City life got you down? Spending too much time behind a desk or behind the wheel of your car. Come to Connecticut and unburden yourself. There are miles of hiking in our unspoiled woods, rivers and lakes just waiting for the touch of your paddle, and winding back roads perfect for an extended motorcyle cruise. The summer days are long and the nights are gentle. Come enjoy them in Connecticut.
Walk This Way
Perhaps because it got an early start in the practice of land preservation, Connecticut today is criss-crossed by hundreds of miles of hiking trails. These trails run through high land and low, across difficult and easy terrain, and they offer unique insight into the geology, flora and fauna of the state. They also serve as blissful, highly satisfying getaways from the noise and crowds of daily life.
Connecticut’s two main hiking highways are the Appalachian Trail and the New England Trail. The Appalachian is the grand-daddy of all trails, running from Maine all the way down to Georgia. Connecticut’s piece is a 52-mile route cutting across our northwest corner; it’s worth seeking out not only so you can say you’ve been on it, but also for the chance you’ll bump into hikers doing the trail’s entire length. The New England Trail is now nearly complete. It will run from the Connecticut coast in Guilford north for 215 miles through 39 towns into northern Massachusetts. Along the way, it mostly uses trails already in existence as part of the state’s blue-blazed system.
Connecticut’s blue-blazed trails, maintained by volunteers and administered by the Connecticut Forest and Park Association (CFPA), encompasses 825 miles of walkways running through 88 towns. The trails are elegantly described in the CFPA’s Connecticut Walk Book (there are East and West editions), a nearly essential guide if you plan to get out into the woods. But there are other trail systems in the state as well, in state parks, town parks and various natural preserves.
To get you started, here are a few hikes with notable features:
View. If you don’t mind a bit of scrambling, the Mattabesett Trail in central Connecticut offers marvelous views from atop the state’s famous traprock ridges. One of the great vistas comes after a climb up from Meriden’s Giufridda Park to Chauncey Peak. There’s a bit of a scramble to get up to elevation, but once there you’re walking along a ridge from which you can see Hartford to the north, New Haven to the south, and seemingly unlimited views to the west. The descent brings you to a level walk along the lake before closing the loop. This up-and-down hike covers about 2 miles.
Waterfall. The southern trail head for the Mattatuck Trail is located in Wolcott’s Peterson Park, just off busy Route 69. Within minutes on the trail, however, the sounds of the outside world begin to fade, replaced by the babbling of the Mad River. Soon you will find yourself in a sort of natural amphitheater, or movie set, with towering hemlocks, filtered sunlight, tumbling and splashing water, and an understory of moss-covered boulders, ferns and mountain laurel. You may want to stay awhile, but if you stick with the trail for another 5 miles, crossing a couple of roads and even passing through a residential neighborhood, you’ll come eventually to Buttermilk Falls in Plymouth, one of Connecticut’s great secrets in the woods. For this 5.7-mile hike, you’ll have to park one car at the beginning and another at the end.
History. Rural Roxbury in Litchfield County has a number of natural preserves that are great for hiking, but the most interesting is certainly the Mine Hill Preserve that runs past old iron mines, granite quarries and the ruins of a 19th-century iron-making complex. From the parking area, take a left onto the blue loop trail toward the Donkey Trail. You’ll pass a reservoir, two mine tunnels and a series of grated air shafts, which now serve as entryways to several bat populations. The 4-mile trail continues past massive granite cliffs, eventually descending back to the Shepaug River valley, past an abandoned quarry and finally to the furnace complex, where excellent signage will tell you about all you’ve just seen.
Salt Water. Most of Connecticut’s state parks along Long Island Sound are big and full of features meant to serve the largest number of visitors possible. Not so with Farm River State Park in East Haven. This is a smallish (62 acres) park that seems unpromising at first but that at length serves as a nice immersion into salt marshes and seaside sights and sounds. As for hiking, the trail lengths don’t amount to much, but you’ll like the places they take you.
Whether your preferred bike is a vintage Harley, a comfy Honda Gold Wing or even a Can-Am three-wheeler, you’ll be impressed by Connecticut’s curvy back roads, scenic views and bike-friendly amenities.
There are memorable rides that zip through the Litchfield Hills, or ramble along the open fields of eastern Connecticut, or hug the shoreline. And, depending upon how much time you’ve got, they can be short and sweet, like the 13-mile coastal run along Route 146 from Branford to Guilford, or a multi-day affair, with dinner and an overnight or two at a Connecticut inn.
