10 Family Friendly Hiking Spots in Fairfield County, Connecticut

| |

We’re back with another index of places we’ve explored in the past year. Many of these spots are practically in our backyard and it’s taken us an embarrassingly long time to check them out. They are all free to visit in the off season (October-May), although some locations do rely on donations for upkeep and programming. Most of the locations in this collection are somewhat of a stretch for “hiking” for true hikers, as many of the trails are under three miles and fairly easy to navigate. But we think they’re all great spots for family fun, especially families with younger kids. 

We have spent time this year exploring many family friendly places to hike; check out this post we wrote about why we love state parks and read about some of our hiking adventures in Western Connecticut here, in Mystic here, in Central Connecticut here, and our favorite hiking supplies here.

1. Bartlett Arboretum in Stamford is a 93 acre complex that includes over a dozen gardens, ranging from butterflies and vegetables to wildflowers and magnolias, and 10 trails, all of which are less than a mile. Many of the collections were planted 50-100 years ago by Dr. Bartlett and later, the faculty and students of the University of Connecticut. Kids will be especially interested in completing the scavenger hunt found here and exploring the greenhouse and butterfly garden.
Our favorite trail: We enjoyed the Red Maple Trail, Tulip Tree Loop, Wetlands Walk, Hemlock Trail, and Pond Trail. Some of the trails are uneven with rocks and roots covering most paths. Some trails have a raised wooden plank path that will be easier for little kids (although there are no railings on the sides, so hold hands and keep a close eye!) and individuals with knee or leg issues. Most paths are not handicap accessible. There are plenty of map signs displayed throughout the complex and trails are well marked. 
Travel Tips: The arboretum grounds are open dawn to dusk everyday and offices and Silver Education Center are open Monday through Friday from 9am-4pm (currently closed due to pandemic restrictions). Parking is available in the main lot, and restrooms are available in the Silver Education Center (portolet located near the parking lot).
Trail map here

2. Waveny Park in New Canaan has 250 acres of space, which includes the Waveny House (home to the New Canaan Recreation Department), The PowerHouse Performing Arts Center, Carriage Barn, Lapham Community Center, several fields for sports, picnic areas, tennis and paddle courts, a swimming pool, and a dog park. There are 3.5 miles of trails around the property.
Our favorite trail: We followed the yellow trail around most of the property- nice and flat and easy to navigate. 
Travel Tips: Open dawn to dusk May through October, and from 8am-5pm during winter; several parking lots are located throughout the park near facilities, courts, and fields; restroom facilities are located in the Waveny House, softball teams, and near the swimming pool (seasonal).
Trail map here

3. Oyster Shell Park in South Norwalk is located downtown near popular family spots like Stepping Stones Museum and the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, the Lockwood- Matthew Mansion, dozens of restaurants, the (newer) SONO Collection mall, and Interstate 95. 
Our favorite trail: There are two loops that start (or end) near the Stepping Stones Museum and traverse all the way down past the Maritime Museum. One loop is two miles and the other loop is one mile. 
Travel Tips: Parking is available at the IMAX theater parking lots on North Water Street (for loop 2) or the lot in front of the playground near Loop 1. There are no restroom facilities. For an index of restaurants nearby, check here, and check our crepes tour throughout Norwalk here.
Trail map here

4. Earthplace in Westport was founded as the Mid Fairfield County Youth Museum in 1958, and has since expanded into a 62 acre open space complex that includes hiking trails, a 120 seat amphitheater, indoor and outdoor animal exhibits, playground and classrooms. Make sure to explore the Birds of Prey outdoor exhibit to learn about many injured birds that are recovering at Earthplace and the indoor Animal Hall, home to turtles, pythons, possums, frogs, and crabs. (check on Animal Hall’s admission policies due to the pandemic)
Our favorite trail: There are 9 trails in total, the longest trail being the Swamp Loop Trail (.44 mile). The rest of the trails are about a quarter to a third of a mile, making it a great spot for the toddler and preschool set. 
Travel Tips: Earthplace is free to visit, but donations are encouraged. There is a large parking lot in front of the main building and two sets of restrooms are located near Animal Hall and the classrooms. 
Trail map here

5. Lake Mohegan in Fairfield is a 170 acres park, part of the Mill Hill Watershed, that includes a lakeside beach. There is a river that flows into the manmade Lake Mohegan (a smaller North Lake is to the north of Lake Mohegan). 
Our favorite trail: There are two main trails (red and yellow) that circle around the lake, with two short extensions. The 2.5 mile yellow trail traverses the entire park and is on the steeper side at some points. About half way into the trail there is a footbridge that crosses over the river and provides great views of the Cascades. The 1.6 mile red trail is flatter and mainly follows the perimeter of the lake-it’s a great fit for kids who will also like throwing rocks into the lake from some of the openings along the trail. Hikers can also access the cascades and river on this trail. 
Travel Tips: The complex requires a day pass or season pass (for town residents) from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. During that peak summer season, the beach is attended by lifeguards, and concession stands, restroom facilities, and the sprinkler park and playground are all open. Off peak season, there is no fee for admission but there is no staff and no open facilities. The main parking lot at the end of Tahmore Drive  (a residential neighborhood) is quite large; there is a small parking lot on Morehouse Highway, and there are also pedestrian entrances Morehouse Highway, Eastfield Road, 
Trail map here

