Some of Connecticut's best treasures are anchored in natural beauty, no matter the season. The Nutmeg State is home to 110 state parks, which means there's a lot of outdoor adventure to be had. We've compiled a list of favorite spots to visit with children, taking into consideration terrain, views, access to restrooms, and other amenities or attractions associated with each destination. Bonus: in 2018, entry to Connecticut state parks became free to residents, so enjoy the bargain.
For wee ones, consider our suggestions for 1-Mile Hikes and 10 Fantastic Stroller Hikes, or challenge older children to a trek up a mountain. Grab your hiking shoes, pack snacks, and enjoy the views and fresh air.
Burr Pond State Park. Photo by Beth Reis Photography courtesy of Visit CT
1. Burr Pond State Park - Torrington (Litchfield County)
Hike the 3.5-mile trail surrounding Burr Pond, swim in the lake, go fishing, relax in a kayak or canoe, enjoy a picnic (charcoal grills are available), or spend the day lounging on the sandy beach. Food concessions and restrooms are available during the summer months.
2. Topsmead State Forest - Litchfield (Litchfield County)
The sprawling fields and formal gardens make this a good place to spot butterflies and enjoy a picnic (no fires or grills allowed), while the nearly 1-mile ecology trail enlightens with interpretive signs. The residence, the former summer estate of Miss Edith Morton Chase, is open for free tours from June through October, on the second and fourth weekends of the month. Bathrooms and drinking water are available.
3. Collis P. Huntingdon State Park - Redding (Fairfield County)
A bear and a wolf (statues) welcome visitors into the park where you can spend the afternoon paddling in a kayak or canoe, fishing (in five ponds), or exploring ruins along the well-maintained and varied trail system and open fields. Note that deer hunting is allowed here from Sept. 15 through Dec. 31.
4. Sherwood Island State Park - (Fairfield County)
Connecticut's first state park still ranks high as a resident-favorite and is the site of the state's 9-11 Living Memorial. View marsh life from the observation platform, swim in Long Island Sound (water shoes are recommended due to rocky terrain), play in the sand, go fishing, or enjoy lunch in the shaded picnic areas. The Sherwood Island Nature Center is open seasonally and features educational exhibits. Sandy stretches and Sound breezes make this a perfect place to fly a kite, and the on-site airfield accommodates remote-controlled model airplanes.
Fort Trumbull State Park. Photo by Michael Melford courtesy of Visit CT
5. Talcott Mountain State Park - Simsbury (Hartford County)
The first quarter of the 1.25-mile trail is a steady incline, but the Heublein Tower awaits at the top, making the trek worth it. Have a picnic, admire flowers, and revel in panoramic views while learning about the people who lived here. The historic home is open Thursday through Monday, from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day weekend.
6. Dinosaur State Park - Rocky Hill (Hartford County)
Hike 2 miles of trails, explore an arborteum featuring more than 250 species of trees, go birdwatching, and check out one of the largest dinosaur tracks in North America housed inside the Exhibit Center. Trails are open daily, year-round, and walking them is free.
7. Hammonasset Beach State Park - Madison (Madison County)
Connecticut's largest shorline park offers not only sand and waves, but a 3.5-mile walking path offering beautiful views and the Meigs Point Nature Center. If you want to spend the night under the stars, check out the Hammonasset campground.
8. Sleeping Giant State Park - Hamden (Madison County)
The mountaintop that stretches 2 miles and resembles a sleeping giant inspired this park's name. The hiking trail is well maintained and the castle-like lookout tower at the top offers spectacular views of the surrounding area. The park sustained heavy damage from a tornado that struck in May 2018, but after months of extensive clean-up, it is expected to reopen later this spring. When it does, be sure to bring a picnic and explore its tranquil nature trails.
Bigelow Hollow State Park
9. Bigelow Hollow State Park - Union (Madison County)
This state park is ideal for more ambitious hikers (therefore recommended for older children) since there are no loop trails and hikers must walk at least 6 miles to connect to different paths. The 18-acre Bigelow Pond is a beautiful sight, and fishing, scuba diving, and boating are all possible here. Picnic tables are available, along with pit toilets.
10. Mansfield Hollow State Park - Mansfield (Madison County)
Several trails in the park offer water views, so lace up your hiking boots (it can get swampty near the lake) and enjoy the adventure. Boating, fishing, and mountain biking are allowed. Picnic tables, a picnic shelther, and composting toilets are available.
11. Gilette Castle State Park - East Haddam (Middlesex County)
One East Haddam's most popular attractions, Gillete Castle is definitely worth a visit. The impressive and ecentric medieval-style structure is set on sprawling acres that include paved paths, hiking trails, a duck pond, bridges, and picnic areas. The castle, open Memorial Day weekend through Columbus Day, offers beautiful views of the Connecticut River and offers insight into the life of actor William Gillette (best known for portraying Sherlock Holmes). Bathrooms, food concessions, and a gift shop are open in season.
12. Wadsworth Falls State Park - Middletown (Middlesex County)
Enjoy hiking or biking various woodland trails, admire beautiful stone bridges, and relax by two gushing waterfalls. The park offers designated swimming and picnicking areas, and bathrooms and picnic tables are available.
13. Mashamoquet Brook State Park - Pomfret (Windham County)
The name Mashamoquet is Indian for "stream of good fishing" which testifies to the area's rich Native American history. The most famous feature is the Wolf Den into which General Putnam crept during a night in 1742 and shot a wolf that had been stalking local sheep. Near the Den are natural stone formation featuring a table rock and Indian Chair. Stream fishing is still possible today, along with hiking, camping, and swimming. You can also visit the grist mill. Bathrooms, picnic tables, and picnic shelters are available.
14. Harkness Memorial State Park - Waterford (New London County)
Dip your toes in the ocean, fly a kite, enjoy a picnic (charcoal grills are available), and relax with panoramic views of the Long Island sound. Eolia, the majestic summer mansion of the Harkness family, features beautiful gardens and trees, and is open for tours on weekends and holidays, from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
15. Fort Trumbull State Park - New London (New London County)
Built from 1839-1852, the fort was one of 42 constructred to defend the United States coast. Its architecture incorporates Egyptian Revival features, making it a great destination for fun and learning. Enjoy interactive history lessons, a waterfront walk, and salt water fishing from the pier. The fort is open Wednesday through Sunday, Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. Restrooms are available.
All photos courtesy of Visit CT