Because so many of Connecticut’s best rides can be found on online biking sites, we’ve turned to the experts – the riders themselves – for a couple of excellent choices.
Some of the best riding can be found in Tolland and Windham counties in the northeastern part of the state, where the roads are less crowded and the pace more laid back. One ride recommended by motorcycleroads.com is called “Northeast CT Country Loop,” which it summarizes this way: “Small villages, old farms and CT forests highlight the route. Sparsely populated and very picturesque.” At a moderate 44 miles in length, the route runs from Ashford and Eastford to Woodstock and finally to Putnam before looping back. Take note of a couple of short but rewarding sidetrips to Bigalow Hollow State Park in Union and Roseland Park in Woodstock.
Another recommended route, called “Plan-B,” comes from openroadjourney.com (free registration required). This 104-miler begins at the Starbucks in Seymour and runs north along a variety of roads to the Dunkin Donuts in Winsted (so there’s caffeine at both ends). In between, there are reservoirs, rivers, farmland, charming towns and terrific food stops such as the White Horse Country Pub in Marbledale, where a 1920 Indian Scout motorcycle is on display in the bar.
Both motorcycleroads.com and openroadjourney.com offer many other rides through Connecticut, and even more can be found at sundaymorningrides.com and motowhere.com. The overall consensus among the experts is that Connecticut’s roads and roadside attractions offer unique pleasures to bikers of all kinds.
Speaking of which, one special event to take note of is the 13th Annual CT United Ride, to be held Sunday, Sept. 8. The ride runs from Norwalk to Bridgeport, encompassing 60 miles and 11 towns with, as the organizers point out, “no lights and no stops.” The ride is a remembrance of the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Details can be found at ctunitedride.com.
On The Water
With hundreds of miles of shoreline on Long Island Sound, more than 1,500 lakes and ponds, and rivers of every size and description, Connecticut is an excellent playground for those who like to have fun on the water. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Kayaking. One of the beauties of this sport is that you can take a kayak out onto virtually every sort of water, from open ocean to quiet cove. Connecticut’s many points of interest along the shore are very popular among kayakers, the favorite of all perhaps being paddling around and among the Thimble Islands in Branford. Connecticut Coastal Kayaking leads tours through the islands (you can use your own kayak or rent one), taking in local history, architecture and birdwatching, to name just a few of the local diversions.
Sailing. Long Island Sound has long been recognized as one of the great cruising grounds for sailors of boats both large and small. There are charters available from one end of Connecticut’s coast to the other, for example Joy Ride Charters of Westbrook. Whether you want to learn how to sail yourself or just relax and take in the sunset, Joy Ride’s 35-foot “Hado” is a very good way to go. For a grander perspective on surrounding waters, there's the Mystic-berthed Argia, an 81-foot schooner offering mid-day, afternoon and sunset sails on local waters. You'll get spectacular views of the coastlines, islands and lighthouses, and even help the crew hoist and trim the sails, if you'd like.
Rafting. One of the best ways to spend a day in northwestern Connecticut is to get out on the Housatonic River in a raft. Clarke Outdoors of West Cornwall will drive you upriver with your raft and then pick you up again after you’ve floated 10 miles along the Housatonic’s moving flatwater and easy whitewater. You can even lunch midway and get a shower at day’s end.
Tubing. One of Connecticut’s great summer pleasures is floating down the Farmington River on an inner tube, either your own or one provided by Farmington River Tubing on New Hartford. The 2.5-mile course downriver begins at Satan’s Kingdom Recreation Area and takes you through three sets of rapids. Be sure to call ahead at (860) 693-6465 to check river conditions.
Water Skiing/Wakeboarding. Connecticut’s largest lake, Candlewood Lake, is also one of its great outdoor playgrounds. Gerard’s Waters Edge in New Milford rents ski boats and pontoon boats and also water skis, wakeboards, inner tubes and other water toys.
Overnights on the Water. If you really want to get a sense of life on the water, why not spend a night or more out on the salty sea itself. If it's life under sail that you prefer, the 110-foot schooner Mystic Whaler offers 2-, 3- and even 5-day sails. The 3-day "Full Moon" sails during the summer months sound especially enchanting. If a 58-foot Hatteras cabin cruiser is more your style, there's the REAL ESCAPE, accommodating up to six guests in three staterooms for customized trips out on waters ranging from Boston down to New York Harbor.
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