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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 viewing.

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 Northeast.

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.

Get Active
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

Staying there
Breadloaf Mountain Lodge and Cottages

13 Route 7

Cornwall Bridge

860-672-6064

www.breadloafmountainlodge.com

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.

 

Cornwall Inn

270 Kent Road, Route 7

Cornwall Bridge

800-786-6884

www.cornwallinn.com

B&B accommodations are available at this property, which also boasts a friendly tavern and restaurant. Nightly rates from $159 for two.

 

Picnic supplies
Nodine’s Smokehouse

Route 63 in Goshen

800-222-2059

www.nodinesmokehouse.com

This is the place to stock up on sandwich supplies, including ham and smoked cheeses.

 

Places to visit

White Memorial Foundation And Conservation Center

80 Whitehall Road (off Route 202), Litchfield

860-567-0857

www.whitememorialcc.org

Get up close to the area’s flora and fauna and stop by the nature center to learn a thing or two.

 

Sharon Audubon Center

325 Cornwall Bridge Road (Rt. 4), Sharon

860-364-0520

www.sharon.audubon.org

Here you’ll find miles of hiking trails and a center for injured birds.

 

For more information

For information on lodging, restaurants and attractions, call 860-567-4506 or log on to www.litchfieldhills.com.

 

 

THE  BICYCLE  TOUR  COMPANY

 9 BRIDGE STREET
 PO. BOX 381
 KENT, CT 06757

      TEL - 888-711-KENT
FAX - 860-927-1976
INFO@BICYCLETOURS.COM

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