2017 Update: Due to insufficient snow and cold temperatures, winter activities are currently closed at Winding Trails. Click here for updates on the latest conditions.
There is something incredibly New England about skating on a frozen pond. And refreshing. And exhilarating. And magical. Yet, important questions always lurk in the back of our minds. Who has checked the thickness of the ice? Is the surface free of debris? Ultimately, is it safe? Luckily, at Winding Trails in Farmington, 6 miles from Hartford, you can have the best of both worlds: an old-fashioned pond skate in a setting that is well-maintained and tested for safety.The pond is open daily for skating once staff has determined that the ice is at least 6 inches thick (skating itself is unsupervised), and the ice is resurfaced on a regular basis. While you’re there, scope out the gigantic hill (on our sledding hills worth driving to list) and trails for snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing for your next winter escapade.
On the Friday evening we went skating at Winding Trails, groups of high school-aged kids were playing hockey (there are hockey sticks available to borrow in the warming hut) while others skated recreationally. The eight-acre Walton Pond, where skating is allowed, was plenty large enough to accommodate everyone. For my beginning skaters (and their rusty mom), this was helpful: while we didn’t have a side wall to cling to as at a rink, we had room to spread out, skate at our own pace, and experiment on the ice without feeling pressured to keep up with flow of traffic. And truly, you can’t beat the surroundings -- snow encrusted pines, a scenic bridge at the far end of the pond, and rustic lodge on the banks evoke feelings of being in the mountains of Vermont.
Just outside the pond, you will find an un-staffed warming hut where you can change into/out of your skates or enjoy a respite from the cold. On the day we went, the heaters were blaring and the inside temperature read 74 degrees. Instructions are posted there to program the spotlights on the pond so that you can continue skating past dusk and under the stars. Pond lights go off at 9:15; at 9:30, lights along the path to the pond go out. When we were leaving shortly after 5 pm, the lights were just coming on and they lit up the skating area very well.
Winding Trails is a nonprofit outdoor recreational area that requires a membership for entrance in the summer. In the winter, however, nonmembers can skate for $6/ages 13 and up and $4/ages 3-12 (members are free). Skating is not allowed on the main lake (Dunning Lake). After passing through the gate, turn to the right before reaching the main beach lot and follow the road up the hill to the camp area. There is a parking lot at the top; from there it is a short walk to Walton Pond. Ice skate rentals are available for $5.00 for adults and children (must be returned by 4:30 p.m.). You can call ahead (860-677-8458) to check skating conditions before heading over. For those looking for an old-fashioned ice skating experience with modern amenities, this is a great option.
50 Winding Trails Drive, Farmington, CT 06032 / (860) 677-8458
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Winding Trails