If winter’s chilly days and long nights are making you restless, embark on an outdoor adventure and let Jack Frost nip at your nose. Connecticut offers an array of cold weather activities sure to cure the worst case of cabin fever – and have you hoping for snow!
Winter Spectator Sporting Events
Connecticut sports fanatics may be heading inside this winter, but they’ll be far from hibernating. From college to pro and everything in between, Connecticut offers plenty of ice hockey, basketball and other winter sporting events to enjoy all season long.
The XL Center in Hartford comes alive with hockey and basketball action. Catch the Hartford Wolf Pack or University of Connecticut’s men’s and women’s basketball games here. The Wolf Pack, a member of the AHL, is fun for fans of all ages. Notable UConn men’s games include Stanford Dec. 18, Temple Jan. 21, Memphis Feb. 15 and Cincinnati March 1. The Harlem Globetrotters take the XL Center court on Feb. 22. Though the UConn basketball teams often play at the XL Center, their campus home court is the Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, where they play many games this season. The 216,000-square-foot arena is the largest on-campus arena in New England and hosts men’s and women’s basketball, as well as women’s volleyball.
Meanwhile, the UConn women will host the end-of-season championship tournament for their new conference, the American Athletic Conference, at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville March 7-10. The Huskies figure to be a very difficult team to beat.
The Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport is home to the Fairfield University Stags for men’s basketball, the Sacred Heart University Pioneers for ice hockey and the AHL Bridgeport Sound Tigers. All winter long, players will be taking the ice and the court to challenge some of the toughest teams. This season, the UConn men’s and women’s basketball team will also play a game each at Webster. Look for the Harlem Globetrotters on Feb. 21.
New Year’s Resolution-Keepers
Make a new resolution this year: to keep your New Year’s resolution! If you are like most Americans, you have vowed to exercise more, spend more time with loved ones, reduce stress and help others. Keeping all of these resolutions is easy in Connecticut, where great winter hiking trails, organized nature walks and nature centers offering educational programs provide the opportunity to stay active, spend quality time with friends and family and become more environmentally conscious. So bundle up, lace up your hiking boots and head to one of many trails and parks throughout the state.
Make a visit to the New England National Scenic Trail, which runs 250 miles through 39 communities in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Comprising the Metacomet, Monadnock and Mattabesett Trails, the route features classic New England landscapes: long distance vistas with rural towns as a backdrop, agrarian lands, forests and river valleys. The trail also travels by important Native American and Colonial historical landmarks and natural resources such as traprock ridges, mountain summits, forested glades, vernal pools, lakes, streams and waterfalls. Check out the interactive map for information on Connecticut portions of the trail.
Pachaug State Forest in Voluntown is Connecticut’s largest state forest with 24,000 acres spanning six towns. Located in the Last Green Valley, a designated National Heritage Corridor, the park offers a diverse and beautiful landscape that includes pine barrens, a unique white cedar swamp and old cellar holes, stone fences and dams that provide evidence of the area’s farming and mill industry past. Hike up to Mt. Misery Overlook, the highest point in the area at 441 feet, for great views.
For postcard-perfect winter scenery (think snow-capped evergreens), head to Barkhamsted, where Peoples State Forest’s 10 miles of hiking trails pass through forests, wetlands and streams that support a variety of wildlife and plant communities. Along the five trails, visitors can also see the 200-year-old white pine grove and archaeological and historic sites, such as the Barkhamsted Lighthouse site and Indian Soapstone Quarry.
If you prefer organized walks with an environmental angle, look no further than the Connecticut Audubon Society. The centers in Fairfield, Pomfret, Milford Point, Glastonbury and Hampton regularly offer guided nature and bird walks led by naturalists and center volunteers throughout the winter. In cooperation with Connecticut Audubon Society and the Connecticut River Expeditions beginning February 8 and continuing through March 16, learn about eagles and the environment on a guided eagle-viewing boat tour.
At the Earthplace sanctuary in Westport, reacquaint yourself with Mother Nature as you navigate various nature trails to observe birds, mammals and an array of tree and plant species. Outdoor enclosures contain injured birds of prey, while inside, hands-on exhibits educate visitors about the environment.
Whether you are seeking exercise, want to learn something new or would like to show your true (“green”) colors, the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center in Mystic offers the perfect experience to fulfill your mission. Take a peaceful walk on one of the center’s eight hiking trails, which meander through woodlands, wetlands and meadows. The center also offers seasonal walks led by a naturalist and birding expeditions, as well as frequent environmental education programming on weather, birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals and land and water communities.
Sports of Winters Past
Travel back in time to the winters you remember by participating in seasonal sports that have been enjoyed for centuries. Ski areas and parks throughout Connecticut offer old winter favorites like snowshoeing, outdoor ice-skating and cross-country skiing for athletes of all levels.
