While the COVID pandemic has put a damper on many plans to travel extensively in 2020 and 2021, the restrictions have given my family a few silver linings. Two of the most significant benefits have been the opportunity for more time together as a family, and the gift of time to explore our greater Connecticut “backyard.” We’ve been lucky to discover and rediscover so many family-friendly places through Connecticut.
There are 142 state parks and state forests in Connecticut, covering 255,000 acres of public space and thousands of trails for both amateur and veteran hikers. We’re shared a few posts before with 6 places to hike in Western Connecticut and 10 places to Hike in the Mystic area, and 10 places to hike in Fairfield County. While we were not experienced hikers before 2020, we have learned many tips and tricks to make the experience safe and enjoyable for our whole family.
1. Plan ahead.
The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) has a comprehensive website that includes up-to-date information on restrictions, capacity closures, and weather-related concerns; lists of operational hours and fees; trail maps and popular, nearby attractions; and information on rentals and campsites. All CT State parks and forests offer free parking to Connecticut registered vehicles but charge for out-of-state vehicles, campgrounds, and tours of exhibits.
2. Give kids a say.
Show the kids the trail maps and let them pick a route. Many state parks include old ruins, bridges and tunnels, water features like waterfalls and lakes, and scenic views from the top of towers and mountains. The CT DEEP website also lists the unique geological features for each location.
3. Dress appropriately.
Wearing the right shoes is paramount, both for safety and comfort. Make sure everyone is wearing proper sneakers or hiking shoes, ideally waterproof. In warm weather, hats, sunscreen, and bug spray are a must. In the winter, outdoor clothing like layers, hats, gloves, and face shields are important to prevent frostbite.
4. Pack the right supplies.
Bring water; we usually bring one 20-ounce bottle per person on a hike that’s under four miles and have another 20-ounce bottle in the car for post hike. We usually pack a snack, bug spray, sunscreen (seasonal), and TP Kits, which weigh next to nothing, take up no room, are biodegradable, and are great for emergencies. Our favorite backpacks are these REI backpacks that are adjustable and easy to wear. While my husband always takes a photo of the trail map on his phone, I like a paper copy just in case. Public trails will be properly marked, so stay on the marked trail!
5. Know your limits.
If your family isn’t used to hiking, start with 1-2 mile trails that are even, flat terrain, and work your way up to the longer 4-5 mile trails. Pick a time of day when the family is usually most energetic; for some people, that’s first thing in the morning before it gets too hot or the crowds get too large, and some families like to explore in the late afternoon and work up an appetite for dinner. Note: most parks close at dusk, so evening hiking isn’t usually an option (or safe).
Jenn Record, a Fairfield County high school English teacher, is the founder of the family travel blog Coast2CoastwitKids.com. Along with her husband and two children, she enjoys road tripping and exploring the country via National Parks; historical, art, and science museums; presidential libraries; baseball parks; and wherever the locals are eating.