Sure, city life has its perks. But if you’re more of a country mouse, or just want to get away from the urban bustle, the majesty of the outdoors is where it’s at. Should you hear the call of the wild, these are the locales for you.
Like many towns in the Northwest Corner, Salisbury offers four seasons of outdoor activities. In the warmer months, you have many choices for fun on the water; six lakes, several ponds and the Housatonic are filled with swimmers, boaters and anglers. While it might be too chilly these days for a dip, you can still take advantage of the countless hiking and walking trails, including up Bear Mountain, the state’s highest peak, and the Appalachian Trail. And when it gets truly frigid, Salisbury really soars. Jumpfest is held over three days each February at Satre Hill, where the best ski jumpers around take to the skies.
If you want to push your body to the limits of physical exertion, Litchfield is your place. Should you instead seek serenity, Litchfield is also your place. Which to choose? Why not both? For the physical activity, head to Mount Tom State Park, where a strenuous hike leads to a stone observation tower and one of the best views in the state. For easier hikes — 40 miles of trails, to be exact — visit White Memorial Conservation Center, a land trust featuring a variety of environments. For a different sort of experience, visit on the night of Nov. 17, when the Litchfield Hills Amateur Astronomy Club hosts a public star- and planet-gazing party. Your moment of zen awaits at the Lourdes in Litchfield Shrine, a replica of the Lourdes Grotto in France sitting on 170 acres of wooded bliss.
You probably know by now that we’re in love with Kent Falls State Park. This series of falls that tumble a total of 250 feet to a reflecting pool is a sight to behold. While you can hook into the Appalachian Trail here, don’t forget about Kent’s other outdoor gems. They include Macedonia Brook State Park with its outstanding hiking trails, and Lake Waramaug State Park with 75 acres of swimming, watersports, camping and more.
Don’t sleep on this “Giant” of outdoor fun. Unmistakable from miles around, Sleeping Giant State Park in southern Connecticut is one of our great natural wonders. Hiking and mountain biking are the names of the game here, with a 1½-mile path to the top of this trap-rock ridge giving a 360-degree view south to Long Island and north beyond Hartford. Just be careful traipsing around the hills; according to Native American legend, a tempestuous entity long ago wreaked havoc in these lands before he was put to sleep by a spell. If you’re in search of a flatter (and paved) experience, join the walkers, bicyclists, skaters, runners and others on the Farmington Canal trail.
Head to this spot in the northeast corner and you won’t find an overabundance of people (the population at the 2010 census was 854). But you will be among throngs of wildlife — even if they don’t reveal themselves to you — including deer, bear, moose and bald eagles. Should the fauna go unseen, no matter; you still have 9,000 acres of recreation opportunities with Bigelow Hollow State Park, with its lovely ponds and 300-acre Mashapaug Lake, and the adjacent Nipmuck State Forest.
Another secluded spot in the Quiet Corner, Columbia’s biggest outdoor selling point arguably is its namesake lake, offering all manner of water fun. But also check out the peace and quiet of Mono Pond State Park Reserve with 218 acres of wooded land and pristine water. Hiking, swimming, fishing, boating (don’t go over 8 mph, though) and bow-hunting are all right at home here. For a sense of history, hop on the Air Line State Park Trail. Built in 1870 as a railroad right-of-way, this trail passes through town and offers biking, walking and running when the weather is warm, and cross-country skiing when it is not.
Back up in Litchfield County, the presence of 1,600-foot Mohawk Mountain, with its 25 trails and 650-foot vertical drop, makes Cornwall one of the best winter destinations in the state. Hiking is also big here; prime locations include Mohawk State Forest, with its stunning views as you ascend the mountain, the Appalachian Trail, and Housatonic Meadows State Park, which also offers trout fishing in the Housatonic River. Speaking of the river, if you really want to get wild, board a canoe, kayak or raft and brave the northwestern segment of the Housatonic.
This western Connecticut town’s outdoor options are poised for a big step up in the coming years. Just last month, preliminary designs were presented for a nearly 10-mile trail along the Housatonic River. While it’s too early to know when the project will be completed, the work will likely be done in stages and, once finished, finally offer residents an unbroken path for biking, walking and running. Even without this addition, New Milford boasts Lovers Leap State Park, with nice hiking and a beautiful spot at a bridge 54 feet above the Housatonic, space along gorgeous Candlewood Lake, the state’s largest inland body of water, and the pleasant surroundings of Harrybrooke Park.
As we detailed in a recent roundup of our favorite fall foliage destinations, Simsbury is home to one of the best leaf-peeping spots in the state. But Talcott Mountain State Park is a year-round source of excellent hiking and seemingly endless views of the Farmington River Valley and beyond. And its mountaintop Heublein Tower is a can’t-miss feature, though the historic home and museum is closed in the winter. Stratton Brook State Park is another spot for four seasons of activities, including swimming, biking, cross-country skiing, ice skating and more.