Try all three at the Winding Trails Cross Country Ski Center in Farmington. Traverse the center’s 350 acres of woodland, brooks and spring-fed ponds on skis or snowshoes during warm or cold winter weather – the center is the only cross-country ski center south of Boston with a snow-making system. On-site facilities include a rental center and ski school. Ice skaters may glide across Walton Pond on weekdays or during special family skate nights.
White Memorial Foundation has miles of trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. White Memorial is located in Litchfield on 4,000 acres, free and open to the public.
In Hartford, the historic Bushnell Park has an expanded outdoor ice skating rink and will be opened through February 20. The ice skating is free and so are the rentals for skates.
With rugged hills, deep forests, panoramic vistas and 30 miles of trails, Mohawk Mountain State Forest in Cornwall is the ideal place for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. Explore the Mohawk Trail, once part of the Appalachian Trail. The trail leads to Mohawk Tower, which offers a breathtaking view of the rolling Litchfield Hills. The cross-country skiing trail is another option that offers a sampling of the mountain’s diverse landscape. Those in need of snowshoes can rent them at the nearby Housatonic River Outfitters, Inc. in Cornwall Bridge.
Get a complete winter experience at Brooksvale Park in Hamden. Ice skaters may circle the pond, while cross-country skiers can follow two miles of trails. The 416-acre nature park and wildlife sanctuary also includes two sledding areas – one steep hill and one gentle – and a maple sugaring shack where visitors can learn about the maple sap collection process mid-February through mid-March.
At Northwest Park in Windsor, visitors can cross-country ski or snowshoe on 12 miles of trails. Ski, pole, boot and snowshoe rentals are available on-site. Visitors may also stop by the interpretive nature center, open daily, or the fully operational maple sugar house.
For ice-skating with a view, visit the Westport P.A.L. Rink at Longshore Park. The outdoor rink, open late November through early March, offers stunning views of Long Island Sound, as well as skate rentals and a snack bar. For ice-skating newbies, private lessons or 10-week group lessons are available through Westport’s Parks & Recreation Department.
For devout fishermen and cold worshippers, ice fishing in Connecticut is the perfect winter pastime. With more than 45 lakes, rivers and ponds throughout the state open and stocked, fishermen are sure to reel in a great catch!
Before dropping your line into the icy waters, you must get a permit. Permits may be purchased at local town halls, tackle shops or through the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s store.
Bass enthusiasts can head to Lake Waramaug in Kent, rated one of the state’s “Top Winter Bass Lakes” by New England Game & Fish magazine. Covering more than 656 acres, it is Connecticut’s second-largest natural lake. During the winter season, anglers can pursue largemouth and smallmouth bass, brown trout, chain pickerel and yellow perch.
Also on the magazine’s list is Rogers Lake in Old Lyme. The 260-acre lake has expansive areas of shallow water – ideal places for largemouth bass and chain pickerel. In deeper areas, fishermen will find trout and walleyes.
If trophy trout are your mission, try Candlewood Lake in Brookfield, Connecticut’s largest lake at 5,064 acres. Beside being one the region’s best places to find largemouth bass, the lake is home to smallmouth bass, yellow perch, white perch, walleyes, calico bass, brown bullhead and sunfish. If the ice isn’t safe for walking, fish from the shore, where coves yield bass, perch and bluegill.
Crystal Lake in Ellington is another trophy trout destination stocked with rainbow and brown trout, as well as yellow perch, chain pickerel, largemouth and smallmouth bass, sunfish and calico bass.
In mid-November through December, ice fishing novices may attend free ice fishing seminars at Connecticut Outfitters in Wethersfield, during which students learn about various species of fish and ice fishing safety, strategies and gear.
Dashing Through the Snow
One of the great ways to enjoy Connecticut (and yourself) in winter is to get aboard a horse-drawn sleigh for a dash across the snowy countryside. Yes, there are still places where you can snuggle under warm blankets and lose yourself in time as the horses do all the hard work.
The sleigh bells ring every winter at Allegra Farm in East Haddam as you set off across the snowy meadows bundled up in lap robes and hand muffs. You are invited to bring your own warming refreshments.
The one- or two-horse sleigh is red and shiny at Lisbon’s Cedar Knoll Farm. It can be fitted with wheels for a snowless situation, but there’s nothing quite like a true ride through the snow.
Foxglove Farm in Lyme also offers sleigh rides, as does Loon Meadow Farm in Norfolk, which offers a two-passenger antique surrey sleigh (for couples) and the larger 10-passenger sleigh pulled by two horses.
At Wood Acres Farm in Terryville, you’ll glide across 25 acres of trails for 45 minutes or so behind a pair of magnificent draft horses. The farm offers both a Victorian sleigh, for two, and a group sleigh for many more than two.
If you’d like your sleigh ride to be part of a larger experience, there’s the Interlaken Inn’s “Sleigh Ride Package” available through most of the winter. The inn, located in Lakeville in Connecticut’s Northwest Corner, offers the sleigh ride, dinner, an overnight room and breakfast the next morning.
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