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Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Miller Pond State Park - Durham

This is a story about another tucked away lesser known Connecticut State Park. It's also a story about how I genuinely think people are good, but there are some less than great ones too, and one of those less than great humans was also at Miller Pond State Park.

Harsh start to today's state park guide, I know, I know, but hear me out. It was a gorgeous fall day here in Connecticut. It was a Sunday, the first day of October, and temperatures were creeping into the upper 70s. My parents know about my State Park scheme, and love spending time with their grandkids, and suggested we tackle a park in the afternoon. I looked at my map and my google doc of localish parks with varying hiking trails and mileage. Miller Pond State Park in Durham was about 25-30 minutes away and had a short 1.5-mile loop around the park. I loaded the kids and the dogs in the carseat, loaded up enough snacks and the kids hiking packs, and picked up my parents before heading to the State Park. 

Monday, October 2, 2023

Dinosaur State Park - Rocky Hill

Dinosaur State Park

On another soggy September day, a Friday where I am solely in charge of keeping both kids alive, I did some research to find a state park that could offer some kind of indoor adventure (if you are just tuning in, I set the goal of visiting all the Connecticut State Parks). I did a little bit of research and found a wildly unique state park that fit the bill. 

I'm embarrassed to admit I've lived in Connecticut for many years and I had never heard of the Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill. I soon discovered the Dinosaur State Park has a lengthy trail system and outdoor area, but also a geodesic dome built over the dinosaur tracks with various exhibits, perfect for a rainy day. 

Outdoor area at the Dinosaur State Park

Friday, September 29, 2023

Day Pond State Park - Colchester

Day Pond State Park Guide

We have had a very wet Connecticut summer. It has rained most weekends and September was sort of like "keep it coming". After two days of heavy rain, I decided to head to one of the state parks with a waterfall (there are several) to see what the water levels were like after #SoggySeptember. After a quick google search, the start to many adventures, I headed north to Day Pond State Park in Colchester to hike to Day Pond Brook Falls and I was not disappointed.
The park itself is beautiful with a stone dam, swimming lake, fishing area, picnic area, rentable pavilion, and expansive trail network including Connecticut's blue blaze hiking trail system. There is a 3.5 mile loop that takes you through the park and up to Day Pond Brook Falls in the northern section of the park. I brought Piper and the dogs and on an overcast Tuesday in September, we had the entire trail to ourselves. In true KW style, I made quick notes to come back with my horse to ride the yellow blazed CT Horse Council trail system, and to bring back the kids to swim in the summer.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Harkness Memorial State Park - Waterford

Harkness Memorial State Park

Stop #2 on my 2023 Connecticut State Park Tour took me and the kids 35 minutes east up the coast to Goshen Point to visit Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford. Harkness Memorial State Park isn't your typical state park. You won't find hiking trails or geocaching, you won't see mountain bikers or trail runners. Instead, it's more of an upscale oceanfront property owned by the state, open to the public like your other state parks. Here, you can expect to find picnickers, bird watchers, leisurely strollers, garden enthusiasts, dog walkers, and kids testing out their new bikes on the quiet paved access roads in the park. In my early 20s, I catered weddings here with a local catering company. 15 years later, I brought my kids back and forgot just how gorgeous this park is. Only two parks in and I am quickly reminded how many beautiful open spaces we have that are open to Connecticut residents for free. I hope this series inspires you to take advantage of some of these amazing parks. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Rocky Neck State Park - East Lyme

Rocky Neck State Park

A constant theme you will find as you read my state park guides is "I forgot how beautiful this place is". Rocky Neck was exactly that. I have been to the park many times over the years but after a long hiatus, I was back at the park with my son with a fresh set of eyes and deeper appreciation for this gem of a park so close to home. I forgot just how lovely the trails are, quiet even on a Sunday in September. I forgot about the views of the water as you make your way closer to the pavilion. I forgot about the boardwalk and the picnic area, the sandy beaches and the boardwalk. I forgot about the bridge over the marsh and the birds and just how lovely this park is.

Rocky Neck State Park Trails
Hiking Trails

Rocky Neck was the first "revisit" on my newly installed State Park tour and this was my first time exploring the park with my son. I loved it as we made our way on a 3 mile loop on the hiking trails with our dog Olive with a long stop at the train tracks with the hopes of a sighting. 



Rocky Neck is open to the public and a part of the state park system thanks to conservationists who secured the land in 1931 with their personal funds until the State Legislature authorized its purchase. It's hard to imagine what would have happened if this beautiful spot was just another private mansion along the water. Instead, devout conservationist ensured that this park was available for all to enjoy all year round. 

Rocky Neck State Park Pavilion
The Pavilion Balcony

Rocky Neck State Park entry sign
Rocky Neck State Park Signage


Rocky Neck is a favorite park for many. While I've never used the beach, I have visited the park many times for picnic dinners, hikes through the park, and a wedding in the pavilion. The park is a thriving ecosystem bound on the west by a tidal river and to the east by a broad salt marsh. Birders come to rocky neck to see the osprey in the early summer or the cranes, herons and mute swans in the fall. 

Rocky Neck State Park views along the trail
View of the sound along the trails


Camping, Picnicking, Hiking, Fishing, Swimming

Camping is offered within the park with 160 wooded and open campsites. Note that pets aren't allowed. You can find out more about camping within the park here.

While there aren't a lot of trails in the park, there is a fantastic 3-mile loop with about 200 feet of elevation gain in the park extending from the alternate parking area along 156 to the Pavilion and beach area. Most of the trail covers the red loop and you will go through the woods, take in the views of the sound and make your way to the pavilion before heading back towards the parking lot on a loop trail but this time, with a view of the marsh and Bride Brook. Find a trail map here. 

Dogs are allowed on the hiking trails and north of the railroad. Dogs are not allowed in the campground and south of the train tracks which includes on the beach, boardwalk or pavilion.

The Ellie Mitchell Pavilion at Rocky Neck State Park is a unique and historic cobblestone structure with stone fireplaces and native wood pillars. The second floor of the Pavilion is available for wedding receptions, galas, private parties, seminars and corporate events.  

Rocky Neck State Park Pavilion
Rocky Neck State Park Pavilion

Rocky Neck State Park Pavilion
Picnic Area

Hiking trails at Rocky Neck State Park

Bridge over the marsh