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5 Connecticut Road Trips: Waterfalls, Carousels, Burger’s Birthplace

by Staff

CONNECTICUT — The third-smallest state, Connecticut has about 170 towns within its almost 5,545 square miles — and any one of them is easy to get to on a road trip, given the state is only 70 miles wide and 110 miles long.

What Connecticut lacks in size it makes up for in population. It is the fourth-most densely populated of the 50 states but has preserved plenty of places to enjoy nature. Here are five road trips exposing different sides of the Constitution State:

Groove on nature during drive from Quaddick State Park to Ashbel Woodward Museum: Overall, this rural road trip recommended by Only In Your State is only about 43 miles long and takes a little over an hour to drive in normal traffic, giving road trippers plenty of time to savor each leg and groove on nature.

The route starts at Quaddick State Park at Thompson, once the fishing area for the Nipmuck tribe of indigenous people and popular today because of its cool reservoir water and sandy beaches. Continue to groove on nature at Diana’s Pool near Chaplin, one of “America’s Favorite Small Towns to Visit.” This waterfall-fed swimming hole was once described by The New York Times, as “a romantic mix of local legends and clear waters with short trails and a splash of old mil ruins.” Ayers Gap in Franklin has an exquisite waterfall.

The route also includes a boxcar museum in Putnam dedicated to the life and work of Gertrude Chandler Warner, who wrote The Boxcar Children books; a visit to Sharpe Hill Vineyard in Pomfret; and the final stop in Franklin, Ashbel Woodward Museum, the former home of the town doctor, a noted historian, Civil War veteran and author.

Take your appetite to the “birthplace of the hamburger”: That’s Louis’ Lunch, established in New Haven in 1895 and currently run by the fourth generation of the founding family. One of the oldest family-run businesses in the country, the Crown Street restaurant was recognized on its 100th birthday by the Library of Congress as not only the birthplace of the hamburger but the steak sandwich. The restaurant has been recognized by foodie networks and sites, including Food and Wine magazine, The Food Network and The Travel Channel.

The Library of Congress has confirmed Louis’ Lunch in New Haven, Connecticut, as the “birthplace of the hamburger.” (Shutterstock/f11photo)

There are plenty of other things to do in Greater New Haven. A couple of things to think about: Visit the PEZ Visitor Center, the world’s largest display of PEZ memorabilia, or the Shore Line Trolley Museum, the oldest operating trolley museum in the country with more than 100 vintage transit vehicles, 30,000 photographs, and more than 4,000 books and documents.

Mickey Mouse-themed PEZ dispensers are displayed at the PEZ Visitor Center in New Haven, Connecticut. (Shutterstock/EWY Media)

Go round and round in Bristol: Admission is free with reservations for kids under 18 through Sept. 4 at The Carousel Museum in Bristol. The nonprofit museum is focused on preserving a piece of Americana, the lavishly decorated horses galloping in circles found at amusement parks, county fairs and other places children gather. The carousel pieces in the museum show different styles of carving and painting, based on the time period they were made.

The Carousel Museum in Bristol preserves a piece of Americana. (Shutterstock/Ritu Manoj Jethani)

The Museum of Fire History is housed at the same 95 Riverside Ave. location. It celebrates the firefighting legacy of Carlyle “Hap” Barnes, who had a passion for collecting firefighting equipment and memorabilia, as well as teaching people about fire safety and advancements in firefighting technology.

There are plenty of other things to do in Bristol, from its historic downtown and Federal Hill to the quaint village of Forestville.

Fall in love with this gorgeous natural area: Some of the best waterfall views in Connecticut are found at Kent Falls State Park. The waterfalls cascade 250 feet to rejoin the Housatonic River, whose name is derived from the Mohican phrase, “usi-a-di-en-uk,” or “beyond the mountain place.” The state park is a great place for whitewater paddling and fly fishing. The river has been tamed some to generate hydroelectric power and has five dams in Connecticut that help feed Candlewood Lake, the state’s largest lake. Among other things to see are a historic covered bridge and outdoor exhibits reproducing 19th-century art as part of the Connecticut Art Trail

Waterfalls at Kent State Park cascade 250 feet to rejoin the Housatonic River. (Shutterstock/Joseph Sohm)

Road trip like royalty: Gillette Castle State Park near East Haddam is the most southerly hill in a chain known as the Seven Sisters. Noted actor, director and playwright William Hooker Gillette named his 184-acre estate the Seventh Sister, and it was purchased from his estate by the state of Connecticut in 1943. The oddly shaped, 24-room castle with no two of its 47 interior doors the same is reason enough to make the trip, but so, too, are the woodlands, trails and vistas within the park.

Fun fact: Gillette was concerned about what would become of his estate after his death, specifying in his will that it not go to “some blithering saphead who has no conception of where he is or with what surrounded.”

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