It's officially Fall, which means we don't have to dodge the midday sun in fear of burning and heatstroke! It means cool mornings and pleasant evenings and the most scenic time of year to take to the woods with your tribe. This hike I can't recommend enough. In fact, it's more of a quick walk, then plan to just hang around for a while.
This was our first hike in a series of 10 to 14 hikes across Connecticut as a part of the Connecticut State Parks Sky's the Limit initiative, which is a part of No Child Left Inside. I couldn't wait to get started and we had our sights set on Sleeping Giant State Park since I've heard so many great things about it. Overall the hike took us roughly 2 hours from bottom to top and back again, complete with breaks, scrambles and some goofing around.
Location: Middletown, CT (721 Wadsworth St, Middlefield, CT)
Difficulty Level (for little feet): Easy/Medium
Summary: This was one of our highlight hikes. Eli and Sam fell in love with the massive waterfall and spent hours playing in the shallows not far from the pounding water.
Though there are a few miles of trails according to their map, we didn't hike much since I ended up parking relatively close to the falls in the first place. That wasn't my intent but after a few hundred feet of woods, we walked down the dirt path that opened up to the base waters which was a broad and shallow river and were hooked. What a great spot! Judging by the thunderous noise from where we parked, I had high expectation (and wasn't let down!)
The kids were totally free to play here and wade up and down the river as much as they wanted. Like I said...it was shallow and safe. We might return at some point to hike upriver but the falls are supposed to be the highlight so if you're looking for a place to plant yourself for a while, this will work just fine.
Since you're in Middletown, you can make a day of this trip by heading over to a spectacular kids place called Kid City. It's less than 10 minutes away and you'll be greeted with three floors of endless play. For a reasonable fee you can spend hours exploring the fishery, the castle and myriad other themed rooms. There are lots of restaurants in the area so if you find something good, leave it in the comments! I'm a big fan of Eli Cannon's but it's not necessarily a kids place (though I've taken E there before).
Bring a bathing suit and some bug spray when you go to the falls, you'll probably need them!
Name: Valley Falls Park
Location: Vernon, CT
Difficulty level (for little feet): Easy
Summary: Valley Falls Park is minutes from where I live and I was totally surprised at what a great place it is to bring the kids for a quick jaunt. Easy hiking and you can make it as long or short as you want based on the trails you choose. There's a beach area with trails taking off from the left and the right. We went to the right, across a small red bridge, and chose to follow the stream rather than loop the pond.
Elijah's favorite part was the scramble we saw immediately to our right. He raced up, hand over foot, while I timed him. Sam could freely walk these gentle trails, too. There are occasional spurts of tree roots but other than that this was a hike doable for two-years-old and up. The tree cover kept us nice and cool and there were plenty of spots to go off into the nearby stream to dig for treasure.
Based on a google search, it looks like there are some waterfalls on one of the trails but we didn't get that far. It's worth going back to explore sometime and is a great easy trip for people in the area. Not sure I'd drive any distance for this hike, even though it was pleasant. Plus, you can take a dip at the end in the pond if you want.
Side note: I think they charge $5 per car in the summer but we were there early enough to avoid the fee. I'm not a big fan of paying to get into nature so if this bothers you, there are plenty of other places to check out!
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.
Have something to add? Leave it in the comments!
Name: Bluff Point State Park
Difficulty Level (for Little Feet): Easy
Summary: I went to Bluff Point years ago and rode the single track inland on my bike but never got to this view. Years later, I was totally impressed by the result of our trek! I always love heading down to the CT shoreline and this was no disappointment.
As you can see in the picture above, the end to this walk/hike is a stunning beach with crystal clear water (at least when I went in early spring). This is an easy family-friendly hike with the only challenge being that it's a bit of a long haul if you have one kid in your arms and the other on your back (Eli was particularly tired this day). I encourage my kids to try to push to the end but sometimes, they're just tired. I guess they are only like...3 feet tall, so that's okay!
The parking area puts you right at a great shallow inlet with calm water and picnic tables. So bring a picnic to start if you want (see below). You'll probably see some people walking around with buckets and funny looking rakes, those are people digging for clams. Might be something to look into someday. The hike to the bluff is about 1.5 miles-ish. So it's a decent way for little feet.
The main path is wide and hardback with gentle rolls but no serious incline or declines. Might want to bring a kid carrier for this one just because of the distance. This isn't a secluded spot...lots of other families, bikers, dogs, etc. but surprisingly, not a lot of people went to the end of the trail where your view opens to see the whole bluff. Beautiful. And the entrance to the beach is about 30 feet of just little crushed shells...very cool. Kids can play on the beach for a while here. Pop open some snacks and water and relax. Bring the camera too for this one.
When you've returned to your car, follow the road straight out to Dairy Queen for some refreshments. Nearby is Harkness State Park (25 minutes) and the USS Nautilus. Head over to Mystic or just make a day of Bluff Point...you really can't go wrong!