Gatehouse News Service
Leafing through Connecticut
by Tim Jones
October 3, 2007
Most people think
“north” when they think fall foliage, but your window of opportunity
is greater if you include southern New England, where the “peak”
isn’t until late October or even into November.
Head west to the Litchfield Hills in
northwestern Connecticut, and you’ll find a largely undiscovered
foliage gem. We’re talking the right topography in rolling hills and
river valleys and the right vegetation – mixed hardwood forests with
lots of maples bordering rivers and streams – for prime foliage
Start your exploration at the state parks and
forests of which Litchfield County boasts 16. Any or all are worth a
visit. My personal favorite is the Topsmead State Forest, which
seems to be almost purposefully hidden off Buell Road in Litchfield.
Perhaps the least known and most beautiful of the state-owned lands
in Connecticut, Topsmead is the former estate of brass heiress Edith
Morton Chase and is serenity incarnate on a warm autumn afternoon.
The English Tudor house with its antique
furnishings and exquisite craftsmanship is open for tours on the
second and fourth Saturday of the month, but the real attraction
here is picnicking among the rows of apple trees that lead to the
house. You can enjoy views of the gardens and there’s a
three-quarter-mile interpretive trail detailing the flora.
Easier to find is Housatonic Meadows State
Park, off Route 7 in Sharon. You can camp here under tall pines or
just stop to picnic and fish or simply watch the flow of the
Housatonic River. You don’t want to miss waterfalls including the
250-foot waterfall at Kent Falls State Park in Kent, especially if
it has recently rained. The combination of flowing water and fall
colors is spectacular.
For hillside views, plan a visit to either
Mohawk Mountain State Park in Cornwall or Black Rock State Park in
Watertown. The open slopes of the Mohawk Mountain Ski Area make for
spectacular foliage sighting as you climb to the 1,683-foot summit.
And at Black Rock you get a choice of hiking trails to views of the
black rock ledges and surrounding lakes and colorful hills.
In addition to the state parks and forests,
what sets the Litchfield Hills apart from other destinations is that
it has two of the most exciting and educational nature centers in
The White Memorial Foundation and Conservation
Center in Litchfield preserves more than 4,000 wild acres of gentle
hills, fields, meadows, ponds and wetlands, all embroidered with
perfectly maintained walking paths.
Don’t miss the 1.2 mile-long elevated
boardwalk, which lets you explore the wetlands habitat without
getting your feet wet or your pants muddy. And don’t forget to bring
your binoculars and a bird book – the varied habitats make this a
haven for birds and bird watchers. The day I was there, I saw
mallards and mergansers on the pond, redwing blackbirds in the marsh
and a host of warblers flitting in and out of the dense brush.
A wonderful indoor museum/nature center at the
White Memorial boasts excellent dioramas on the human and natural
history of the area, and even a re-created beaver lodge you can
crawl inside (if you happen to be young, small and flexible).
Not far away, the Sharon Audubon Center is
another natural history gem with 1,147 acres of mixed forest,
meadows, wetlands, ponds and streams. The lands are crisscrossed
with 11 miles of scenic hiking trails, none of them too long or
difficult for an enjoyable foliage stroll. The center also has some
outstanding educational resources. If you forget your binoculars,
you can still see birds here in the avian center that houses 15
birds too injured to return to the wild, including a bald eagle,
owls, hawks and an albino Ringneck Dove.
Add some human-created art to your foliage
viewing by stopping at the nearby Emily Winthrop Miles Wildlife
sanctuary, donated to the Audubon Society by the poet, writer and
artist whose sculptures are on public display.
While you can drive around to see the fall colors, I personally
think it’s a crime to spend all of a sunny October day cooped up in
a car. Here are some active ways to have fun among the leaves.
Go leaf peeping on a friendly Morgan horse.
Lee’s Riding Stables in Litchfield (860-567-0785;
www.windfieldmorganfarm.com/lees.html) offers western and English
trail rides for those of all ability and experience levels.
Dip a paddle in the Housatonic River. You can
rent a canoe or kayak from Clarke Outdoors in West Cornwall
(860-672-6365; www.clarkeoutdoors.com), with a choice of 10-mile
(all day) or six-mile (half-day) paddle.
Speaking of rivers: Did you know that fish bite
better as the water cools in the fall? They do. The
instructor/guides from Housatonic Meadows Fly Shop in Cornwall
Bridge (860-672-6064; www.flyfishct.com) will teach you how to fly
fish and even tie on the correct fly for you.
Bicycles travel at just the right speed for
leaf peeping. Bring your own and almost any back road in this region
will make for a lovely foliage season ride. Or rent a bike at The
Bicycle Tour Company in Kent (888-711-KENT; www.bicycletours.com).
IF YOU GO
Breadloaf Mountain Lodge and Cottages
Comfortable cottages are available at this historic property, right
across from Housatonic River fly fishing and the Housatonic Meadows
State Park. Nightly rates from $175 for two.
Kent Road, Route 7
accommodations are available at this property, which also boasts a
friendly tavern and restaurant. Nightly rates from $159 for two.
Route 63 in Goshen
This is the place to stock up on sandwich supplies, including ham
and smoked cheeses.
Places to visit
White Memorial Foundation And Conservation Center
Whitehall Road (off Route 202), Litchfield
up close to the area’s flora and fauna and stop by the nature center
to learn a thing or two.
Sharon Audubon Center
Cornwall Bridge Road (Rt. 4), Sharon
Here you’ll find miles of hiking trails and a center for injured
For more information
information on lodging, restaurants and attractions, call
860-567-4506 or log on to www.litchfieldhills.com.