But bicycling offers crisp air and a leisurely pace. Cycling also gets my vote for sentimental reasons: In the pre-helmet, pre-mountain-bike era, teenage friends and I pedaled over dirt roads, through the piney woods, and around Litchfield County lakes and reservoirs.
For starters, the Litchfield Hills Visitors Bureau publishes a useful booklet, "Touring by Car, Foot, Boat and Bike." Four suggested bike routes vary in length and level of difficulty. I recommend the "mild to difficult" 37-mile loop that begins and ends in Goshen, a quiet hamlet at the intersection of Routes 4 and 63.
The center of Goshen is a traffic circle, or rotary, as New Englanders say. Cyclists can unload and leave cars next to the town office building and school, two-tenths of a mile north of the rotary on Route 63. The parking area is nearly vacant on weekends. Make a right turn out of the parking area and start pedaling north on Route 63 toward Canaan. Just north of the rotary, in a former dairy barn, the Nodine's Smokehouse retail store is a good place to pick up picnic fixings - sandwiches made with Nodine's hickory-and-hardwood-smoked meats, poultry, fish, or cheese.
The first 11 miles of Route 63 open up to a breathtaking descent and the wide landscape of the Litchfield Hills. Where Route 7 intersects Route 63, turn right and follow Route 7 about three miles toward Canaan. This part of the road is called the Ethan Allen Highway, after the Litchfield-born leader of Vermont's Green Mountain Boys in the Revolutionary War. The road levels out and passes Robbins Swamp, the largest wetland area in Connecticut, and leads north into Canaan and Route 44. This can be a busy section of road - for rural Connecticut - so cautious cycling is advised.
In Canaan, follow Route 44 east. If a history break is in order, stop about two miles farther on and visit the Beckley Furnace, a remnant of the area's iron ore industrial center that thrived between 1873 and 1918. To find the furnace, turn right off Route 44 onto Furnace Hill Road. A third of a mile farther, a right onto Lower Road leads to the furnace several yards ahead.
Retrace this path back to Route 44 and continue to pedal east toward East Canaan. A Grandma Moses vista of working farms dots the hills along the right side of this scenic stretch.
Route 44 meets Route 272 about four miles beyond East Canaan. Bear to the right at this fork onto Routes 44 East and 272 South, and the quiet Norfolk Green lies ahead at the next intersection. Take a breather and muscle-stretch at the green. If you haven't planned a picnic, stop for lunch at the Norfolk Pub and Restaurant, Route 44, on the hill before the green.
The English-style pub has a varied lunch menu in the $5- to- $7.50 range: black-bean burgers with salsa, portobello burgers, fresh turkey breast sandwiches, salads, and - especially bracing after a brisk autumn ride - chili and different soups each day. British owner David Davis also stocks 140 kinds of beer from around the world.
Norfolk's Manor House, an 1898 Tudor mansion-turned-B&B, is worth a brief stop to see its Tiffany windows and cherry staircase. If there's no room at this inn on this trip, consider booking a room for a return visit in another season. Innkeepers Diane and Henry Tremblay spread a generous breakfast that supplies all the energy any cyclist will need - complete with honey from their own hives.
A slight detour to Dennis Hill State Park offers a spectacular autumn vista and adds only a few miles to the 37 of the suggested bike tour.
To get there, go back to the intersection of Routes 272 and 44 in the center of Norfolk and go south on Route 272 for 2 1/2 miles to the park entrance on the left. The 1,627-foot summit of Dennis Hill is reached by a paved road. At the top, prominent New York surgeon Frederick Dennis built in 1908 an octagonal bungalow where he entertained the likes of President William Howard Taft, the Mayo brothers, and his most famous patient, Andrew Carnegie.
Today, the bungalow provides a rooftop observation platform where, on a clear day, the view stretches to Mounts Everett and Greylock in Massachusetts and the Green Mountains of Vermont.
After exiting Dennis Hill State Park, continue south on Route 272. Caution: This winding section has a narrow shoulder.
