What to do in Connecticut state parks
Toes in the sand, a book in your lap, and a cool drink in hand...these are the carefree days of summer. From pristine beaches on Long Island Sound to tranquil ponds and lakes, Connecticut invites you to get wet at one of many state parks this summer.
Connecticut’s largest, Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison, offers two miles of unspoiled beach on Long Island Sound. The park first opened to the public almost 100 years ago on July 18, 1920 attracting more than 75,000 visitors in its first season. Today, more than one million people come annually to enjoy Hammonasset Beach State Park.
“Hammonasset” means, “where we dig holes in the ground” and refers to the place where a settlement of eastern woodland Indians farmed along the Hammonasset River.
Hammonasset offers a variety of beach areas within the park. On one end, visitors can relax on West Beach with its wide sandy shore and calm open water to swim or take a leisurely walk. In case you’re hungry, there’s a snack bar with a raised patio area to enjoy the tranquil view.
Driving toward the eastern end of the park, you’ll pass the sweeping marsh as you curve toward Meigs Point Beach. This is a quieter stretch of the park where you can take a short hike amongst the majestic boulders hugging the shoreline.
If time allows, stop by the Meigs Point Nature Center on your way home. You’ll find a variety of birds and fish including a touch tank for hands-on discovery. Extend your stay longer by camping at the park, which offers 552 campsites.
Set amongst 700-plus acres, Rock Neck Beach State Park in Niantic offers a whimsical setting to spend the day with its storybook cobblestone pavilion set high on a bluff, and the occasional train whooshing by just beyond your umbrella.
Enter the beach area through a stone arch and sink your toes onto the soft, white, stone-free sand. Let the calm waters of the Long Island Sound lure you for a quick dip before taking a stroll on the boardwalk that runs right along the sand.
Rocky Neck has a multitude of picnic areas scattered throughout the park, and offers more than 100 campsites to enjoy a lengthier stay.
Silver Sands State Park in Milford is a walker’s paradise. While the beach is a perfect destination for saltwater swimming, it’s the almost one-mile of an all-weather boardwalk that attracts visitors year-round. This winding perch allows visitors to enjoy expansive Long Island Sound views and engage with the incredible wildlife both on the water and wetlands. The cross-park boardwalk extends this unique path to neighboring Walnut Beach.
At low tide, the more adventurous can journey out to Charles Island by foot via tombolo, except from May 1 to Aug. 31 when crossing to the island isn’t allowed as it is a natural area preserve for nesting birds.
Tom Tyler, director of Connecticut State Parks shared, “The park is open every day, 365 days a year just like all state parks. We encourage people to come out and enjoy Silver Sands.”
If you’re looking to cool off in a more rustic setting, Chatfield Hollow State Park and Pataconk Lake provide the perfect setting.
Located just off busy Route 80 in Killingworth, this shaded park has much to explore with hiking trails, Indian caves, a restored waterwheel, and a charming covered bridge spanning Chatfield Hollow Brook.
After hiking the grounds, take a lunch break at one of the many picnic tables scattered under the shady pines. Then head to the center of the park to Schreeder Pond and lay your beach towel on the sand to while away the day. Schreeder Pond was created in 1934 when the Civilian Conservation Corps built a dam across Chatfield Hollow Brook, which flows towards Long Island Sound.
The Cockaponset State Forest in Chester/Haddam, the second largest in Connecticut, is a peaceful respite from a hot summer’s day. As you drive into the heavily wooded park, a canopy of trees opens up to a wide grassy area sloping down to Pattaconk Lake, meaning “round hill.”
Besides swimming, bring your fishing gear, kayak or canoe to the lake to stay cool. Another way to explore Lake Pattaconk is on foot exploring the 2.5-mile loop trail around the water. You can even bring your horse or leashed dog to hike.
For more information about swimming and other summer activities at Connecticut state parks, visit the DEEP website.