Difficulty Level (for Little Feet): Easy-Medium
Summary: If you enjoy a hike that offers a taste of history, Gillette Castle State Park might be worth your time. Along with miles of easy trails in the scenic CT woodlands, you can enjoy views of Gillette Castle overlooking the wide Connecticut River. Take a tour, if you wish, of this house/castle designed by William Gillette and fully constructed in 1919.
There are smooth easy trails that wind along the property in front of the castle but we opted to head down towards the Connecticut river...because, water. I didn't want to spoil the surprise but I was secretly hoping that if we were able to make the descent, I could bring the boys across the river on the Chester/Hadlyme Ferry.
Facing the castle, we went left down a wide dirt path/road that wraps around the back and followed a more narrow trail that looked like it would lead us down to the banks of the CT River. There were some wooden steps and occasional handrails that made the narrow trail feel a bit safer for the four-year-old. As we followed the trail, we caught glimpses through the trees of the river with the ferry crossing back and forth...it was quite picturesque, a good photo op (see top photo).
Once at the bottom, we were pleasantly greeted by a long sandy beach in the shade of the trees. I was really surprised by this. Playing in the mud commenced and I even sat on a picnic table to watch the boys from a few feet away. Boaters and fishers glided up and down the river and we watched the ferry cross 100 yards from our spot. After some snacks and water on giant old fallen trees, we prepared for the next part of our journey.
I put Sammy back in the kid carrier and walked across a grassy area over to the Ferry. To the children's delight, we boarded the ship and heroically crossed the river. The wind was in our hair and we set out sights on the opposite bank. The engine rumbled underfoot and Gillette Castle became a landmark in our sight on the most Southerly Hill of a small range in the area known as the Seven Sisters. We crossed back, bid the ferry adieu, and traced our steps back to the castle. The return hike was a bit strenuous and I carried the four-year-old for a few hundred feet to give him a rest while Sammy enjoyed his free ride on my back. Lucky dude.
I'd like to go back to explore the soft miles of shaded single track that lead you through areas of hardwood and pine flooring, but getting to the river and hoping on the ferry was plenty of adventure for one day. So we chugged more water, headed over to Mystic for some hang time and ice cream, then went home.
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