Report by Paula Antolini
October 1, 2017 5:44PM EDT
The Best Fall Foliage Drives in Connecticut, Scenic Views and Hiking Locations
Foliage season begins in late September and extends through early November. Peak color is estimated to be between October 5th and November 8th. However, depending on the weather in the coming weeks, the peak date may be adjusted a few days earlier or later as the season progresses.
Tips For All Leaf Peepers
- If you are traveling a long distance to Connecticut or you plan on making a weekend out of your trip, make hotel reservations in advance.
- Try to plan your trip during mid-week; you will find that roads are quieter giving you more opportunity to enjoy the views.
- Make an adventure out of your trip, explore the State’s back roads. Some of the best sights are off the beaten path.
- Don’t worry about missing “peak” color. You will still be able to enjoy a full array of colors that can be found before “peak”.
- Make time to explore some areas on foot. Hiking allows you to truly experience the foliage you have come to enjoy.
Scenic Views and Hiking Locations
The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection invites you to ” Drop In And Discover” your state parks and forests.
Following are nine state parks and forests selected not only for their fall foliage, but also for providing viewing towers or lookouts. Spectacular views can also be found at the Goodwin Conservation Center, listed below.
Come to these selected parks and forests, view the surrounding countryside, and hike to discover the beauty of New England. Here are just a few of Connecticut’s best scenic viewing areas:
- Macedonia Brook State Park, Kent – Cobble Mountain From Kent Center, take Route 341 west for approximately 2 miles. Take first right onto Macedonia Brook Road, which takes you into the park. (Bear left at the fork.)Office and parking lot are located 1 mile inside the park. Trail maps are available. Take white blazed Cobble Mountain Trail. The overlook has views across the Harlem Valley to the Taconic and Catskill Mountains.
- Mohawk State Forest, Cornwall From Torrington, Route 4W (14 miles) to forest entrance (Toumey Road) on left. Take road to ‘T’ intersection and turn right onto Mohawk Mountain Road.Scenic vistas to the north and west include the Catskill, Taconic and Berkshire ranges. For your hiking pleasure both the Mattatuck and Mohawk trails (blue blazed) cross the site.
- Pachaug State Forest, Voluntown – Mt. Misery Overlook From Voluntown take Route 49N (6 miles) to forest entrance on the left. Go west (2 miles) and bear left at forks to parking area.Take woods access road on left to overlook.This forest also contains miles of roads and hiking trails.
- Peoples State Forest, Barkhamsted – Chaugnam Lookout From junction of Routes 318 and 181 in Pleasant Valley, go east over bridge then take first left onto East River Road. Jesse Gerard trailhead is 2.4 miles on the right. Recreation area is opposite the trailhead.Take trail (yellow blazes) to two lookouts.
- Shenipsit State Forest, Somers – Observation Tower(Please Note: Observation Tower closed until further notice.) From Somers, Take Route 190E (1.25 miles) to blinking yellow light. Turn right onto Gulf Road (2.25 miles) to next right after Mountain View Road, which is Soapstone Mountain Road. Take road to tower parking lot.For your hiking enjoyment, Shenipsit Trail (blue blazed) runs by the tower. The observation tower on Soapstone Mountain provides wonderful views of the surrounding and distant landscapes. PLEASE NOTE: Observation Tower closed until further notice.
- Sleeping Giant State Park, Hamden – Stone Tower From Hamden, take Route 10N (2 miles) to Mount Carmel Avenue. Turn right, main entrance and parking are located approximately .25 miles on left.From entrance lot, take gravel path (1.5 miles) to Stone Tower. From the tower you have a 360 degree panorama looking south to Long Island and north past Hartford. For additional hiking, Sleeping Giant has 30 miles of trails that form the giants ‘head’ to his ‘left knee’ and ‘right foot.’
The park also has an extensive trail system for all levels of hiking ability.
- Talcott Mountain State Park, Simsbury – Heublein Tower From Bloomfield, take Route 185W (3 miles) to entrance sign on left after mountain crest.Park along the road near the trailhead. Hike to ridge, then left to the restored Heublein tower. View from tower is over the Farmington River Valley.Another nearby alternative is located at Penwood State Park (entrance is on left 500 feet east from Talcott Mountain entrance). From the parking lot, a hike up the gated road loops to an escarpment overlook.
