10 Family Friendly Places to Hike in Mystic, Connecticut

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One of our recent family goals, and new favorite activity, has been to enjoy the outdoors by spending time exploring some of the 139 Connecticut State Parks and open spaces; see the full list here and check out this post we wrote about why we love state parks. Connecticut has over 210,000 acres of public, open spaces, and we’re slowly making our way through them all.

We have spent time this year exploring many family friendly places to hike; read about some of our hiking adventures in Western Connecticut here, in Fairfield County here, in Central Connecticut here, and our favorite hiking supplies here. This week, we want to share 10 places in the eastern Mystic region of the state we have recently explored:

1. Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center in Mystic: Founded in the 1946, the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center has indoor exhibits featuring live animals and several exhibits about woodland, wetlands, and meadow habitats. Coogan Farm, located a couple of miles away (and accessible via hiking trails and roads) is one of the area’s earliest colonial farms and is now used to showcase the history of the Mystic area and to host various educational programs, camps, and workshops. There are almost a dozen trails (ranging between .3 and 1.3 miles) totally over 10 miles spread across the 300 acre complex. The Center also rehabilitates over 60 birds every year.
Our favorite trails: We enjoyed the Forest Loop trail (1 mile) and Meadow Loop Trail (.4 mile), both on the Nature Center side of the complex. The Forest Loop goes around the pond with several wooden boardwalks and the Meadow Loop has several bird feeders- look at for bluebirds and hawks!
Travel tips: Both the Nature Center and Coogan Farm have parking lots and indoor facilities with exhibits, meeting space, and restroom facilities. Check here for more information on hours of admission and programs. The trails are free to visitors.
Trail map here.

2. Paffard Woods in Stonington: The 62 acre woodlands park includes several marshes, a few wooden boardwalks, and some steep inclines and declines at points throughout the trail.
Our favorite trail: There really is only one trail- the blue trail. It’s a 1.4 mile loop and is clearly marked. There is good signage throughout the trail and maps that shows the location of a shortcut halfway through the trail.
Travel tips: There is a small parking lot (fitting maybe 8 cars) at the North Main Street entrance. There are no facilities or staff. If time permits, take a 2 mile ride down the road and explore the quaint Stonington Village. We love eating at the Dog Watch Café, with outdoor, waterfront dining, and walking along the jetties at Stonington Point and duBois Beach.
Trail map here.

3. Pequot Woods Park in Groton: The park, covering 140 acres, includes several trails, streams, a pond, and several wooden boardwalks. There are three trails (red, yellow, blue) and the blue trail is the longest. The trails are mainly flat with a few inclines and hikers will cross streams at a few points.
Our favorite trail: We took the 1.5 mile blue trail and used the .5 mile red trail as a shortcut across the park.
Travel Tips: The parking lot off the Sandy Hollow Road entrance is quite small, fitting maybe 4 or 5 cars. There are no facilities or staff.
Trail map here.

4. Haley Farm State Park in Groton: Parts of the farm were originally owned by the first governor of Connecticut John Winthrop, Jr., and a later owner, Caleb Haley (for whom the park is named) was known for his rock wall building skills, and separated many pastures of the farm with large (over 6 feet tall) walls. There is a paved bike path amongst the half dozen trails that follow the stone walls, and offer views of three ponds and Palmer Cove.
Our favorite trail: The orange trail is about 1.5 miles, follows the stone wall for a majority of the trail, and has a great view of Palmer Cove.
Travel tips: The small parking (for maybe 20 cars) is located at the end of a residential street. There is one portapottie on site and a few picnic tables near the main entrance. The trails are easy to navigate and a good choice for younger children- strollers can easily fit through most of the trails.
Trail map here.

5. Bluff Point State Park in Groton: The 778 acre coastal reserve includes the chance to explore (or at least, view) the Poquonock River (a two mile estuary), Bushy Point Beach, Mumford Cove, salt marshes, bluffs, and even the remains of summer cottages that were destroyed in the infamous Hurricane of 1938. Trails connect Bluff Point to nearby Haley Farm. Be sure to keep an eye out above for planes taking off from nearby Groton Airport.
Our favorite trail:  The main trail is a 3.6 mile loop that brings visitors to Mumford Point, Bluff Point, and offers several great views of Long Island Sound.
Travel tips: The dirt road into the park is laden with potholes- drive carefully! The parking lot is quite large. There are about 5 or 6 portapotties at the end of the parking lots. There is a small (perfect for toddlers) playground in a small park at the entrance to the park (before the dirt road).
Trail map here.

6. Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford: The 230 acre complex includes a summer mansion of the Harkness family;  water tower, stable, and carriage house; a half dozen gardens, orchard, and greenhouse; natural area preserve; and massive open lawns overlooking Long Island Sound. The mansion and other buildings aren’t open in the winter, and we were so impressed by the beauty of the complex, we’re hoping to return and fully explore the park.
Our favorite trail: We followed the path that looped around the mansion keeping the water in front of us and then to our left. We also followed the boardwalk to the Niering Preserve at Goshen Cove and learned all about the geologic features and animal species.
Travel tips: The mansion and gift shop are usually open on weekends and holidays during the summer for tours. There are public restrooms facilities that are usually open (currently closed due to pandemic restrictions) and portapottie are located at the far end of the parking lot.  This is a very family friendly spot with tons of open lawn space for kids to (safely) run free and explore. There is also safe access to the water and sandy beach- just pay attention to signage and stay off the preservation areas.
Trail map here.

7. Stenger Farm Park in Waterford: The 95 acre space was originally owned by Nicolas Stenger, who moved to the area from New York in the late 1800s. There are four, short trails, all under two miles. The paths are wide and mainly level, making it easy for kids of all ages. There is a fairly steep hill down to the trails (and then back up to the parking lot). 
Our favorite trail:
We took the red trail that offered nice views of the pond- it’s maybe a one mile loop.
Travel tips: There is a parking lot for about 30 cars right off Clark Lane. A large dog park is located at one end of the parking lot, opposite the entrance to the trails. There are no restroom facilities or staff on site. There are a few picnic tables near the pond and all trails are well marked with color coded arrows.
Trail map here.

8. Connecticut College Arboretum in New London: On the campus of Connecticut College, the Arboretum was established in 1931 and includes a 25 acre collection of native plants, gardens, and trails that total 2 miles. 
Our favorite trail
loops around the pond and includes 10 spots on the self guided tour.
Travel Tips: Parallel parking is available along Williams Street. Scan the QR code at the start of the arboretum for the “CamelTour” which includes audio clips and historical photos at various spots along the self guided tour (paper maps are also available). There are no restroom facilities or staff available. The paths are easy to navigate (many are marked with wood chips) and great for younger children (and strollers); just keep a close on little ones near the pond (there are no barriers).
Trail map here.

9. Fort Trumbull State Park in New London: According to the park website, the first Fort Trumbull was “built to protect the New London Harbor from British attack and later served as part of the country’s coastal defense system. The masonry fort that stands today was constructed between 1839 and 1852.” The site was also the first home of the first U.S. Coast Guard Academy.  
Our favorite trail:
There is a paved path around the fort that leads down to the The Riverwalk, along the waterfront and docks. Be sure to look out for the boats docking.
Travel tips: There is a large parking lot in front of the Visitor Center, which has indoor exhibits, restrooms, and a small gift shop. The Visitor Center is usually open Wednesday- Sunday from late May through early October and guided tours are also offered in season.  There is plenty of open lawn space for running and picnicking.
Trail map here.

10. Rocky Neck State Park  in East Lyme: One of four state beaches in Connecticut, Rocky Neck is spread out over 700+ acres and includes campgrounds, biking and hiking trails, and a white sand beach.
Our favorite trail:
We enjoyed walking mainly on the beach. There are a dozen marked trails that mainly go away from the beach, but do run parallel to Four Mile River and Bride Brook. Most trails are short (under .75 mile) except for the red trail, which is a 1.75 mile loop.
Travel tips: The parking lot is huge and in peak season (May-October) the Visitor Center with restrooms and concession stands is open. On peak summer weekends, the park does reach capacity by lunchtime and will close. Reservations for the 160 campground sites open in the spring and also fill up quickly- more info here.
Trail map here.

For more fun in Mystic, check out our posts on the Mystic Aquarium, Mystic Seaport, and our City Guide to Mystic. For more fun in the whole state of Connecticut, check out our list of 30 places we love and 32 places where we love to eat in Connecticut. And follow along on our adventures on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

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