Activities In Connecticut State Parks
When it comes to camping, Connecticut is an underrated destination, which is shocking as the state has plenty of rugged landscapes, dense forests, and spectacular coastlines. If you’re looking for a new adventure, then look no further!
The 56 campsites at Kettletown State Park, in particular, come highly recommended but those who prefer a more “modern” approach to camping may find the park’s basic cabins more to their taste. Since the area where the park is situated was originally inhabited by Pootatuck Indians, campers may still find the occasional arrowhead lying around – definitely not common at other parks or even states!
If you desire more secluded campgrounds with not a lot of people, Black Rock State Park in the Western Highlands has many wooded, private sites.
Hiking and mountain climbing enthusiasts, on the other hand, will love the campsites at Macedonia Brook State Park, which provide easy access to trails leading up to Cobble Mountain. The park lies close to Kent, a small and quaint village where you can enjoy a cup of hot coffee in the morning or stock up on supplies.
Campers heading out in the summertime should check out the sites at Rocky Neck State Park, some of which are situated along the coastline of Long Island Sound. Fall asleep under the stars and to the peaceful sound of crashing waves.
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Hundreds of miles of hiking trails meander through the entirety of Connecticut, making it the perfect destination for nature enthusiasts and lovers of the outdoors. At Bigelow Hollow State Park, one of the more popular hiking trails is the Nipmuck Trail, a route approximately 7 miles long that winds through Nipmuck State Forest and Breakneck Pond. The trail offers incredible views of rock formations and the clear waters of the pond.
Another popular trail in the state is the Hemlock Hills Trail, located adjacent to Wooster Mountain State Park and Bennett’s Pond State Park. The route is very easy and unchallenging, taking you through rolling hills and trickling creeks. If you’re taking on this route in the spring or the summertime, be sure to keep an eye out for poison ivy and ticks!
A more difficult hike is one that takes you up to Bear Mountain, the highest peak in Connecticut. Located in Mount Riga State Park, the mountain is accessible via two different trails: the Under Mountain Trail, famous for its steep climb and stream crossings, and the Appalachian Trail, which has plenty of rigid and rocky terrains. The views at the end of the hike are well worth its challenges! Grabbing a rain poncho to help protect against unexpected rain shows is well worth space in your backpack.
The West Rock Ridge Loop at West Rock Ridge State Park is also a bit of a challenge. This route winds through rugged terrain and easy meadows, taking you to vistas where spectacular views of the surrounding landscapes await you.
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Anglers planning on having trout for dinner would do well to fish at Squantz Pond, located within Squantz Pond State Park. The warm waters of the pond are filled with trout and the park also offers a boat launch so anglers can fish in deeper waters away from swimmers, divers, and other visitors.
The 287-acre Mashapaug Lake at Bigelow Hollow State Park is also a sought-after fishing hole although it tends to get crowded at times. However, the park offers a smaller body of water – Bigelow Pond – where anglers can also choose to fish in.
With plenty of ponds and open fields, Collins P. Huntingdon State Park is one of the best vacation destinations in Connecticut. Hunting enthusiasts also flock to the park from September to December to pursue some deer.
Archery hunting for deer is permitted at Bennett’s Pond State Park, as well. Hunting may also be done in the Wildlife Area of Beaver Brook State Park.
Day Use Areas
Connecticut’s state parks boast of some of the best picnic areas in the United States! At Gillette Castle State Park, eat your meal while taking in a stunning view of the Connecticut River. After your picnic, head on over to the guided tours of Gillette Castle, which looks like a medieval fortress but has plenty of modern-looking and intricately-carved designs and furniture.
Picnic sites at Kent Falls State Park are almost always at full capacity. It’s no wonder as the park is famous all over the country for the cascading Kent Falls, which flows into a reflecting pool that connects with the Housatonic River. If you’re looking for a picnic with scenic views, this park is definitely for you.
There are plenty of unique biking trails in Connecticut that allow riders to explore the beautiful surroundings and diverse wildlife of the state. The 2-mile Stratton Brook State Park Trail at Stratton Brook State Park is a particular favorite with those looking for an easy, leisurely ride.
For a more challenging ride, the Windsor Locks Canal State Park Trail at Windsor Locks Canal State Park is highly recommended. The route follows the state’s historic waterway, which dates back to 170 years ago, and offers stunning views of the old canal and the Connecticut River.