- Mt. Tom State Park, Litchfield Located off Route 202 – A stone tower 1, 325 feet above sea level can be reached by hiking a one-mile long trail.
- Dennis Hill State Park, Norfolk Located off Route 272 – A summit pavilion located 1, 627 feet above sea level provides views of New Hampshire, Vermont’s Green Mountains, and more.The drive to the summit is open weekends only from October 4 through October 26.
- Goodwin Conservation Center, On Route 6 in Hampton
View autumn colors reflected in the water of Pine Acres Pond from the wildlife-watching platform (wheelchair accessible). You can also walk through the canopy along one section of the Air Line Trail in the Goodwin State Forest.
Click on image below to view larger.
MORE SCENIC DRIVES from Visit Connecticut:
Loop #1: Scenic Fairfield County
Distance: Approximately 115 miles
Estimated peak viewing: October 16 – October 30
This route takes you through Fairfield County into the southern part of the Litchfield Hills region.
- Begin in Norwalk at Route 15 (Merritt Parkway) exit 38.
- Go north on Routes 123, 106, 33, 35 and 7 to I-84 exit 3 in Danbury.
- Then head east on I-84 to exit 5.
- Take left on Starr Ave.
- Quick right onto Cowperthwaite St.
- Quick right onto North Main Street
- Quick left onto Golden Hill Road to Route 39
- Go north on Routes 39 to 37 to Route 7.
- Take Route 7 to New Milford.
- Go south on Route 67 to Roxbury, then Route 317 to Woodbury.
- From Woodbury take Route 6 south to I-84 exit 15.
- Jog west on I-84 to exit 10, then southwest on Routes 6, 25 and 302 to Route 58.
- Head south on 58 and 136 to Route 15 (Merritt Parkway) exit 42 and head for Norwalk to close the loop.
Loop #2: Litchfield Hills Ramble
Distance: Approximately 100 miles
Estimated peak viewing: September 26 – October 15
This route is in the Litchfield Hills region, the first part of Connecticut to see color changes, so best to do it a little earlier in the season.
- Begin in Torrington.
- Go north on Route 8 to Winsted then northwest on Route 44 to Canaan, or Falls Village.
- Turn south on Route 7 to Kent, then east on Route 341 to Warren and South on Route 45 through New Preston.
- Go east on Route 202 for about a mile then turn south on Route 47 to Washington Depot.
- Turn northeast on Route 109 to East Morris, then north on Route 63 to Litchfield.
- Head east on Route 118 for a few miles then north on Route 8 to close the loop.
Loop #3: Hartford West
Distance: Approximately 90 miles
Estimated peak viewing: October 3 – October 30
This route follows Route 20 up into the heart of northern Connecticut, and takes you on a ride through forests and along rivers.
- Begin in Hartford.
- Take 1-91 north to exit 45 (Bridge Street, East Windsor).
- Head west on Route 140 to the airport, then south on Route 75 to Route 20.
- Head west through Granby, the Hartlands and Riverton, picking up West River Road south through People’s State Forest to Pleasant Valley.
- Continue south on Route 181 to Route 44 and head east through New Hartford, Canton and Avon to Route 10 – south to Farmington.
- Pick up Route 4 and head for Hartford to close the loop.
Loop #4: Exploring the Quiet Corner
Distance: Approximately 100 miles
Estimated peak viewing: September 30 – October 23
This route takes you up into the “Quiet Corner” of Connecticut, with rolling hills, farmlands and scenic views throughout.
- Begin on I-84 exit 67.
- Go south on Route 31 to the junction of Route 44.
- Take Route 44 east to Route 195.
- Turn south on Route 195 to Route 6 and turn east to Brooklyn.
- Pick up Route 169 north to North Woodstock, then go west on Routes 197 and 190 to I-84 exit 73.
- Turn west to close the loop.
Loop #5: Mystic Country & the Coast
Distance: Approximately 90 miles
Estimated peak viewing: October 9 – November 6
This eastern Connecticut drive takes you through the region known as Mystic Country, and gives you great views of the shoreline in fall.
- Begin in New London.
- Take I-95 north across the Thames River to left-hand exit 86.
- Go east on Route 184 to Old Mystic.
- Take Route 27 south to Mystic.
- Go east on Route 1 to Route 2, then north on Route 2, 184 and 49 to Route 14A to Canterbury.
