Explore the Natural Wonders of Connecticut Last Updated: March 2020
When it comes to nature, Connecticut is probably best known for its beautiful but modest rolling green hills, meandering streams and lovely shoreline. But there are individual natural highlights as well, each worth a visit on its own. Get out and explore them!
Sleeping Giant, Hamden
Drive north from New Haven on I-91 and you will see it, a natural configuration of traprock ridges that since Indian days has suggested a reclining giant. The Native Americans legend had it that an irritable spirit named Hobbomock was stomping around and causing problems until a good spirit named Kietan cast a spell and put him to sleep forever. Today, Sleeping Giant State Park is one of the gems of the state’s park system, and you can climb back and forth across the giant like a modern-day Gulliver. Just make sure you don’t wake him up!
Kent Falls, Kent
Connecticut’s abundance of water and hills means that its landscape features many waterfalls. Most of the falls are pleasant and modest, but the dramatic series of cascades known as Kent Falls is an exception. It begins in the westward flow of Falls Brook as it drains an area of six or seven square miles before gathering for the big drop, plunging approximately 70 feet in a noisy free-fall. From there, the stream descends in a series of lesser falls and cascades to the Housatonic Valley below. Much of the limestone over which the brook flows has been carved into interesting shapes including numerous potholes of all sizes. Kent Falls State Park provides pathways along the falls, including stairs and observation decks.
Dinosaur Tracks, Rocky Hill
In 1966, thousands of dinosaur tracks were discovered here during the construction of a state office building. Today, the 200-million-year-old evidence of giant reptiles in the region has been preserved, with 500 tracks on display beneath a geodesic dome at Dinosaur State Park and the rest buried for preservation. Features onsite include a life-size diorama showing the dinosaurs “making tracks” across the sandstone and a track-casting area.
Cathedral Pines, Cornwall
The old-growth white pine and hemlock forest was once Connecticut’s proud reminder of its densely forested past, a 42-acre preserve where magnificent mature trees had been saved from logging by a local family in 1883, donated to The Nature Conservancy in 1967 and designated a National Natural Landmark in 1982. Then in 1989 three tornados ripped through the area, felling many of the trees and generally leaving devastation in its wake. Today, these Cathedral Pines, left in their damaged state, remain open to the public, providing a unique view into the surviving old growth, natural destruction and renewal.
Thimble Islands, Branford
With their pink granite heads poking above the high-water mark (barely, in some cases), the 100 or so Thimble Islands scatter like a bright array of charms across the Sound from Indian Neck to Sachem’s Head. A couple of dozen of the islands are large enough to be inhabited, others serve as habitats for wildlife, and nearly all of the named islands (Horse, Money, LIttle Pumpkin, Mother-in-Law, Hen, Potato, for example) have tales to tell. One of Connecticut’s most pleasant boat rides is a cruise through the Thimbles, full of history and gorgeous sights.