The Best Natural Wonders in Mystic Country Last Updated: August 2023

There is plenty to love about Mystic Country, but its abundant natural wonders including hiking trails, waterfalls, and swimming holes, definitely top the list. The best part? Many of these gems are easily accessible and free to the public, thanks to Connecticut’s state park system and preserved and protected land. While life may get pretty busy sometimes, consider this is as a friendly reminder to get outside and enjoy the natural beauty that surrounds us, even if only for a quick lunch break.

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Bluff Point Coastal Reserve, Groton

Free parking, a scenic picnic area, and wooded hiking trails lead to an uncrowded beach with spectacular views. This state park located in Groton is truly one of a kind. Since the land is protected, you will have to walk a bit to reach the beach, but you will be rewarded with pretty views at every turn, including lush trees, marshes and wetlands, a rocky peninsula and a soft-sand beach, and even a view of New London Ledge Light across the sound. Biking, hiking, paddling, and fishing (with a permit) are all an option at this nature-lovers paradise.

Photo credit: @alexjwphotography

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Diana’s Pool, Chaplin

Depending on which local legend you believe, this not-so-secret swimming hole is named after a jilted woman who either jumped to her death or slipped on all the tears she cried. Located in Chaplin along the Natchaug River, this state-designated water access and fishing area is home to some of the most scenic river views and waterfalls in the state. However, despite what the name implies, swimming is no longer allowed at this “pool.” Hiking, fishing, birdwatching and dogs on a leash are all permitted though, and you will find easy trails with year-round views at this natural oasis.

Photo credit: @kjcphotos

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Mashamoquet Brook State Park, Pomfret

If you are looking for a spot where swimming is permissible, look no further than Mashamoquet Brook State Park. Indian for “stream of good fishing,” this state park is actually a compilation of three parks: the original Mashamoquet Brook, Wolf Den and Saptree Run. Hiking, camping, picnicking, swimming and fishing can all be found here, as well as historic remains dating back to the 1700s. There’s the famous Wolf Den cave, where Israel Putnam once killed a wolf that had been terrorizing the area for years, as well as nearby stone formations including Table Rock and Indian Chair. The Brayton Grist Mill sits at the entrance of the park, and tours are available through the Pomfret Historical Society.

Photo credit: @kmassarophotography)

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Gardner Lake State Park, Salem

This lake is located on the border of Salem, Montville and Bozrah and is a popular spot among fishermen and locals looking to cool off on a hot summer day. The lake is stocked with walleye and a public boat launch with parking is available. It is also home to a “possibly” haunted underwater house, complete with phantom piano sounds drifting across the lake on any given day. Legend has it that in the late 1800s, a man by the name of Thomas LeCount decided to move his home across the lake by sliding it across the frozen lake. As you can imagine, the move didn’t go according to plan and ultimately ended with the house being sank to the bottom of the lake, with a piano inside. Visitors to the lake have claimed for years that they can hear the sound of a far-off piano from all sides of the lake, so if you decide to visit, keep an ear open for the sweet sounds!

Photo credit: @cren110

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Rocky Neck State Park, East Lyme

Located in East Lyme on the shores of the Long Island Sound, this postcard perfect park (literally, it was featured on postcards in the 1930s) is the ultimate destination for families. Its soft white sands make it ideal for swimming, and ample picnic areas scattered throughout the park offer a nice respite from the sun. There are also hiking trails, marshes and rocky coastlines to explore, campgrounds and the historic Ellie Mitchell stone pavilion, which is the largest Depression-era structure in Connecticut. Rocky Neck is also home to Bride Brook, which back in the 1600s separated Connecticut from Massachusetts. It is rumored to be the scene of a great love story in which a snowstorm prevented the Magistrate to perform a wedding, but the bride and groom undeterred, summoned Magistrate John Winthrop to do the honors, who at the time, only had jurisdiction in Massachusetts. He is said to have performed the nuptials from across the stream, proving that nothing can stop true love.

Photo credit: @kmassarophotography