Known as the state’s “quiet corner,” northeast Connecticut is home to deep forests, expansive mountaintop views and wide-open waterways. Still a hidden gem for outdoor adventurers, you might often have the trail to yourself, but the rewards for taking the road less traveled are plentiful – plaintive horseback rides, top-notch bass fishing and family-friendly farm experiences to name a few. If you’re looking to get off the beaten path, the best of New England awaits on this road trip through the wild side of the Constitution State.
1) Shenipsit State Forest
This sprawling 7,000-acre park boasts miles of picturesque trails, including to the top of Soapstone Mountain where summiters are treated to stunning views that stretch into Massachusetts and New Hampshire. You can take the 5-mile Shenipsit Forest Trail past wildflower blooms for a moderately challenging climb to the top, or drive nearly to the peak before a short walk to the wooden observation tower that offers the best views. Other trails are designated for runners, snowmobilers, nature hikes and more. For a unique dive into the area’s history, head to the Civilian Conservation Corps Museum in Stafford Springs, which honors the New Deal-era workers who built roads, trails, campsites, fought fires and planted trees across the state.
2) Natchaug State Forest
Drive 17 miles, 27 minutes
About 18 miles southeast, Natchaug State Forest stands out as a one-of-a-kind retreat with endless trails and scenic trout fishing. Anglers should head to the banks of the Natchaug River, one of the least fished, but most heavily stocked waters in the state. Beginning at the confluence of the Still River and Bigelow Brook before winding south for miles, it’s not at all uncommon to have long stretches of the bountiful water to yourself. Well-known for the horseback trails that bisect the forest, the expansive network is also home to secluded picnic spots perfect for relaxing during a day outdoors. To stock up, head to nearby Buell’s Orchard, a family-owned farm with a long history of providing visitors with the state’s best pick-your-own strawberries, blueberries, apples and more.
Drive 31 minutes, 52 minutes
Known as “The Rose of New England,” this quaint town boasts a history that extends all the way back to 1659. These days, the downtown district offers a great introduction to New England-style boutique shopping, but the top draw is the three rivers that meet at the city’s historic waterfront park. From there, kayakers can explore the Yantic River to its namesake waterfall, head inland on the Shetucket branch, or follow the wide, rolling waters of the Thames River south to Long Island Sound. All three options are easily managed by beginning paddlers and there are outfitters in town to help you organize your excursion. Kick the excitement up a notch with a day trip to 529-acre Gardner Lake. Home to bass, walleye, catfish and more, the lake is an angler’s dream, as well as a popular destination for boating and watersports.