race team… I know we’ve made the right choice – as these are older kids who STILL love coming to Quechee and spending time with their parents.

But back to places to go for parents night out – some of our favorite haunts, if you’re able to secure a sitter:

  • Cloudland Farm (Pomfret) – also a good family place, but we also like adults only – enjoying the porch for a pre-dinner drink, then BYO for an always yummy meal.
  • Simon Pearce bar area – this is newly renovated – and already one of Lisa’s favorites… yummy bites, and great cocktails, in a cool setting… not the most comfortable bar stools, but I’m just being petty.
  • Worthy Kitchen (Woodstock) – again also a good family place – but amazing craft beer selection makes it one of daddy’s favorite watering holes.  Be sure to sample the Foley Brothers or Lawsons that are hard to find otherwise in the area!
  • Osteria Pane e Salute (Woodstock) – if you’re lucky enough to score a reservation here, thank your stars!  We literally tried for a few years before FINALLY scoring a reservation this past 4th of July week… they’re only opened Thu – Sun and have maybe 20 seats there.  But amazing farm fresh, italian food – from their farm, and wine – from their vineyards.  Caleb & Deirdre will treat you right…
  • Woodstock Inn (Woodstock) – this place is always amazing – whether it’s a more casual meal at Richardsons Tavern / dessert on the outdoor deck, or a white linen meal in the Red Rooster restaurant, I’ve literally never had a bad meal or experience here.

So many other places we like – like Quechee Inn @ Marshland (good prix fixe deals on Wed & Fri), eating on the deck at Parker House, or the new Public House near Quechee Gorge (I’ll probably write a separate post about this place for “family friendly dining”.  I haven’t even mentioned the Quechee Club (we love the buffet lunch on the deck, and had some great meals at Davidson’s as well, plus more casual fare at Murphy’s Tavern in the winter).

Chasing hot air balloons…

Balloon ride thru Quechee gorge


Add yet another hot air balloon memory to the archives… This time we decided to keep up the kids up late – and follo a hot air balloon… We asked the official “chase” vehicle permission (so they didn’t think it was weird we were following them).  You see it turns out that “chase” is a bit of a misnomer – there’s quite a bit of waiting… while chasing.

Changing the “chase”vehicle


Honestly, the best part was how much fun the kids had… Maya exclaimed “this is the best day EVER!” and Owen was shaking her couldn’t contain his excitement.  Vermont for us is all about the memories we’re creating with the kids… 

More for the memory bank!


I’ve always said the amazing thing about hot air balloons is that you never lose the awe in watching.  Same goes for the landing… People come from far and wide when a balloon lands nearby… Its an instant party.  Ironically, we once had a balloon land in our yard – while we were there – and somehow missed the whole thing (relayed from our neighbors).  So we were glad to somehow relive it for the kids this time.  We’ll definitely do it again…

The balloon almost landed on this house!

… before settling in this guys yard (3rd time!)

Owen gets to hop in the basket!

All the kids (and once protective patent) pulling the balloon down

Its really heavy – Lisa was worried Owen would get pulled away!

Like a giant game of tug o war

Maya striking a pose as the final but if air get squeezed out

it’s a crazy process – I’ll stop complaining about debating our bouncy house


I think we convinced mom to allow the kids to go when they turn 18… highly recommend Balloons over New England if you’reInterested in trying it out… we loved our experience!

Reason #1765 we love Quechee – life’s firsts

We’ve been happy Quechee owners for a few years now, but visited for over a decade. Getting out of Boston for weekends and week long trips, lets us really get quality time in with the family.  So instead of running from gym class to music class to play dates and birthday parties, we just enjoy being with each other.  We also are way more active in the beautiful Vermont countryside… our kids have learned to ski, swim & kayak here… time to add another…

We’re celebrating Maya’s 5th birthday this weekend in Vermont… she’s been riding a balance bike for the past year, but has been asking about a big girl bike.  Here’s a video of her FIRST ride on her new big girl bike.  The feeling of pride is indescribable when you see your kid master something new.  Seems silly, as it’s hardly an important life skill – but let a dad gloat for a second:

Here’s the link to Maya riding for the first time.  She had one bad fall – but proud dad moment #2, she got right back up after wiping her tears off… and did about 10 more rides.

