While Connecticut is one of the most densely populated and developed states, it is also one of the most naturally beautiful – with forests, parks and mountains criss-crossed by hundreds of miles of hiking trails. So whether it’s easy and well-maintained or more rugged and technical you’re after, here are the best trails to visit.
This mountain park’s unique name comes from the simple fact that it resembles a giant lying down. With views over New Haven and Long Island Sound, summer is the perfect time to birdwatch and admire the wild flowers in bloom, while the fall has the firestorm of foliage to appreciate. The park offers 23 different trails, which vary depending on difficulty, from the easiest green trail to the most difficult white. The Sleeping Giant Tower Trail is an easy 2mi (3km) and hikers are rewarded with spectacular views at the end.
Inside Mount Riga State Park is Bear Mountain. Classed as an intermediate hike, the 6-mi (10-km) round-trip trail winds to the top, the highest peak within Connecticut (but not the highest point). Starting from the parking lot, the Under Mountain Trail climbs 1,000ft (305m) in under 2mi (3km), crossing a few streams along the way, and one particular section is part of the famous Appalachian Trail. The ideal time to hike is in the winter, as the trees are bare and upon reaching the summit, with its large flat-topped rock pyramid, there are uninterrupted spectacular views over lakes and mountains of Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts.
This lovely park features 2mi (3km) of easy hiking trails. The wide, flat trails are well maintained and marked clearly. The popular time to visit this trail is in June, as the Veterans Memorial Rose Garden is in bloom with 2,500 rose bushes. Along with the roses the forested trail has some spectacular scenery with wooden footbridges over small streams, ponds and rock formations. Families will enjoy this spot as it has two playgrounds and areas to picnic, including a pavilion. Animal lovers might even spy a white-tailed deer or two.
The best way to hike this 6.5-mi (10.5-km) intermediate-level trail is clockwise, allowing the steeper hills to be climbed first with the rolling terrain at the end. The blue-marked loop winds through Paugussett State Forest, past streams and waterfalls, and down to the shore of Lake Zoar for 2.4mi (3.9km), rewarding hikers with brilliant water views. It is recommended to bring a map as some of the intersections can be confusing, even with the markers. For parking there is a large area at the end of Great Quarter Road at the southeastern corner of the loop.
The 2,300-acre (931-ha) park extends over mountains and peaks, giving hikers the chance to enjoy various levels of terrain. The most popular route is the 6.5-mi (10.5-km) blue-marked Macedonia Ridge Trail for views over the Catskills and Taconic mountains. This looped trail climbs over Cobble Mountain, passing springs and streams, with one half being more rugged and challenging, and the other more straightforward. The parking area at the start of the trail is very small, so during the summer it is recommended to arrive early to snag a space.
On the Stamford/Greenwich border, this nature preserve has some great gentle trails for hiking. The terrain is varied with dense forest and miles of trails running over the 390 acres (158ha). There’s a river and lots of opportunities to see birds and wildlife. A favorite is the 4.5-mi (7-km) yellow loop, which takes hikers past the Mianus River, or there’s the even easier 2.5-mi (4-km) Nature Trail, which has 13 points of interest marked along the way. The fall is especially lovely for hiking because of the foliage.