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.
2015: The Best Of …. ‘The Trail Mix’
From the frigid landscape of early 2015 to the mild, spring-like weather in weeks past, it has been an incredible year for those of us who clamor to get out into the great outdoors.
Looking back, every daytrip I’ve taken has revealed its own unique qualities worthy of more exploration. But, there are always favorites to be had and this list is a look at what topped my list for the year.
So, take note – maybe you’ll see something that catches your attention. But, more importantly, I hope it sparks your own to desire to explore – not matter what the destination.
East River Preserve – Guilford
Blanketed in snow, this shoreline preserve resonates in my memory as a great, winter retreat. Its varied landscape draws visitors no matter what the season. But, its icy waterways, vast marsh system and rocky terrain are what captured my attention – and that of my four-legged companion. In the end, it made for a worthy mid-winter hike fit for people and dogs alike.
Shade Swamp Sanctuary – Farmington
Thousands of times a day, drivers along Route 6 zip by this large swath of land never really knowing what lies just a short distance away. This 800-acre parcel is a unique plot of land that houses the remains of cages in a now-defunct wildlife area from some 50 years ago. But, its allure goes way beyond its bizarre history. A mix of stream beds, swamp land, and heavily-wooded groves make for an awesome outdoor treat.
Stout Family Fields & Penwood State Forest - Bloomfield
At more than six miles, this was one of my longest hikes of the year. There are, of course, more miles of trails to explore, but what I was able to trek kept me entertained for hours. From the sweeping fields at my hike’s outset to the quiet, secluded waters of Lake Louise, this beautiful landscape offers the avid hiker so much to see. But, by far, the highlight of the hike is the impressive cliff-side views Penwood has to offer. It’s a sight not be missed.
Enders State Forest - Granby
Waterfalls are the definition of beauty and magic. And, we are lucky enough to have many sprinkled in the crags and crannies of Connecticut’s wilderness. One of the most memorable I’ve visited so far, has been at Enders. Five cascades grace this 2,100-acre forest providing ample temptation for the most daring to dip their toes in the cool waters. And, although the hike is short, feel confident that it, indeed, is full of splendor.
Wolf Rock/Sawmill Brook Preserves – Mansfield
One hike – two preserves. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. These two spots are adjacent to each other and offer the avid explorer much to do. There are views from atop a 40-foot drop and an exhausting hike through the forest’s humid underbelly. Out-of-the-way nooks offer impressive views of enchanting marshland and rolling hills. Each is breathtaking in its own way which makes for a wonderful hike any way you cut it.
Farm River State Park – East Haven
There’s something extra special about hikes along the coast. One of the best spots I encountered was at Farm River. The abundance of wildlife – especially of predatory birds – is amazing. From river and marsh views to wooded hikes, the trails offer visitors a large range of choices. But, it’s the views that really hit home giving hikers a true taste of this unique coastal ecology.
Windsor Locks Canal State Park – Windsor Locks
Not all of my travels are on foot. There are plenty of places where the best way to explore a trail is by bike. That’s the case in Windsor Locks where the canal calls to visitors. The park does a great job connecting history with the environment. And, it’s something I found over and over again during my ride. It’s also a great way to experience the region’s rich history as nature reclaims its prize.
Salmon River State Forest – Colchester
If ever there was a riverside to explore – here it is. It’s one of those iconic places where the majesty of fishing can be witnessed in the cold waters of the Salmon. The forest’s deep, hilly trails are full of nuances that are the epitome of a New England-esque setting. What’s more - it has a unique way of letting you peel away the chaos of everyday life and enjoy what’s before you without a care in the world.
Haystack Mountain - Norfolk
Stunning. It’s still the word that comes to mind when I think back to my hike on Haystack. Timing, of course, is everything and the perfect time appears to be in autumn. The sweeping views atop the stone tower at the summit are breathtaking. My only regret is the colors that burn so bright don’t last longer than a few weeks out of the year. Regardless, it’s still a force of nature worth witnessing.
Turtle Creek Preserve - Essex
I’m a sucker for those tiny, out-of-the-way places that spark a hiker’s imagination. Turtle Creek is one of those places. Its stillness is what sings to me. Beautiful little spots along the Connecticut River feel secluded and quiet. And, the hike through the grove offers its own sense of peace. Its popularity is undeniable by the sheer number of people I saw on my retreat. But, it didn’t cause my trek to lose its allure - it just reaffirmed how special this little gem truly is.
Walden Preserve - Salem
From the moment I drove into the lot, I knew I had stumbled upon an idyllic spot. The preserve is sizable – covering a good 400 acres of land filled with trees, trails, and fields. But, it was its double dose of ponds that caught my attention. Stark, matchstick-like trunks cast beautiful reflections on the water. And, the work of busy beavers were easy to spot. I also loved the variety the trails afforded me. One moment, I found myself walking among fields, and another, I was negotiating a rocky, razor-thin path. No matter what the scenario, all of it amounted to a cool trek fit for all.