- Head south on Routes 169 and 2 to Norwich then take Route 32 south to close the loop at New London.
Loop #6: Connecticut River Color
Distance: Approximately 80 miles
Estimated peak viewing: October 16 – November 6
This route tracks along the scenic and historic Connecticut River, crossing it along the nation’s oldest swing bridge at East Haddam.
- Begin at Middletown.
- Go south on Route 9 to exit 10.
- Take Route 154 south to Route 148, then head east to a ferryboat crossing. (Note: ferry season is April – November; alternate crossing is the I-95 bridge between Old Lyme and Old Saybrook.)
- From the landing, continue east on Route 148 and 82 to Route 156, then turn south to I-95.
- Cross the river on I-95 to exit 69.
- Head north on Route 154 to Route 82 and recross the river at East Haddam.
- Continue east to Route 151 and turn north to Cobalt.
- Turn left on Route 66 and close the loop at Middletown.
Loop #7: New Haven & Neighborhood
Distance: Approximately 70 miles
Estimated peak viewing: October 24 – November 14
A little later in the season, this easy drive takes you through areas around New Haven. In addition to the surrounding region, the elm city itself is a great place to visit in fall.
- Begin in New Haven.
- Take I-95 north to exit 51
- Pick up Route 1, then 146 and continue east to Guilford.
- Turn north on Route 77 to Durham, then north on 17 and west on Routes 147, 157, 68 and 70 to Cheshire.
- Take Route 10 south to New Haven to close the loop.
A Little Something Different – Connecticut’s Shoreline
Are you tired of battling the hordes of leaf-peepers heading north this time of year? Why not head to the coast instead to look for colorful foliage of a more unusual nature? Many locations along the Connecticut shore offer fascinating vistas during the fall, including almost all of the coastal state parks, wildlife management areas and other open space sites described in DEEP’s Connecticut Coastal Access Guide.
A prime example is Long Beach in Stratford. Sandwiched between Long Island Sound and the Great Meadows tidal wetlands, Long Beach is one of the longest barrier beaches in Connecticut–a little over a mile long. A visit here is a chance to walk along the shore, explore the dunes and appreciate the sheltered tidal wetlands. Though many of the colors may be a bit subdued, there is a sophistication in the warm buff of the dune grasses and the greens and gold’s of the tidal wetlands. If brighter colors are more to your liking, few northern maples can match the brilliant red of the dense mats of low-growing glasswort in the wetlands. The bright blues of a sunny sky reflected off the tidal creeks double the enjoyment.
Although most of our summer shorebirds are long gone, a visit in October also brings the chance to glimpse migrating birds that have spent their summer further north. Shorebirds (including semipalmated sandpiper, black-bellied plover, ruddy turnstone, sanderling, and greater and lesser yellowlegs), waterfowl (including mallard, black duck, and merganser), hawks, and other migrants often can be spotted here. So bring your binoculars and your bird books.
Off-season, the parking is free, but make sure you dress appropriately, as the “sea breeze” can be chilly. Fishing is permitted. If you intend to visit during hunting season, proper precautions, including wearing hunter’s orange, should be taken as hunting is allowed in the Great Meadows salt marsh.
To get to Long Beach, take Exit 30 off I-95 and follow the signs to Sikorsky Memorial Airport. Enjoy the drive through the Great Meadows salt marsh, passing the airport on the left. At the next stop sign, turn right onto Oak Bluff Avenue. At the foot of Oak Bluff Avenue, enter the beach access and parking area. The beach is easily accessible from any of the parking spaces, but the easiest access for viewing the tidal wetlands is from the far western end of the parking area. So leave the leaves behind this fall, and check out Long Beach in Stratford.
Other Viewing Suggestions – Hike or Bike on one of Connecticut’s Multi-use Trails
Try one of the many bikeways throughout the state to take in the wonderful colors of fall. These multi-use trails present a great way for outdoor enthusiasts, whether they are bikers, hikers or walkers, to experience autumn’s show. Located throughout Connecticut, the trails bring visitors along our lakes, streams, rivers, ridgelines, and forests where they can quietly enjoy nature at their own pace.
For more information on Connecticut’s multi-use trails, including locations, maps, and directions, visit the DEEP State Parks and Forests Maps page. You can also find trails suggested for your activity or trails located near you by using DEEP’s interactive ‘Find a State Park or Forest’ map.