When you think about island getaways, the Connecticut coast of the Long Island Sound may not be the first location that comes to mind, but as it turns out, there are hundreds of islands in the Sound--from small, rocky outcroppings only visible at low tide to 50-acre stretches that are home to lighthouses, camping facilities, and pirate adventures. Here are some of our our favorite family-friendly island escapes.
Fishers Island is actually part of New York, but the only public transportation to the island is the ferry from New London, which carries both auto and pedestrian traffic (the island is large enough that you will want to bring your car even if you're only making a day trip). The island is home is a year-round population and includes a few shops, restaurants, and the Henry L. Ferguson Museum. Chocomount and Isabella Beaches are two lovely, uncrowded spots worth exploring.
Fishers Island Ferry District, New London Terminal, 5 Waterfront Park, New London, CT, 631-788-7744. Reservations recommended.
Part of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, Faulkner's Island is home to the second oldest lighthouse in Connecticut, Faulkner's Light, built in 1802. The island itself is off limits to visitors except during the annual open house held in September by the Faulkner's Light Brigade, the volunteer organization that is dedicated to preservation efforts for the island and the lighthouse. Otherwise, the island can be viewed from the water via Grass Island Cruises, which offers one-hour tours of the Guilford shoreline, daily during the summer and on the weekends in late spring and early fall. Stop for lunch at the Guilford Lobster Pound before you head out or pick up lobsters to enjoy at home after your cruise.
Grass Island Cruises, 505A Whitfield Street, Guilford, CT, 203-245-7208
The Thimble Islands
An archipelago of more than a hundred islands (depending on the tides), just off the coast of Stony Creek, the Thimble Islands are mostly privately owned and contain some truly spectacular real estate. Outer Island, one of the larger islands in the group, is staffed by volunteers on summer weekends and can be visited via the Thimble Islands Ferry Service. Alternately, the Thimble Island Cruise offers a narrated tour of the area. Both boats leave on a frequent basis during the summer from slips right next to one another on the Stony Creek docks so there is no need to make reservations. (We highly recommend a detour to Branford's Lobster Shack before or after your boat ride to sample one of New England's culinary treats).
Stony Creek Dock, Indian Point Road, Branford, CT
One of the centrally located islands in the Sound, Sheffield is home to the historic Sheffield Island Lighthouse, which was activated in 1868 and retired in 1902. The Norwalk Seaport Association maintains the lighthouse and operates a daily ferry during the summer (weekends only in the late spring and early fall) and hosts special events such as pirates adventure weekends and evening clambakes.The ride out to the island takes about 45 minutes and you are welcome to bring picnic supplies. (Note: don't forget the bug spray--the mosquitoes can be fierce, especially later in the day.)
Norwalk Seaport Association, 10 Dock Street, Norwalk, CT, 203-838-9444. Advance reservations recommended.
Great Captains Island
This picturesque island in Greenwich is easy to visit if you're a Greenwich resident and resident pass holder, but it can be done even if you're a non-resident. First, you (and all members in your party age 5 and up) need to obtain a daily park pass, but these are not available at the ferry dock. Instead, you must purchase them in person at the Greenwich Town Hall, the Eastern Greenwich Civic Center, or the Western Greenwich Civic Center. Once you have the park passes in hand, you'll need to park in the Arch Street lot across from Roger Sherman Baldwin Park ($25 at the kiosk for daily parking), and then head over to the Ferry Office, where ferry tickets may be purchased. You must have both your ferry ticket and your park pass to board the ferry.
Originally published 7/714.
Arch Street Ferry Dock, Greenwich, CT 203-661-5957.
The largest Greenwich island, Calf Island is part of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge and is home to a diverse population of birds and other wildlife. It cannot be reached by regular ferry service but is often a destination for environmentalists and birders. Greenwich Audubon sponsors an annual trip to the island (for children age 7 and up) by power boat that leaves from the Grass Island Town Dock in Greenwich. For the more ambitious, the Greenwich Land Trust sponsors a kayaking trip to Calf Island and Shell Island from Byram Beach.
Grass Island Marina, Shore Road, Greenwich, CT, 203-618-9695; Byram Beach, Rich Avenue and Byram Shore Road, Greenwich, CT.
Of course, no conversation about islands near Connecticut is complete without a reference to the longest island of them. Accessible via the Port Jeff Ferry (from Bridgeport) or the Cross Sound Ferry to Orient Point (from New London), Long Island is perfect whether you're planning a daytrip or something more elaborate. The village of Port Jefferson is close enough to the ferry terminal that you can leave your car in Bridgeport, walk on the ferry as pedestrians, and stroll over to the village for lunch, shopping, or exploring after you arrive (click here for some of our Port Jeff favorites). If you're heading to Orient Point, however, you're going to want to have your car to explore the North Fork (check out our Hamptons and North Fork Family Guide if you need some suggestions). The Bridgeport and Port Jefferson Steamship Company, 1 Ferry Access Road, Bridgeport, CT, (888-443-3779); Cross Sound Ferry, New London Ferry Dock, 2 Ferry St., New London, CT, (860) 443-5281. Advanced reservations strongly recommended, especially for auto transport.
Image courtesy of Norwalk Seaport Association.