6. Fairfield Center at Connecticut Audubon Society includes indoor exhibits featuring live reptiles and amphibians, an outdoor Birds of Prey exhibit (with owls and hawks), and the Larsen Sanctuary, 155 acre space with seven miles of trails around six ponds and several streams, swamps, and meadows. The trails are clearly marked with directionals and signage describing the trees, animal habitats, and more. 
Our favorite trail: The mile long Chiboucas Trail, a newly renovated, fully handicap accessible trail that includes extra wide paths and lots of wooden platforms over streams and swamps. 
Travel Tips: The outdoor Sanctuary is free to visit (dawn to dusk), and the indoor facility is usually open from 10am-2pm Monday through Saturday, with a suggested donation of $2/adult, and $1/child ages 12+. The Center offers a wide variety of family and child centered programs, special events, and summer camps. Note: the indoor exhibits are currently closed due to pandemic restrictions.
Trail map here

7. Putnam Memorial State Park in Redding, known as “Connecticut’s Valley Forge”, is the site of the 1778-1779 winter encampment of General Israel Putnam’s troops during the American Revolutionary War. The memorial park was built on the actual site of one of the camps and many remains are marked with signage, explaining the specific details to visitors. 
Our favorite trail: We did two loops on either side of Route 58. The 1.25 mile loop on the eastern side of the road (where Putnam Pond is located) is paved, wide, and easy to navigate, with one slight hill. There are picnic tables scattered throughout the path. On the Putnam Park side, we took the 1.25 mile gravel loop that showcases various historic sites, including the Putnam Memorial Monument (built in 1888 and 42 feet high); Officers Hut, Barracks and Magazine, and Quarters; and the Guard House. 
Travel Tips: This is a great spot for younger children- easy walking, not hilly, and easy for strollers. There are large parking lots on both sides of the park. The Putnam Pond side is better for picnicking and easier for strollers, but there are only portapotties. The monument side has lots of signage with historical context of the area, and is home to the museum and Visitor Center (both are only open from Memorial Day through Veteran’s Day weekend). The Visitor Center and museum buildings offer restroom facilities when open. More information on the museum and Visitor Center here
Trail map here

8. Collis P Huntington State Park in Redding, Newtown, and Bethel is named after 19th century railroad tycoon Collis Potter Huntington. His son, Archer M. Huntington, acquired the property in the 1930s and then willed it to the state for a park. There are several trails that intertwine throughout the 1,017 acres and it’s easy to add additional portions (or cut them out).  There are five ponds throughout the park and Archer Huntington’s wife, Anna, sculpted the bears and wolves that greet visitors at park entrances.
Our favorite trail: We completed several smaller trails (white) around Lily Pond and the West Lagoon, which were about two miles in total. The trail around Lily Pond does include a very steep (decline) portion near the end of the trail. 
Travel Tips: There are several entrances on three sides of the park. Most entrances have dirt parking lots for 10-20 cars, portapotties, and trail map kiosks. The park is in the middle of many residential neighborhoods. There are a few picnic areas spread out throughout the trails. 
Trail map here

9. Indian Wells State Park is a 153 acre park established in the late 1920s and named for the scenic waterfalls and splash pool found inside the park. The park follows along the banks of the Housatonic River and offers great spaces for picnicking and playing lawn sports. It’s a very popular spot in the summer season. The Falls Loop (red/blue trail) is a 1.5 mile loop around the park with great views. 
Our favorite trail: We walked along the riverfront and looped through the lots for a two mile walk. 
Travel Tips: The park is most popular in the summer months and has a large parking lot and boat launch that is closed during winter months, as are restroom facilities and lifeguards and staff. There is a smaller parking lot across from the main lot and there are portapotties available in the main parking lot. There are plenty of picnic tables and barbecues spread out through the lakefront area. Information on peak season fees here.
Trail map here

10. Nicholdale Farm in Shelton is part of the Shelton Land Conservation Trust, created in 1969 to include 30 locations, covering 365 acres, throughout the town. Nicholdale Farm is a 65 acre space with open pastures and very well marked paths. There is a small brook that cuts through the middle of the property. This is a good spot for elementary aged children.
Our favorite trail: We took the 1.5 mile blue trail. It was freshly marked in the winter of 2020. There is one steep drop at the beginning of the trail (at the end of the parking lot nearest Route 110) but the rest of the trail is fairly flat. There are many wooden planks to cross (very low elevation), so leave the stroller at home
Travel Tips: There is a small dirt parking lot on either side of a private home on Route 110. There are no facilities or staff on site. Jones Family Farms is located less than a mile away and is a great spot for strawberries, berries, pumpkins, and Christmas trees, as well as a wine vineyard with a great tasting room and weekly activities. 
Trail map here

Other posts for family fun throughout Connecticut:

We hope you’ll follow along on our adventures on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Similar Posts

17 Comments

  1. Great ideas with specific information for individuals or families. Inexpensive and healthy ways to spend time outdoors. Take your family, take a friend, or sometimes take yourself! We all need to get out! 😊

  2. These locations look absolutely beautiful! Must pin for an upcoming CT trip!!!

  3. These locations look absolutely beautiful! Must pin for an upcoming CT trip!!!

  4. All these parks look so beautiful!! You’re very lucky to have these all so close to home.

  5. All these parks look so beautiful!! You’re very lucky to have these all so close to home.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.