One of the good things to come out of the COVID 19 pandemic for our family is the desire to spend more time outdoors. While we have always enjoyed outdoor spots like the beach, the zoo, and various parks, we’ve never really been “hikers.” Until 2020, we also didn’t have many opportunities to explore many Connecticut state parks. Connecticut has 110 state parks and hundreds of hiking trails. Check out this post we wrote about why we love state parks and check out this overview on Visit Connecticut.com, with links to alphabetized lists of parks and information. We’ve been fortunate to have time this past year to “hit the trails.” You can read some of our hiking adventures in Mystic here, in Fairfield County here, in Central Connecticut here, and our favorite hiking supplies here. This week we’re starting with six spots in the northwestern part of Connecticut that we like:
1. The Hidden Valley Preserve in Washington Depot has 17 miles of trails criss crossing 700 acres of mixed forest and meadows along the River Valley. Some of the most popular spots include two bridges (The Thoreau Bridge is a cabled footbridge over the Shepaug River) and the Lookout, a terrace that offers views of the valley. There’s even an abandoned quartz mine that was active in the 1800s. Sporadic picnic tables are available and there are posted fishing areas, canoe launches, and marked horse trails.
Our favorite trail: Bee Brook Loop (2.2 miles) has great views of the river and the chance to cross both bridges.
Travel tips: There are two small parking lots (for about a dozen cars each), portapotties only, and no attendants or rangers. Parts of the trails are VERY steep and I would not recommend them for younger children. There are shorter trails that include the Thoreau Bridge that would be more appropriate for younger children.
Trail map here.
2. Mount Tom State Park in Washington Depot was established as a state park in 1915, making it one of the oldest state parks. The park actually traverses the towns of Washington, Litchfield, and Morris and all trails are for foot traffic only. In peak summer season, visitors can boat, fish, and swim in Mount Tom Pond. There are a few picnic areas near the entrances to the trails.
Our favorite trail: the 1 mile (one way) yellow trail to the tower. This trail is steep at some points and is very slippery in the fall or after rainfall. Visitors are able to (carefully) climb to the top of the tower.
Travel tips: There is a small parking lot for about 8 cars at the base of the Tower Trail. A larger lot is located in front of the lakefront beach. There are portapotties located near the lakeside beach.
Trail map here.
3. The White Memorial Conservation Center in Litchfield is a 4,000 acre complex that includes a museum, gift shop, 35 miles of trails, wetlands, and water features (including an old ice house!). Alain White was an environmentalist who gifted the land in the early 1900s, and helped create the Connecticut State Park System. Several of the trails are under two miles and are very appropriate and safe for younger children. While we were not able to explore the museum due to pandemic restrictions in the fall of 2020, we hope to return in the future to full explore the complex. I imagine families could enjoy a whole day at the center.
Our favorite trails: The Trail of the Senses and Interpretive Nature Trail are short (.5 mile) loops that have great signage and challenges for guests to complete- perfect for little kids. The 1.5 mile Ice House Ruins Trail/ Lake Trail has a variety of platforms and interesting landscape to see. The Little Pond Boardwalk loop (a super short drive from the Center) is a 3 mile loop trail that includes several platform and bridges.
Travel tips: Start at the information kiosk in front of the museum and gift shop. Screen shot the maps and download the audio app. There is plenty of parking in front of the museum and gift shop. Restrooms are located inside the museum. Check here for more information about museum fees and “Museum Children Free” days.
Trail maps here.
4. Topsmead State Forest in Litchfield was actually the former summer home of the Chase family, who left the 600+ acre property to the state in 1972. Free, guided tours of the cottages are offered on two weekends each month- more information here. We think this state forest is a great spot for families with younger children- tons of open fields and flat trails that are safe for early walkers, and wide enough for strollers!
Our favorite trails: Most of the trails are approximately a half mile and intertwine, making it easy for non hikers to enjoy several short trails. The Ecology tour is ¾ a of mile and has several interpretative signs. We also took the path throughout the woods that has 30 trail markers. Pick up a trail map at the start and leave it in the mailbox at the end of the trail.
Travel tips: There is a parking lot for about 20-30 cars at the main entrance off Buell Road. There is one portapottie in the lot. I read there are indoor restrooms in the cottages, but the cottages were not open when we visited. Most of the trails are fairly flat and easy to navigate; I would have no concerns about bringing the toddler crew.
Trail map here.
5. Kent Fall State Park in Kent has three short trails (all under 1.5 miles) that afford beautiful views of the 250 foot drop of the falls. The trails are steep at many points and the terrain is uneven, so hold onto little ones (definitely can’t use the stroller). The park includes almost 300 acres and plenty of space near the parking lot for picnicking and playing.
Our favorite trails: We took the dotted path (.5 mile in total) that runs adjacent to the falls to the top. There are several sets of steep stairs, but there are a few lookouts with benches to rest and enjoy the views. We took the red trail back down to the parking lot
Travel tips: There is one parking lot, attended by park rangers, with about 40 parking spots. There are both traditional restrooms and portapotties. There is a large field in front of the parking lot with plenty of picnic tables and grills. Park rangers are available to assist with trails and concerns.
Trail map here.
6. Lovers Leap State Park in New Milford Lovers Leap is a 140 acre park with a massive river gorge, with the Berlin Iron Bridge connecting both sides of almost 5 miles of trails. The park is named for Pootatuck Indian Chief Waramaug’s daughter who, along with her lover, plunged to their deaths in the 1700s. There is access for canoes and kayaks to Lake Lillinonah near the end of Lovers Leap Road and visitors are also able to fish and picnic.
Our favorite trails: The Lovers Leap Trail (.6 mile) to the Hurd Estate Trail (1 mile), which has remains of a castle and tea house, and amazing views of the Housantonic River (and very steep drops, hold on to little ones!) and the Waramaug Loop, which is quite steep at some points, and has a “hidden” mailbox with a journal for guests to leave messages.
Travel tips: There is one, 40 car parking lot and one portapottie at the edge of the lot and a kiosk with a large park map and paper trail maps at the other end of the parking lot. Be sure to check out the signage before the bridge, which details the history and restoration of the park.
Trail map here.
Eating nearby: I found this index of restaurants in Litchfield County very helpful.
For more fun in Connecticut, check out our top 30 list of things to do and our list of 32 places to eat, and check out our CT food trails: cupcakes, chocolate shops, cookies, hot dogs, crepes, tacos, and bakeries. And follow along on our adventures on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.