Connecticut on Ice: Great Winter Activities Last Updated 11/17
By Stephen Wood
Photo: Ski Sundown, New Hartford
Don’t give the season the cold shoulder! Winter in Connecticut doesn’t need to be spent indoors, pining away for the first signs of spring. In fact, there are scores of activities all over the state for even the most winter-averse.
Go Home for the Holidays
Sticking with the “classic” theme, there may be nothing more traditional than when the state’s historic house museums get dressed up for the holidays. Why not visit a few this winter?
- In the beautiful southwestern town of Ridgefield, the nearly 300-year-old Keeler Tavern’s holiday celebration has become one of the top destinations in Fairfield County. The house will dazzle you with its rich architectural beauty and history, including its role in the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Ridgefield. Be sure to tromp outside through the snow to see the cannonball embedded in the wall.
- No one can argue that Norwalk’s Lockwood-Mathews Mansion isn’t one of the grandest mansions in the state. It’s regarded as one of the earliest and most significant Second Empire Style country houses in the United States. Visit during the holidays when the opulence increases with lavish trees and traditional Victorian decorations throughout the home.
- The Osborne Homestead, in Derby, is a wonderful example of mid-19th century Colonial design; a large house in Connecticut’s smallest town. In winter, with the rolling hills of the adjacent Osbornedale State Park, a visit will show off the cross-country ski trails of the Naugatuck River Valley. Visit between Thanksgiving and Christmas for Holiday at the Farm, when visitors get a glimpse into the holiday traditions of that time. Twilight tours on select nights cover the amazing property in a spirted glow.
- Down on the coast in Old Lyme, the Florence Griswold House provides December visitors a historically accurate peek into Christmastime in 1910. Visitors can enjoy Miss Florence’s Artist Trees and designer Fantasy Trees, and the entire house is decked out in Christmas finery. Christmastime Teas, special events for families, and hands-on crafts for children and adults—not to mention the world-class art collection—will brighten even the Grinchiest of spirits.
- If you’d like to spend an entire day historic house hopping this winter, perhaps the best place to do that is around Hartford. Start off with the neighboring Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe houses in the capital city. The Gothic beauty of the Twain house never looks better than it does decorated for a late 19th-century Christmas. Holiday tours of both houses will both enrich and delight.
- From there, it’s just a short drive to the Webb-Deane-Stevens Houses. In the heart of historic Old Wethersfield, the historic trio of wooden homes harken back to a simpler time. When snow blankets the charming village, your silent footsteps will allow the holiday stories of years past to fill your imaginations.
- In Suffield, a quaint New England town, explore the historic Phelps-Hatheway House, which is decorated in a festive holiday decor. During December, special events include Cocktails at Hatheway and “Twas the Week Before Christmas Weekend Tours.
Take a Vintage Ride
Looking for an activity that’s a little faster-paced? Whether you have kids or are just a kid at heart, Connecticut offers several special holiday train and trolley rides through some of the most beautiful scenery in southern New England.
- The Essex Steam Train’s annual "Santa Special" along the river is always a highlight of every Connecticut winter.
- Not to be outdone, Thomaston’s “Santa Train” at the Railroad Museum of New England takes passengers through time—and a deep river valley.
- There’s just something so charming about historic trolleys decked out for the season, rumbling across snowfields in winter. Both the Shore Line Trolley Museum (East Haven) and the Connecticut Trolley Museum (East Windsor) provide these transporting experiences.
Downhill is a Do
Of course, if you’re looking to be a bit more active, there are plenty of winter activities that fit the bill.
- Skiing and snowboarding at Mohawk Mountain in Cornwall will allow you to enjoy perhaps the prettiest views in the entire state.
- Mount Southington in Southington is another favorite for families and a great place to learn how to ski, at any age.
- Another fantastic winter wonderland can be found at Ski Sundown in New Hartford. Add some thrills to your (hopefully not!) spills by challenging yourself on the 15 trails here that are lit up at night.
- Two more places to hit the slopes this winter, Woodbury Ski Area and Powder Ridge Mountain Park, offer tubing parks in addition to skiing and snowboarding. If you think the rush of skiing down the mountains is the only downhill adventure available, you haven’t gone tubing. It’s a whole new way to have a blast, while getting blasted with snow.
Skate the Ice
Looking for some flatland fun?
- Hartford’s Winterfest at Bushnell Park is a sure winner. A temporary rink is erected each winter and skates are available. In the shadow of the stunning capitol building in one of America’s oldest public parks, skaters can cool down by taking a ride on the now year-round historic park carousel.
- What better way to enjoy the winter than skating outdoors at the Simsbury Farms Ice Rink located in Simsbury. After, stroll in the quaint New England town's downtown which offers great restaurants and shopping opportunities.
Not everything fun activity during the winter has to involve snow or a holiday. In fact, you can ride a waterslide, navigate a ropes course, or learn about one of the world’s most iconic candies.
- Both the Mystic Aquarium and Norwalk’s Maritime Aquarium are open year-round. Peering in on the beluga whales at Mystic Aquarium or harbor seals at Maritime Aquarium while snow is falling is not something you can see every day or anywhere.
- There is much more climbing to be found at Connecticut’s many indoor rock climbing, zip-lining and ropes courses. Work up a winter sweat at family favorites such as Soarin’ Indoors in Manchester and Prime Climb in Wallingford.
- Fuel up for your climbing adventure at the Pez Museum in Orange, featuring a massive collection of Pez dispensers, and the company’s fascinating history. Discounts on the little candies are available in the well-stocked gift shop.
- Another year-round favorite to keep the kids engaged is Connecticut Science Center in Hartford. Hands-on fun here includes interactive exhibits that explore the solar system, electricity and dinosaur bones.
- In Montville, experience the thrill of racing in the largest indoor multi-level karting track in the world at NASKART. The facility houses two very diverse multi-level tracks offering challenges for all ages. Also, features a trampoline park.
Stephen Wood, of West Hartford, is always at the ready all winter long with his trusty snowshoes—hoping to convince his wife and two sons to tag along one of these years.