Now it’s little Owie’s turn for the balance bike… as the little brother, he’s always nipping at Maya’s heels, doing everything about a year earlier than she did.  So expect that he’ll be doing his inaugural big boy bike next year!

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My turn on the balance bike!

New Quechee Club Pool is Opened… and it’s AMAZING

Count me as one of the people who thought the old pool was “good enough”… nothing special, but definitely not in dis-repair… why spend the time and money for a small upgrade?  After finally experiencing the new pool, I feel like it could be a game-changer for the Quechee Club and Quechee in general.  We had some great memories at the old pool – where both Maya & Owen learned to swim…

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The “old” pool was totally fine – I had no complaints… but the NEW one is WOW!

Our family has always loved the summers here – but for some reason, people still only really think of Vermont during the winter (and perhaps a few weekends in the fall for leaf peeping).  This new pool complex was mind-blowing in that the new complex:

(1) is massive – huge kids play area, with zero entry ramp, and a crazy mushroom fountain.  Plenty of places for parents / caretakers to watch (even if they don’t want to go completely in the pool).  Nice separation from big-person portion of pool.

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The view of the split kiddie (on left) – adult (on right) pool.  The new building on right is the new amazing indoor pool

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Owen posing in front of the new kiddie area – PLENTY of space for all the little ones.

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A mushroom-shaped shower fountain?  Why the heck not?

(2) has TONS of lounging space – it was probably more crowded than I’ve ever seen it at Quechee’s pool – yet it didn’t feel that way… there’s just so many tables, recliners – just overall space so you never felt like people were breathing over your shoulder…

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This was the set-up for a special golf event – but there’s TONS of patio space

(3) boasts an improved snack shack with some real food (and adult beverages) right there… no more need to trudge upstairs to the deck.  Get a yummy lobster roll and Lawsons Sip o Sunshine right on the deck.  Yes please!  Never tried Lawson’s before? Quechee Club has it ON TAP… for the uninitiated, LSOS only ranks a perfect 100 on BeerAdvocate – just like it’s much better known VT cousin Alchemist Heady Topper (I actually prefer Lawson’s).

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(4) new bathrooms right off snack bar… those of us with little ones remember the multiple “gotta go pee” calls, along with the need to walk 5 mins back into the club, worry about getting the carpet wet, and get back outside so it’s freezing again to get back into the club… no mas – new bathrooms a short walk away… gotta go pee?  no problemo little guy…

(5) new Indoor pool is amazing as well!  It’s 2X larger than before – and just like the new outside pool – has a zero entry ramp, a separate kids area, and just beautiful design features like the post & beam arches.  We actually swam indoors on Friday night so got to experience the splendor of the indoor pool too.  While not quite a jacuzzi, this will be great during the winter post-ski runs for the kiddos to burn off a few more calories.

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So, yes count me as part of the converted… this makes Quechee a truly amazing four-season destination – especially for younger families…

Burlington Roadtrip:  Farmhouse Tap & Grill, Lake Champlain Chocolate, Heady Topper, Ben & Jerrys

Since there was no skiable snow around the holidays – we took a day trip to Burlington VT – only a short 90 min trip up I-91 from Quechee!  Burlington is the unofficial capital (Montpelier is the actual, but all the action is further north), home to Lake Champlain, Burton, UVM (never understood why it wasn’t UVT), Green Mountain Coffee and numerous awesome foodie and craft beer establishments…

It’s probably been over 10 years since I was last in Burlington – but that time was ridiculously cold – negative 20 with wind chill… But even this time around we chose a rough day weather wise since it was 15 degrees with 20 mph winds!  You kind of have to expect that when it’s winter and you’re close to Canada!

Burlington represent everything I love about Vermont – outdoorsy, lots of artisan crafts, small businesses, fresh food and inventive drink.  Despite the weather we still had a great time – with things for kids and adults…

Church Street Marketplace

This is a great outdoor marketplace and the heart of the action where all the shops and bars / restaurants are.  We sprinted from shop to shop, buying some books from an awesome book store, a few clothes for the kids from a unique Canadian retailer, and then some extra warm socks for the kiddos.  Given the weather, we couldn’t spend much time there but will definitely be back in the summer / spring!

