When a fine summer day brings thoughts of a picnic, Western Connecticut is the place to be. By the sea or a lake, overlooking the hills or beside a melodic waterfall, this park-rich region abounds with idyllic spots for a summer outing. Many parks also offer swimming and walking trails. Among dozens of possibilities, here are some top picks in Fairfield County and the Litchfield Hills. Many state facilities have a parking fee; free sites are indicated. Pack your baskets and start exploring:
1. Sherwood Island State Park, Westport
Bountiful beach and salt-water swimming on Long Island Sound is the big attraction, but the 235-acre park also has shaded picnic areas, woods, a marsh trail with an observation platform for viewing marsh life, and a small nature center. A great family spot, the park is justly crowded on weekends but peaceful during the week.
2. Sheffield Island, off Norwalk Board the Norwalk Seaport Association’s 49-foot catamaran C.J. Toth for a salty 45-minute escape to Sheffield Island and a day of picnicking, tours of a historic lighthouse, shell hunting, and walks to view the colorful sea birds sheltered in the marshes. Long Island Sound vistas from the 44-foot lighthouse tower are a highlight. Seaport.org
3. Indian Well State Park, Shelton The pool at the bottom of a scenic waterfall gives this park its name. Tables are set in a shaded grove at the edge of the Housatonic River. The park has a small beach and swimming area, and good fishing in other spots along the river. The falls can be seen from a trail next to the Maples picnic area.
4. Squantz Pond State Park, New Fairfield Part of Candlewood Lake, the state’s largest manmade lake, but set apart, Squantz Pond offers a beautiful setting with a tree-lined shoreline and a sandy beach for sunning and swimming. Amenities include concession stands, picnic areas and hiking trails.
5. Huntington State Park, Redding
Anna Huntington's lifelike sculptures of bears and wolves greet visitors to this expansive park covering over 1000 acres of dense woods, fields and five scenic ponds that are fine settings for a picnic and canoeing. Anna, a noted sculptor, was the wife of Archer Huntington, who willed their estate to the state, naming it for his railroad tycoon father, Collis Potter Huntington.
Free Litchfield Hills
1. Kent Falls State Park, Kent.
Find your picnic spot in a meadow at the foot of Connecticut’s tallest waterfall, and have lunch accompanied by the sound effects of the dramatic 100-foot falls. You can work up an appetite or work off your meal on the trail that parallels the falls.
2. Topsmead State Forest, Litchfield
Settle on the lawn and savor the hilltop views from the peaceful former summer estate of heiress Edith Morton Chase. The grounds include many trails and a formal garden. The Chase mansion is open for tours June through October on the 2nd and 4th weekends of each month. Free.
3. Southford Falls State Park, Southbury Eight Mile Brook runs down from Lake Quassapaug in a bubbling waterfall cascade here on its way to join the Housatonic River. Romantics can picnic on a rock adjacent to the falls or at a secluded picnic table by a covered bridge. One of the park’s hiking trails offers a tower lookout with a prime view. Free
4. Burr Pond State Park, TorringtonPicnic by the water, then stroll the scenic trail circling the 88-acre pond. Swimming, fishing, a boat launch, canoe and kayak rentals are available. Hike the park trails to find waterfalls and tablets marking Connecticut’s role in the Civil War and Industrial Revolution, including the first Borden milk plant.
5. American Legion/Peoples Forest, Barkhamsted
Picnic beside a National Wild and Scenic River, the Farmington, and explore trails through the rugged, unspoiled forest terrain. The river is fine for canoeing, kayaking and fishing. The Nature Museum open in summer was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.