Explore Freely – Connecticut’s Park ConneCT Program Last Updated: August 2023
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Summer is one of the most exciting times to explore Connecticut's State Parks. Now it's easier than ever with the Park ConneCT Program. This program provides free transportation from Memorial Day to Labor Day to some of these beautiful parks. I'll give you the full list as well as some details on 3 of my favorite hidden gems.
The parks in the Park ConneCT Program are Sherwood Island State Park, Indian Wells State Park, Sleeping Giant State Park, Fort Trumbull State Park, Hammonasset Beach State Park, Osbornedale State Park, and Silver Sands State Park. Some of these parks are pretty popular, but a few of them are a bit more untapped. Here are three that I love!
Sherwood Island State Park
One, one, one, one, one, one, one (and I'm not talking P. Diddy's P.E. 2000). I'm saying that Sherwood Island was the first official State Park in Connecticut and is undeniably in the top 10 in the state aesthetically. The park is located in Westport and allows hiking, swimming, field sports and fishing. It features a beach walkway that is a little over two and a half miles. It starts at the East Beach, goes to the West Beach and loops around the island if you take it clockwise.
Sherwood Island also features a Nature Center that young explorers will love. The Nature Center sometimes hosts nature walks and events for children and adults alike. The Center is open Wednesday through Sunday.
One unexpected feature at the park is the 9/11 Memorial. The pavilion has a wall that displays the names of some of the lives that were lost. There is also a lawn area with a Memorial Stone and concrete slabs also commemorating those lost. The location was chosen because the smoke was visible from this very spot on that dreaded day.
Indian Wells State Park
Summer seems to fly by so quickly and it is the ideal time for watersports in Connecticut, so why not take advantage? If you're looking for a place where you can explore the trails and get some watersports in, Indian Wells State Park is your spot. This park is the epitome of a hidden gem. It's a great place for a day trip whether you're local or live in a neighboring state. There are so many activities you can partake in here. From fishing and hiking to field sports and of course watersports. You can start the day off with one of the moderate hikes that lead to the small but charming waterfall that features a swimming hole on the bottom. On a hot summer day, it's a welcomed reprieve.
After the hike, set up to cook or picnic along the Housatonic under one of the pavilions or in the shade of the grove. There are grills available for use. A reservation is required to use the pavilion if you are hosting an event here.
Conveniently located in the park is a launch for your kayak, canoe, or boat. You can easily get on Lake Housatonic via the launch or right from the beach! REI Co.Op (Recreational Equipment, Inc.) sometimes hosts group paddles here. Tickets are required, so this takes some planning ahead, but they will provide kayaks, life vests and other necessities for a safe, successful paddle. This is ideal for those who would like to explore but don't have their own kayak or just don't feel like lugging it around themselves.
Sleeping Giant State Park
Unleash your inner David and conquer a Giant this summer. Sleeping Giant State State Park is one of the most iconic hiking destinations in Connecticut. Maybe you've spotted the giant from the highway and have been curious about exploring. Now's the time! There are trails at this state park for every level from novice to experienced hikers. Those who are looking to explore all 32 miles of blazed trails can participate in the Giant Masters Program to become a Giant Master. If you're not as ambitious or have limited time but still want a challenge, a climb up the giant's head might be just the thrill you seek. I'd recommend five miles along the blue blazed trail up the head, then down, beyond the tower and then loop around via red and green, finally utilizing the tower trail for the last leg of the descent. This climb is for a skilled hiker and requires scrambling.
Those looking for a moderate climb can park in the main parking lot and walk up the aptly named Tower trail to discover a lookout Tower and breathtaking views. The trek to the tower and back is a little over 2.5 miles. CT Deep site has detailed trail maps that can help you plan your trip to all the state parks.