Connecticut has hundreds of family-friendly places, both indoors and outdoors, for families to visit. With spring soon here, we present a list of 10 free outdoor daytrips.
1. Ridgefield resident Christine Argueta, events coordinator for the MOMS Club of Ridgefield, likes to spend time in nature with her three sons, ages 6, 4, and 23 months, and the family frequents the Garden of Ideas, 653 North Salem Road, Ridgefield. “The kids can’t get enough of that place,” she says. “They love trying to catch frogs there, find the gnomes, and just exploring.” gardenofideas.com
2. Also great for walking is the Pequonnock River Trail, running 13.6 miles from Bridgeport to Newtown. The trail is also well suited for bicycling, inline skating, and cross country skiing, and the asphalt and crushed stone surface is wheelchair-accessible. pequonnockrivertrail.org/destinations-parks.html
3. Jennings Beach Skate Park in Fairfield, which can be a stand-alone activity or part of a summer’s day at the beach, has been a popular destination since opening in 2009. The park is open April 1 to Nov. 25, 880 South Benson Road.
4. Birding is a wonderful activity for all ages. A highlight is the Shepaug Dam Bald Eagle Observatory, 2150 River Road, Southbury, which is open only on Wednesdays and weekend mornings, December through March; reservations are a must. home.earthlink.net/~shepaugeagles/id72.html. And the Connecticut Audubon Society has 19 sanctuaries with miles of trails, open year-round from dawn to dusk, where you can see everything from plovers and ospreys to wood ducks and dozens more species. ctaudubon.org
5. To experience still more wildlife, visit White Memorial Conservation Center (grounds and 40 miles of trails with 10 ponds and the Bantam River) open year-round, 80 Whitehall Road, Litchfield. whitememorialcc.org
6. You can’t beat a day in the park, and besides the hundreds of town parks in Connecticut, there are specialty parks across the state, including Weir Farm in Wilton, which was the home and studio of American Impressionist J. Alden Weir. Guests may tour the house and studios and walk among the more than 60 acres where he painted. nps.gov/wefa/index.htm.
7. Elizabeth Park in West Hartford has as its centerpiece a rose garden covering two and a half acres with more than 15,000 rosebushes and arches. Greenhouses, ponds, historical buildings, two baseball fields, two basketball courts, and a playscape round out the offerings. elizabethparkct.org
8. For a touch of the medieval, plan a trip to Gillette Castle, Connecticut’s fortress on a hill. Located at 67 East River Road, East Haddam, the property offers trails that are open year-round; there is small fee for castle tours. ct.gov/deep/gillettecastle
9. Passes for free admission are available for loan for a 48-hour period at most public libraries. Passes may be used at all the major state parks with parking fees, including Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison, Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, and Rocky Neck State Park in East Lyme. The pass also provides free entrance to any museum at a state park, including Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill, Fort Trumbull State Park in New London, and Gillette Castle State Park in East Haddam.
10. Also consider taking a short drive across the state line to Muscoot Farm in Katonah, N.Y., formerly a working dairy farm at 51 NY-100, to experience history, agriculture, and wildlife; open daily. muscootfarm.org
A small price to pay
While not free, here are a few worthwhile area destinations reasonably priced that would make for a fun day trip with children.
Beardsley Zoo, Connecticut’s only zoo for 90 years (two rare Amur tiger cubs make their public debut this spring), 1875 Noble Avenue, Bridgeport, $15 adults, $12 ages 3-11, free for children 3 and under; year-round. beardsleyzoo.org
Pick-your-own farms, all over Connecticut, spring to fall, offering families a chance to harvest berries, apples, and pumpkins. Entrance is free but you pay for what you pick. ctvisit.com/interest/pick-your-own
Stamford Museum & Nature Center, offering 80 acres of nature trails, farm animals, playground, a museum, and a planetarium, 39 Scofieldtown Road, Stamford, $10 adults, $5 ages 4-17, free for children 3 and under, year-round. stamfordmuseum.org
Storm King Art Center, sculpture park having more than 100 sculptures sited on 500 acres of rolling hills and fields, 1 Museum Road, New Windsor, N.Y., $18 adults, $15 seniors, $8 ages 5-18 and students, free for children 4 and under; open April to November. stormking.org