Ferry Landing Park (Old Lyme)
This fishing pier extending into the Connecticut River in Old Lyme is arguably one of the prettiest spots on the Connecticut shoreline. Here, subtly stunning natural beauty is juxtaposed with the infrastructure of daily life: as you walk out above the blue water, phragmites blowing in the breeze and osprey nests in the distance, you pass beneath the railroad bridge that carries Amtrak and Shoreline East trains across the river. I-95 is visible off in the distance, and small boats motor in and out of the nearby marina, but it’s very easy to feel entirely alone here. It takes about 10 minutes to stroll from the start of the wooden pier to the elevated observation deck at the end, but you can extend your walk by following the path from the parking area past the marina and beside a small park.
Website: CT DEEP Other State Parks & Forests
Address: 398 Ferry Road, Old Lyme, CT, 06371
Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, Salt Meadow Unit (Westbrook)
The only National Wildlife Refuge in Connecticut, Stewart B.McKinney is made up of ten parcels of land dotted along the coast. The Salt Meadow unit, just minutes from the highway and the center of Westbrook, feels like a hidden forest wonderland. Originally farmland, this property was at one time the home of professor and journalist Esther Everett Lape and her partner, lawyer and activist Elizabeth Fisher Read. Their friend Eleanor Roosevelt was a frequent visitor. (When the First Lady traveled here from New York, she would get off the train not at the Westbrook station but at a spot along the tracks at the foot of the hill below the stone house.) Venture past the historic houses to find trails of varying lengths that wind through environments ranging from salt marsh to scrub-shrub wetland to deciduous forest. Follow the narrow dirt paths lined with ferns and flowers, stopping to see the old stone walls and intriguing stone structures, or stand on the elevated platforms overlooking the water. There are a few inclines with rocks and roots underfoot, but the walk is mostly flat, making it even easier to enjoy the leafy green world around you.
Address: 733 Old Clinton Road, Westbrook, CT, 06498
Shoreline Greenway Trail (Branford)
The Shoreline Greenway Trail is a work in progress, a series of walking and biking paths that will eventually be linked, forming a 25-mile route from New Haven to Madison. One especially scenic section of the Greenway is in Branford, where the Trolley Trail follows the old Connecticut Company trolley route over a historic bridge and past the Thimble Islands. This flat, .8 mile trail, which connects two nature preserves, is lined with quintessential Connecticut salt marsh scenes. But as you walk, you’ll also pass between rugged rock faces, wooded areas, and an ever-evolving, brightly graffitied section of concrete wall. Off to the side, narrower trails lead, temptingly, up into the woods.
A newer segment of the Greenway, with some notable highlights of its own, can be found not far away. The paved Tabor Trail, about three quarters of a mile long, is an easy-going path. Along the way, you’ll probably want to stop for a few minutes and walk the stone labyrinth laid out across from the placid water of Chet’s Pond.
Website: Shoreline Greenway Trail
Address: For the Trolley Trail, park in the lot off West Point Road or at Tilcon Road. For the Tabor section, park at the lot on Tabor Drive.
Shoreline Greenway Trail (Madison)
One particularly gorgeous section of the Greenway Trail – and an established favorite for local walkers and bikers – is the Hammonasset Segment, which winds from Hammonasset Beach State Park nearly to downtown Madison. Along this stretch, despite its proximity to Long Island Sound and the Boston Post Road, the green in Greenway is especially apparent. The lush trees here, growing tall on either side of the wide gravel trail, create a surprisingly dramatic tunnel of leaves. Along this roughly one-mile route, you get occasional glimpses of water and open marshland. But for the most part, you feel like you’re wandering through a verdant forest.
Website: Shoreline Greenway Trail
Address: Park at the Shoreline Greenway Trail lot on Route 1 (Boston Post Road), just east of the Hammonasset Connector entrance to Hammonasset Beach State Park.
Poquonnock River Walkway (Groton)
This wooden boardwalk, bordered by the Poquonnock River on one side and dense foliage on the other, is located in the shadow of the far better known Bluff Point State Park in Groton. The walkway zigs and zags beside the water for half a mile without ever wandering too far from town; houses and private docks are visible at some points, as are electrical wires, and one entry to the boardwalk is right off a busy street. (The other is at the parking lot of a small park.) Still, this elevated path, strewn with delicate petals and pine needles, manages to feel like a little foray into the wild. It’s a quick and easy walk, but it’s also a place to sit and watch the water – benches are placed at various points along the way, and there’s a gazebo-like seating area at one end.
Website: Groton Parks and Recreation
Address: The parking lot is on Depot Road in Groton, before the entrance to Bluff Point State Park.
All of these trails include narrow sections. As I mentioned in my post of tips for social distancing in Connecticut, I always visit this type of trail in the early morning or at other less popular times to avoid coming within 6 feet of others as much as possible.