Connecticut is one of the most highly developed and densely populated states in the country. But there are plenty of places off the beaten path where hikers can find peace, solitude and that suddenly all-important 6-foot social distancing. That’s, of course, in addition to plenty of physical exertion and grand views. Here's a look at some of those paths less traveled.
(Want even more ideas on exploring Connecticut's great outdoors? Here's a roundup of our favorite hiking, biking and strolling destinations, plus here's a handy list of all state parks.)
(Note: At the time of this writing, all parks and trails included here were open. As conditions are changing rapidly, please check with the organizations that manage these spaces before visiting.)
Bull Hill Preserve, Thompson
At nearly 1,000 acres, the Wyndham Land Trust’s Bull Hill Preserve is an easy open space in which to keep your distance. The trails pass through deep pine and oak forests to what is known as the “Three Trees Overlook” with outstanding views across northeastern Connecticut into Rhode Island.
Difficulty: Easy along old woods roads with a slight ascent to the overlook.
How to find it: Take Roseland Park Road from the junction of routes 171 and 169. Follow for several miles and take a right on Senexet Road No. 1. Turn left on Bull Hill Road and follow to the preserve.
Stoney Lonesome, Norfolk
The name of a preserve often conveys what visitors can expect, and Stoney Lonesome is a perfect description of this Norfolk Land Trust gem. A 3-mile round trip takes hikers along the remnants of the Central New England Railway. The trail passes through deep forests, high embankments with seasonal views and between some of the state’s most spectacular railroad rock cuts.
Difficulty: Easy with level walking along the railroad grade.
How to find it: Go to norfolklandtrust.org/trail-maps.html for a map of the trail.
Brian E. Tierney Preserve, Roxbury
With Memorial Day approaching, visitors to this preserve can honor a native son who died in Vietnam, and see some spectacular cascades. The 56-acre preserve includes a 2-mile loop trail through a hemlock forest and along Jack’s Brook that cascades over limestone ledges and gorges.
Difficulty: Moderate with several hilly areas.
How to find it: Take Interstate 84 to Exit 15 and Route 6 North. Take a left on Route 67 and follow several miles and take a left on Squire Road. The parking area is located a mile on the left across from Apple Lane.
Horse Guard State Park, Avon
This little-known state park is home to one of the best views in Connecticut. A half-mile trail takes visitors through a huge white pine grove and up to the top of a rocky outcropping with views south to the Hanging Hills of Meriden.
Difficulty: Fairly rugged with a scramble up a moderately difficult path to the overlook.
How to find it: Take Route 202 west and go left on Route 167 just west of the Avon Marketplace. Follow that several miles and look for the parking area at the Avon Historical Society's Derrin House.
Air Line Trail, Portland and East Hampton
The newest section of the Air Line Railroad linear trail opened last year with a 2.4-mile path through Portland and another mile-long piece in the Cobalt section of East Hampton. The trail passes a rock outcropping with views of the Connecticut River and overlooks across the valley.
Difficulty: The railroad grade is level, especially if you park in Cobalt. If you park in Portland there is a moderate ascent to the trail.
How to find it: The Portland trail head is located along Middle Haddam Road about a half-mile from its intersection with Route 66. The Cobalt trail head is located along Depot Hill Road off Route 66.
Washburn and Weil preserves, Branford
Many people know about the popular “Trolley Trail” in the Stony Creek section of Branford, a picturesque village on Long Island Sound. But on the eastern side of the creek is a 20-acre preserve with trails through the woods to a tidal creek with views across the Sound and the Thimble Islands. A bridge takes visitors across the marsh to several islands, and the neighboring Washburn Preserve holds the ghostly ruins of the Branford Granite Company, an abandoned quarry.
Difficulty: The paths through the woods are fairly level with the climb to the top of the overlook moderately difficult.
How to find it: Take Route 146 to Thimble Islands Road. Follow through the center of Stony Creek and take a left on Buena Vista Road.
Coogan Farm, Mystic
It’s not too often visitors can tread along trails running through a 370-year-old farm. The Coogan Farm features beautiful stone walls lined with huge trees, a ghostly foundation of an unfinished shoreline mansion and a view across Mystic River.
Difficulty: Easy with several hilly sections.
How to find it: Take Interstate 95 to exit 90 and south along Route 27 or Greenmanville Avenue. Look for the parking area on the left after passing Elm Grove Cemetery.
Peaceful Valley Conservation Area, Tolland
A hike and a geology lesson is available to visitors at the 85-acre property with scenic views along a dramatic ridge line. The views include farms and Massachusetts’ Mount Tom to the north. The area has several miles of trails and is a popular outdoor classroom for the University of Connecticut with more than 420 million years of geological history from ancient beaches to volcanoes.
Difficulty: Easy to moderate.
How to find it: Take Route 31 toward Rockville and take a right on Route 30. Turn left on Crystal Road and a right on Hunter Road. The parcel is about a mile down on the left.
Webb Mountain Park, Monroe
A 136-acre preserve has 5 miles of trails including a scramble up to an overlook high above the Housatonic River. Trails pass huge glacial erratic boulders and near the Stevenson Dam on Lake Zoar, the fifth-largest lake in the state. Visitors can hook up with the Paugussett Trail, with the path offering beautiful views of Lake Zoar as well as some imposing outcroppings.
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult.
How to find it: Take Route 15 (Wilbur Cross/Merritt Parkway) to exit 58. Continue on Route 34 west, turning left on Bridge Street. Take a right on Route 110 and take a right at the light onto Maple Avenue, which turns into East Village Road.