Get ready to pump. When Route 272 intersects Goshen East Street about three miles farther on, bear to the right onto Goshen East Street and a steep climb lies ahead along a narrow but lightly traveled lane. After six miles, turn right onto Route 4 West, which leads back to the Goshen rotary in less than three miles. At the rotary, bear right onto Route 63 North to find your car at the parking lot.
Any energy and enthusiasm left after this 37-mile loop? If so, a six-mile ride west on Route 4 leads to Mohawk Mountain near Cornwall. This 260-acre state park is busy in winter with snowmobiling and cross-country skiing, and the privately operated Mohawk Mountain Ski Area has 23 downhill ski trails. But in the fall, traffic in the park is light and a paved road leads to the 1,683-foot peak of Mohawk Mountain. Riders can climb off their bikes and climb up an observation tower for a sweeping view of the vibrant autumn landscape.
Litchfield County is full of other side roads, hiking trails, parks, covered bridges, lazy rivers, lakes, and ponds. An autumn bicycling tour may only whet the appetite to return in the winter to ski or in the spring and summer to hike or paddle.
In any season, the many antiques shops, art galleries, small historic museums, and restaurants make this getaway weekend trip well worth the drive.
Cycling Connecticut's Litchfield County
Take the New Jersey Turnpike to the Garden State Parkway. Follow the parkway into New York State to I-87/287 East. Cross the Tappan Zee Bridge and follow I-287 to I-684 to I-84 East. At Waterbury, take Rte. 8 North to Exit 44 at Torrington and follow Route 4 West into Goshen.
For a New England feel, try an inn or B&B, such as:
* Blackberry River Inn, Rte. 44, Norfolk, Conn. 06058 (1-800-414-3636). A 238-year-old colonial inn on 27 acres, with 19 rooms and a separate cottage with whirlpool. Rates: $125-195. www.blackberryriverinn.com
* The Manor House, 69 Maple Ave., Norfolk, Conn. 06058 (860-542-5690) has 10 guest rooms. Rates: $125 to $250 a night, including full breakfast. www.manorhouse-norfolk.
* The Mary Stuart House Bed & Breakfast, 160 Sharon Turnpike, Rte. 4, Goshen, Conn. 06756 (860-491-2260). A half-mile west of Goshen's rotary, this 1798 home has three rooms in the main house ($70 per night) and a two-bedroom cottage at $100 a night. Children and pets are welcome. www.marystuarthouse.com
Bed-and-breakfast reservation services include:
* Nutmeg Bed & Breakfast Agency (1-800-727-7592).
* Covered Bridge Bed & Breakfast, operated by the Tremblays, who own the Manor House. (860-542-5944).
Where to eat.
Dining options in all price ranges abound and include:
* Charlotte, Main St., (west of Canaan on Rte. 44) Lakeville, Conn. 06039 (860-435-3551). A restored, antique-filled home offers classic French cuisine, simple dishes, and more than 850 wines, many by the glass. Open for lunch and dinner (except Wednesdays) and Sunday brunch. (Try the thick-sliced French toast Foster or generous omelets with tomatoes and mushrooms.)
* The Norfolk Pub and Restaurant, Rte. 44, Norfolk, Conn. 06058 (860-542-5716) is open for lunch and dinner, Tuesdays through Sundays from 11:30 a.m. until 10 p.m.
* The County Seat, 3 West St., Litchfield Conn. 06759 (860-567-8069) is about 10 miles south of Goshen on Route 63 and across from the village green. It serves casual breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and after-dinner drinks and specialty coffees.
Bike rentals and tours.
No need to cartop your bike to Connecticut.
* The Cycle Loft, West Street Yard, Rte. 202, Litchfield, Conn. 06759 (860-567-1713) rents and services bikes year round.
* Rents are available at the Bicycle Tour Co., 15 N. Main St., Kent, Conn. 06757 (1-888-711-5368) * Connecticut Cycle Tours, Box 368, Woodbury, Conn. 06798 (860-274-4166) offers weekend packages. www.ctcycletours.com
Contact the Litchfield Hills Visitors Bureau, Box 968, Litchfield, Conn. 06759; (860-567-4506) www.litchfieldhills.com.