Since childhood, my love of the outdoors has always been a part of me. And as an adult, I hope to share that passion with my own children.
So, I offered this challenge to my family, to join me in exploring the hidden treasures and more popular gems Connecticut and the surrounding region have to offer. From hiking to biking to kayaking, I hope my window into the outside world inspires you to explore as well.
HAMMONASSET BEACH STATE PARK
WILLARD ISLAND LOOP TRAIL
For the first time in weeks – with temperatures dancing around 40 degrees – I was just itching to get outside for a hike with the kids. And although summer is still months away – I figured I could entice them with promises of a ‘beach day' at Hammonasset Beach in Madison.
As we soon discovered, a lot of people had the same idea, taking advantage of the best weather we've seen in weeks. It's a popular park that draws more than one million visitors here every year. In season, folks pay a fee to enter the park. But, in winter and early spring, people can enjoy the shoreline surroundings for free.
On this particular trip, we headed for the marshes and Willard Island. The island sits about 100 yards behind Meigs Point Nature Center and can normally be accessed by the parking lot adjacent to the trail. But, because of the large amounts of snow this winter, the lot wasn't completely plowed. So, we parked where possible and began to hike our way in.
It began easily enough as we headed for the trail head where a sign for the Willard Island Loop Trail greeted us. As we made our way down the snowy path, views of the marsh flanked us on either side. Here, the snow drifts made it a bit difficult to maneuver, especially for my 4-year-old. But, she along with my oldest took it all in stride.
Ironically, with temperatures warming up, we found ourselves sinking into snow that normally would be frozen enough to walk on. But, such troubles didn't sour our trip to the island, it just gave us more time to appreciate the journey.
And that we did – namely watching and hearing for the active wildlife. No matter what the season, a number of bird species descend upon this place. And even now - with the promise of spring - they flitted among the winter branches. Squirrels bounced from tree to tree and prints of land animals riddled the snow. Along the trail, numbered markers also refer to a variety of tree species for those wanting to explore the flora.
Our quest brought us to the tip of the island, where we spotted Dudley Creek meandering its way through the marsh. Most of the river is frozen, but signs of melting have already popped up. We took a moment to take it all in before plodding through the snow on the loop back to the lot.
As we've discovered these last few months, hiking in snow has its own unique and special moments. But, the hints of spring on this particular hike was the silver lining we were longing for after a long, cold winter.
Take I-95 S to Exit 62. Take a left off the exit and go about one mile. Go straight through the traffic light crossing Route 1 and into the park. Take I-95 N to Exit 62. Take a right off the exit and follow directions above.
Trail Difficulty: Easy
Trail Length: 1-mile loop