Farmhouse Tap & Grill

Farmhouse was highly recommended by some friends and it did not disappoint (except for being out of Heady Topper!).  I had to settle for Lawson’s which is hardly a concession.  A short wait for a table as the place does bustling business but partook in yummy sandwiches that paired brilliantly with my hoppy beer!

Lake Champlain Chocolates
Ben & Jerrys Factory
Search for Heady Topper

The actual Alchemist Brewery is in nearby Waterbury – they used to sell cases at the brewery, but the crowds became untenable so they now only distribute in Northern VT – you literally cannot find a packy that carries 4-packs of Heady Topper in Quechee (or Boston for that matter!).  Why?  It’s a damn tasty (if you like hoppy double IPAs) beer – so tasty that it was the #1 beer on BeerAdvocate for quite some time – currently, it’s #5 on BA.  Speaking of which, if “the hunt” isn’t your thing… Lawson’s Finest Liquids has #19 & #24 on the list and are MUCH more readily available in Quechee / Woodstock (including at Quechee Club and Worthy Kitchen).

The link above shows you places that receive deliveries of Heady Topper on specific days… it’s not that useful, since it’s hard to find places near where you are without having to Google every single one… but it appears “the hunt” is part of the mystique for Heady Topper.

Winter 2016 – VERY different, but still great for beginner skiers!

So 2016 has been a little different from last winter… We spent Xmas week without any snow which was a bit of a bummer… But we finally got the chance to ski in early Feb – and despite the mountain looking pretty pathetic, the snow was actually in great shape.  And it was like balmy spring skiing at 36 degrees!  We finally got Owen up on skis – at 2 yrs 9 months, he was definitely on the early side but he’s always been uber coordinated… Too bad he was too young for group lessons… We paid $100 for a private lesson with Amy, but he did great and he loved it!  Only time he cried was because he couldn’t ride the chair lift to the top of the mountain!

Pro tip:  you don’t need a lift ticket for kids under 7… And adults don’t need a lift ticket for the rope tow – perfect for newcomers when you have no idea if / whether they’ll take to the sport!!!

  
And little Maya is now a veritable expert – she gets on the rope tow all by herself and basically goes up and down solo. Couldn’t be more proud of these kids!  We love Quechee in the winter… Even though we probably only go up about 10 days a season, the kids totally love it there in winter.

  

At least 2 more weekends for us this winter – I can’t wait to go top to bottom with both kids – which I’m pretty certain will happen this year!  We’re booked through mid March – get your requests in for late March if you want to get in one last ski trip!

Wassail Weekend in Woodstock

What the heck is “wassail”?  If you’re like me, here’s what the all-knowing Internet says:
was·sail
ˈwäsəl,-ˌsāl/
  1. (noun) spiced ale or mulled wine drunk during celebrations for Twelfth Night and Christmas Eve.  
  2. (verb) drink plentiful amounts of alcohol and enjoy oneself with others in a noisy, lively way.
  3. (verb) go from house to house at Christmas singing carols.
    “here we go a-wassailing”

How have I never heard of this word?!  Anyway, it’s a perfect description of the festive event… This was the first time we’ve been to Wassail Weekend.  Never knew how big of an event it actually was and the whole family had an awesome time! The big event centers around the Parade – which is on Saturday and features about 50 horses / donkeys / and one big man in a red suit…

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They even had an elf skating around on rollerblades as a manual pooper scooper (he probably got the most cheers of anyone!).  Kids had a blast and there were just TONS of people to watch the parade…

From there, we caught the bonfire, along with Christmas Carolers, followed by over 200 luminary lights on the Woodstock Green – quite the sight!

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If you do come, highly recommend stopping by the Woodstock Inn – it’s a beautiful property, that they decorate really well.  Kids spent way too much time in the life-sized Gingerbread House… then we enjoyed gourmet hot chocolate (including a special “parents” version), while playing in the hotel’s game room (old school arcade games, billiards, foosball, life-sized scrabble, among many other games).

