One of the good things to come out of the COVID 19 pandemic for our family was the desire to spend more time outdoors. While our family has 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 our state parks.
Connecticut has 142 state parks and state forests, covering 255,000 acres of public space and thousands of trails for both amateur and veteran hikers; check out this post we wrote about why we love state parks. We’ve been fortunate to have time this past year to “hit the trails”; read about some of our hiking adventures in Western Connecticut here, in Mystic here, in Fairfield County here, and our favorite hiking supplies here. Note: this is not a comprehensive list- there are so many more spots that are on our “to do” list- but it is a good start:
- Southford Falls State Park in Oxford & Southbury is a 169 acres park that spans both towns and was once the site of the Diamond Match Company. The Eight Mile Rover creates beautiful waterfalls and the Papermill Pond is quite scenic as well.
Our favorite trails: There is a short trail that loops around the falls and has a wide, even path that would be good for strollers. It’s an easy walk, but watch little ones carefully as one side is a sharp drop down into the water. The longer red/blue loop to the Fire Tower is a little under 2 miles. It’s a pretty hike but very steep at several points and the trail is uneven with roots, rocks, and many fallen trees.
Travel tips: There is a decent sized parking lot for about 30 cars. There are portapotties at one end of the parking lot. There are a few picnic tables around the pond and near the falls, as well as a covered pavilion with picnic tables. Kettletown State Park is less than 10 minutes away.
Trail map here
2. Kettletown State Park in Oxford & Southbury is an over 600 acre park that was once inhabited by the Pootatuck Indians. Today visitors can reserved one of 56 camp sites, and fish and swim in Lake Zoar. There are about a dozen trails, which include the Miller Trail to the west of the main entrance, the Pomperaug Trail all the way to the eastern part of the park, and several shorter trails that transverse the campgrounds and provide great views.
Our favorite trails: We chose some of the shorter trails (like the blue/white) that lead to the scenic overviews of Lake Zoar.
Travel tips: There are several parking lots, and restroom facilities, located throughout the park and near trail entrances, Lake Zoar, and campsites. There are plenty of picnic tables and grills spread throughout the park as well, as well as near campsites. Southford Falls State Park is less than 10 minutes away.
Trail map here and camp site map here
3. East Rock Park in New Haven is a 425 acre park that includes 10 miles of hiking trails, the Mill River, athletic fields and courts, a 112 foot monument at the top, the Trowbridge Environmental Center (which showcases the flora and fauna of the park) and the Pardee Rose Garden and Greenhouse (blooming with flowers from early spring through fall). Take a 20 minute hike to the top of the park to check out views of the New Haven area and Long Island Sound, and the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, a 112 foot high monument honoring New Haven soldiers who died in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Civil War. While not currently open to the public, guests can usually go inside the monument and climb up to an observation deck.
Our favorite trails: The paved road path (yellow trail) to the top of the park and the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. Guests will enjoy reading the placards that describe the history and restoration of the monument and the large map of the views of the city and Long Island Sound.
Travel tips: Several parking lots are available near multiple entrances to the park (check here) and there are a few handicap parking spots at the top of the park, but cars are not currently allowed to drive to the top. Portapotties are available at the fields near the parking lot.
Trail map here
4. Wadsworth Falls State Park in Middletown and Middlefield was designated a state park in 1942 after Clarence C. Wadsworth, who lived in Middletown, led an effort to preserve the falls for future generations to enjoy. In his will, he established an organization that would maintain the 267 acre park and keep it open to the public. The Coginchaug River runs through parts of the park, which includes a 53 foot waterfall, and hikers can also find a railroad system and the remains of a textile mill in the southwest part of the park.
Our favorite trail: We took the red/orange trail past Little Falls and over to the railroad track and then looped back around to the entrance to the park by the covered bridge; It’s about a three miles hike. There are a few steep parts near the falls, with narrow paths and steep drop offs, but overall the path is well marked and easy to navigate.
Travel tips: There is a parking lot for 30-40 cars with restroom facilities usually available (currently only portapottie due to pandemic restrictions). There are several grills, but no picnic tables, spread out in the area to the left of the parking lot. There is also an open field across the covered bridge.
Trail map here
5. Talcott Mountain State Park in Simsbury runs 1,000 feet high with three main trails, two of which lead to Heublein Tower, which showcases breathtaking views of the area. The 165 foot tower was the summer home of Gilbert Heublein. The tower, and a small museum, are usually open in late spring and summer. (It is currently closed due to pandemic restrictions).
Our favorite trail: The main, yellow Tower Trail is 1.25 miles (one way) to the Heublein Tower. The trail is VERY steep at two points, and there are some spots (with amazing views!) with steep drop offs, but we’ll still recommend it for families. We gave a verbal high five to several parents we saw hiking with little kids on their backs and in their arms.
Travel tips: Parking is on either side of the road, over the curb. There are a limited amount of spaces, so get there early on weekends (before 10am). There are portapotties near the parking area and regular restrooms in the tower. Plan on one hour for the full loop.
Trail map here
6. Gillette Castle State Park in East Haddam features a medieval looking mansion, built from 1914-1919 by Hartford native William Gillette. The 24 room mansion is open to the public for tours during the peak summer season, and parts of the 184 acre park have trails open to the public year round. Guests who would like to explore the castle can drive directly to the parking lot to the left of the castle, in front of the Visitor Center, which is open in summer months and offers indoor exhibits showcasing the history of the property, background on Mr. Gillette, and information on the Connecticut River area.
Our favorite trails: There are several short (under 2 miles) trails that afford hikers views of the Connecticut River, including the blue, red, orange, and yellow trails.
Travel tips: The grounds are open to the public all year from 8am until sunset; the Castle is usually open from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day (there is a nominal fee for tours for ages 6 and older). The Visitor Center (which includes helpful staff, indoor exhibits, a small gift shop, and restroom facilities) and “Sherlock’s Grill” food concession cafe are both open the same times as the mansion. There are tons of picnic tables (and a few grills) located throughout the park and there is a large parking lot in front of the Visitor Center.
Trail map here
7. Devil’s Hopyard State Park in East Haddam is a 860 acre park that is most known for Chapman Falls that drops over 60 feet of stone foundations, and that once powered mills in the mid and late 1800s. There are many myths as to the name for the park and many of them reflect the large boulders and rocks that cover the trails of the park. The park is also popular for bird watching and trout fishing in the river.
Our favorite trail: We attempted the 2 mile orange trail but it proved too steep and uneven for us. Much of the trail is covered in roots, boulders, and large rocks, and while it’s well marked, it’s hard. We enjoyed following the path along the river for a while, but could not make the steep climb to the scenic overlook. The shorter white trail comes close to the waterfalls, but for the best, up close views, cross the parking lot and take the red trail for a bit to the overlook.
Travel tips: There is a large parking lot in front of the covered bridge, and then overflow parking in an upper lot near the pavilion. Currently, only portapotties are available. No dining facilities or staff, but there are some picnic tables, and a pavilion with an open air roof. Hopyard Road, which leads to the park, is very narrow, windy and hill; if you’re prone to car sickness, take note.
Trail map here.