An Overview of Hiking in Connecticut

If I asked you how many places you think there are to hike, paddle, and climb in Connecticut, what would you guess? I’ve been asking people lately and I’ve had guesses all the way from 400 to 1,300.

What if I told you there are 1,968 places? One thousand nine hundred and sixty eight. I hope that staggers you a bit, because it certainly did me.

I had this rough idea in my head that it was somewhere around 1,200 and as I combed all the lists, guides, public webpages, and official sources the number just kept going up and up. I’ve hiked 441 of those places which still leaves 1,526. My ‘most explored’ year I visited 109 locations so if I kept up that pace every year and only visited new locations it would still take me another 14 more years to go through them all.

But I didn’t stop at just creating a master list.

I’m one of those people that find it really satisfying to lay things out in spreadsheets, I’ve got a few that keep things tracked and running smoothly in regular life and I’ve created a handful for this hiking project of mine already. As I previewed a bit in my year-end newsletter I built a whole dashboard to calculate all sorts of things from all the places I’ve explored, to miles of trails, acres preserved, how many spots in each county, town, or organization.

As you can imagine this is a pretty large undertaking so the numbers aren’t quite accurate all around as there is still plenty of info to track down and input, but it’s got the broad strokes covered. Once you start to try to get specific it can get pretty complicated. How many parcels of a 16,000 acre state forest are explorable? If a land trust and a town park intermix trails on adjacent property is that one location or two? Is the 50 mile Air Line Trail State Park one or as many as 34 distinct sections? If a town park has a 0.3 mile gravel ‘trail’ around a playscape does that “count”? How many boat launches does a river need? And on and on… I’m sure it’s too into the weeds for you and honestly for me too. I’m just looking to have some fun seeing interesting things around the state and make that same experience easier for you.

Here’s partially what the sheet looks like on the back end.

Now what cool things does putting this all together tell us?

I’ve explored 22.4% of the state (in this narrow sense at least) and my totally subjective ratings puts almost 2/3rds of those at ‘Enjoyable short hike usually for locals’.

Little things, like there are 6 different Veteran’s Parks around the state. There 14 hiking spots that start with the word Mill. Or that S and B are the far and away the most popular first letters of explorable locations with about 200 each (Z has 5). There are tons of unique names like Blackberry Inn, Bogus Brook, and Big Gulph. It’s fun to just scroll the list and see what jumps out.

Of Connecticut’s 169 towns, East Haddam comes in first with 43 explorable locations, followed by Ridgefield with 42, and Mansfield with 35. I’m less confident I have this part complete, but Mansfield actually comes in first for miles of hiking trails with 86.29 while East Haddam has 60.87. All 169 towns have at least 1 explorable location, but two towns only have 1 and another 5 only have 2.

I thought completing Windham County was pretty involved with 122 locations, but it turns out every other county has more. And I was surprised to see that Fairfield County actually leads the way with 367 (though I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up not having the most miles).

Connecticut’s state parks protect about 38,786 acres and provide at least 386.32 miles of trails. State Forests and Wildlife Management Areas account for another 90,000 acres and another 190 miles of trails that I know of. Dotting the state are 38 explorable towers, 95 waterfalls, and 21 lighthouses. My counts for overlooks is already at 67, 15 for ‘caves’, and 19 for ruins from places I’ve already explored, but with so many remaining I’d expect that overlooks number to at least triple.

Avalonia and Joshua’s Trust tie in the land trust power rankings with 35 hikeable locations each, but Avalonia edges out with more acres preserved and more miles of trails with about 55. Aspetuck just misses with 34 locations and some proposed land trust mergers might shake things up here.

From here I think you can start to have fun combining different elements. Which park combines the most outdoor activities (hiking, mtb, boating, climbing, etc)? What are five overlooks perfect for sunset views? What are Connecticut’s three island state parks? What area has the densest number of high quality hikes? I know the answers to most of these already and I suspect as I continue to explore and fill in the remaining information I’ll get more answers and ask better questions.

Really though I think all this is to say, once more, that there truly is a wealth all around us. Pick your pleasure whether it’s kayaking or rock climbing, long distance backpacking or waterfall hunting, fishing or strolling there is likely way more right around the corner from you than you’ve ever realized. Pick your area, pick your skill level, pick out the kind of highlight you’re seeking – with 2,000 options in our little state you are sure to find something for your weekend or enough to fill a lifetime of adventure.