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Given the unseasonably warm weather, there was no snow – a welcome respite given that most of these events were outdoors!  But we still got a jumpstart on getting the kiddos geared up for the eventual snow with their ski gear.  If you recall, last year we got Maya up on skis – she did awesome!  This year, we’re trying to get Owen started – he’s only 2.5, but ridiculously coordinated, so will be an interesting experiment!

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Club Updates

Despite the Club changing the weekend for their holiday celebrations (only slightly annoying since we booked the trip up there for the events – but fortunately had the aforementioned Wassail Events), the Club also had some beautiful decorations for this weekends gingerbread house and Santa meet-ups!

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We also got a sneak peek at the pool construction – the warm weather I think is putting them ahead of schedule – so while before they were planning a 4th of July opening… I think now it’s looking more like Memorial Day weekend.  Sad that we won’t have an indoor pool this winter, but I think it will be worth the wait!

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Farmhouse Dinners at Cloudland

Cloudland Farm is about 30 minutes away from Quechee – just past Woodstock and Billings Farm.  We’ve been going to Cloudland for many years now – first ordering over 100 lbs of beef for a cow-share, then enjoying farm house dinners when they opened their restaurant.

100 lbs of beef

This is 1/4 share of beef from Cloudland – over 100 lbs!

We’ve even had the pleasure of dining with Bill & Cathy’s (the owner’s family who has owned the farm since the early 1900s) – hearing the whole history & store about the farm.  It’s a beautiful space – rustic, yet refined. And it’s BYOB – so bring your favorite bottle of bubbly & wine and partake of the views from the beautiful porch as pre-dinner relaxing.

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Mom, Dad & Lisa enjoying a frost beverage before dinner.

And the kids love seeing the animals and running around the beautiful grounds…

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Owen & Maya traipsing around the farm – don’t get lost Owen!

And don’t forget about the dining & food… the menu is fixed and it’s not cheap – but at least it’s BYOB and we’ve never really left unsatisfied – and a few of the meals have been SPECTACULAR.  We eat there several times a year… only opened Thu / Fri / Sat for dinner – and check the website for the rotating menu.  And make reservations – it’s actually books up pretty quickly!

Cloudland Dining Room

Cloudland Dining Room – classic, beautiful VT farm style architecture – yet still white tablecloth dining.

Water activities (Pool & Lake) at Quechee

If winter is about skiing, then summer is all about the water at Quechee…

Quechee Club boasts a huge, heated outdoor pool (and baby pool) for a summertime splash.

Quechee Club boasts a huge, heated outdoor pool (and baby pool) for a summertime splash.

Lake Pinneo is also part of Quechee Club, featuring barbecue grills, a playground, aquatic rentals, lifeguard, and restroom facilities.

Lake Pinneo is also part of Quechee Club, featuring barbecue grills, a playground, aquatic rentals, lifeguard, and restroom facilities.

After my daughter learned how to ski this winter, she’s now ready to take on swimming.  During our week-long stay, she took a few lessons – and again, can’t stress enough how much of a breakthrough the ski lessons were.  One year ago, we signed up for swim lessons at the local YMCA back home – we never made it in the pool – despite showing up every Saturday.  Maya just wouldn’t go in… maybe it’s her age, but I personally think it’s the confidence she gained from conquering her fears in the ski lessons.  Not to mention the amazing Quechee Club staff.  Susan was her swim instructor – over a few lessons, Maya conquered her fear of “letting go” and has progressed to jumping in by herself.  Now, she’s starting to swim without her floaties, not afraid to put her head under water… it’s amazing.

Maya even swam from the beach to the buoy in Lake Pinneo all by herself (with floaties of course)… and her little brother Owen – he just wants to do everything that she does ; ).  He followed us out to the buoy.  I feel like the lifeguards and other parents thought we were crazy with our 2 & 4 year olds swimming 100 yds out – but they LOVED it.  These kids have no idea how good they have it!

We also rented kayaks & paddle boats – $15 for 2 boats for an hour – what a bargain!  And explored Lake Pinneo… just an awesome family adventure…

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