There are many opportunities for boating, canoeing, and kayaking in Connecticut’s state parks. At Bigelow Hollow State Park, take your pick between the many bodies of water found within the area. Griggs Ponds is a favorite for those who want a leisurely, almost lazy excursion while the Mashapaug Lake is ideal for boating enthusiasts who desire a speedy and more challenging ride.
Mashamoquet Brook State Park may be known for its phenomenal rock formations but the forested park is also a popular destination for those who wish to explore the surrounding nature while on canoes and kayaks.
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Avid Bird-watchers claim that Connecticut, despite its small size, is home to many unique and beautiful species of birds. The state also has plenty of Birding hotspots with varying habitats, making it the perfect Bird-watching destination.
Hammonasset Beach State Park is perhaps the most famous Birding hotspot in the state. The park borders both the Long Island Sound and the Hammonasset River with habitats that range from brackish tidal marshes and young forests. The site is a recognized Important Bird Area due to its array of different habitat types in close proximity to each other. Keep your eyes peeled for the Piping Plover, a federally and state threatened species, which often nests on the park’s river beach. Another threatened bird species, the Least Tern may also be found within the park. Plenty of different land birds, shorebirds, and raptors also use the park as a “stopover” during the migrating season due to its coastal location.
Shorebirds and waterbirds may also be observed at Harkness Memorial State Park where foraging long-legged waders are often found in the park’s Goshen Cove. Thousands of other species can be seen in the area during the spring and fall migration. It is worth grabbing your binoculars and go birding.
The deciduous and coniferous forest habitats of Mansfield Hollow State Park, combined with its mixed woodlands, shrublands, and pine barrens make it the destination to go to for spotting high-conservation-priority bird species like the Eastern Towhees, the Brown Thrashers, and the Blue-winged Warblers.
Residents and out-of-state visitors alike agree that the best swimming hole in Connecticut can be found at Indian Wells State Park! The clear waters of the falls are incredible to swim in with plenty of shallow parts for young children, as well as logs laying across the pool for those looking to relax and dip their feet in. A snorkel mask can add to the fun. Daring swimmers should try jumping off from the many cliffs surrounding the pool!
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Off-Roading enthusiasts will love the 58 trails found within Pachaugh State Forest. These trails are only open to motorcycles and vehicles so riders won’t have to worry about having to watch out for hikers.
There are also over 25 miles of ATV trails in Beartown State Park, which range from rocky hills to mud puddles. The park offers only a limited amount of free riding permits everyday so be sure to get there early. And also, don’t forget to keep an eye out for the bears and bobcats that may wander through the trails!
The three horseback riding loops found within Pachaugh State Forest are extremely popular with equestrians. The park also offers horse camping facilities so you won’t have to worry about the high costs of renting stable space for your mount. These sites are on a first-come, first-served basis, though, so make sure to reserve your spot early on.
Plenty of horseback riding trails may also be found in Natchaug-Goodwin State Forest and Shenipsit State Forest.
If you want a fun and interactive museum that the whole family can enjoy, then Dinosaur State Park in the town of Rocky Hill is perfect for you. The park features a 200 million-year-old fossil trackway and interactive exhibits that depict the setting in which the tracks were made. There are also plenty of guided programs dedicated to teaching kids and teenagers the fascinating prehistory of the Earth.
Before leaving the park, don’t forget to cast your own dinosaur footprint for a one-of-a-kind souvenir!
Experience the calm and tranquility of Connecticut’s nature landscapes by cross-country skiing on one of its many trails! Chatfield Hollow State Park has plenty of routes to choose from and visitors can even opt to stay overnight at the Chatfield Hollow Inn for a rustic and authentic winter lodge experience.
Trails at Sleeping Giant State Park are also in high-demand as it takes you through beautiful open fields where you can marvel at the incredible nature that Connecticut has to offer.
Those looking for another recreational activity during the wintertime can choose to go over to Osbornedale State Park where you can skate across the huge frozen pond found within the park. This is the only area within the state that is constantly tested for safe ice.
Scuba Diving and Snorkeling
Diving and snorkeling are both popular in Connecticut due to the facilities offered by its state parks. The best spots, however, are found in Hammonasset State Park and Squantz Pond State Park. The depth and crystal clear waters of the parks are great for divers and snorkelers although checking in with a park attendant before participating is recommended.