East Hampton, in rural East Connecticut is known for its large number of acres of public natural resources.
You can see the majestic Connecticut River in East Hampton’s state forests, state parks, and cross a covered bridge from 19 century to follow the trail of a lost railroad which once transported passengers between New York City and Boston in record speed.
You can pick your own fruit at many farms in the Connecticut Valley, which is extremely fertile.
East Hampton is home to a charming historic district, dotted with Federal-style buildings that were once part of an abandoned river port.
1. Air Line State Park Trail
New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad was ambitious. Its name, Air Line, comes from the high-heeled viaducts that were built to ensure a level trackbed along its high-speed route between New York and Boston.
The Air Line opened in 1873 and the section between East Hampton and the Connecticut-Massachusetts linehad been abandoned by the mid-20th century to become a trail.
This 25-mile section, which runs from East Hampton to Windham and ends at the southern end of the route, has been designated a National Recreation Trail. It is easy to cycle or walk along.
2. Salmon River State Forest
You can take a piece of the Air Line Trail through Salmon River State Forest. This forest is a great place to hike, fish, mountain bike, or simply enjoy a picnic in the woods.
While the Salmon River today is quite tranquil, it was bustling with mills in 19th-century times.
North Westchester had so many factories competing to waterpower, that the grist mills were required to operate at night while the paper mills operated by day.
The Blue-Blazed Salmon River Trail runs through the park and takes you to an important piece, which we’ll discuss next.
3. Comstock Covered Bridge
The last remaining covered bridge in East Connecticut is located at the Salmon River in the state forests.
It dates back to 1840 and is still open to pedestrian traffic despite the fact that vehicles have been banned from the area since the 1930s.
A decade earlier, a truck had crashed through the floor. The Civilian Conservation Corps began the renovation as an employment initiative for Depression-era workers.
A gabled roof covers the main bridge span. This protects the timbers below and slows down their ageing process.
4. Hurd State Park
You can take a family picnic down to the Connecticut River’s banks in East Hampton.
The river is over 200m wide at this point. There’s also a small campground that is only for boaters who enter and leave Hurd State Park in the summer months.
It covers more than 1,000 acres and features a network trail system that runs through the forest.
You can reach the top of split rock by following the yellow and orange trails. This is a series of granite ledges that allows you to see the river below the trees.
5. Lake Pocotopaug
The lake that lies next to East Hampton’s namesake village is just over 500 acres.
Many of the Lake Pocotopaug residences are open all year, but some are vacation rentals or second homes so there is a slight increase in population during summer.
Sears Park is located on the west shore. It has a small beach but blue-green algae has made swimming impossible.
The beach is only accessible to residents and their guests.
Lake Drive is the best way for out-of-towners to take in the lake passively. It curves around the west shore and north shore and offers spectacular views of Twin Islands or Scraggy Island.
Happiest Paddler also offers non-motorized boat rentals. We’ll discuss that later.
6. Fat Orange Cat Brew Co.
This small-batch seasonal brewery, which is located in East Hampton, makes craft brewing more homey than any other.
Fat Orange Cat’s farm lies on the Salmon River watershed. This watershed provides the exceptional water quality that is used to make a variety of beverages including porters, sours and IPAS.
The taproom has plenty of outdoor seating, fire pits, and heaters to keep you warm in colder months.
To sample four beers simultaneously, you can choose to buy a flight of four glasses and also pick up some cans with beautiful illustrations.
7. Arrigoni Winery
Arrigoni Winery, run by a family that has more than a century worth of winemaking history, is located on 200 acres of farmland between Route 66 and the Connecticut River. The winery has a tasting room where you can sample 14 varieties of Arrigoni wines, including Merlot, Pinot Noir Chardonnay and Chardonnay as well as Vidal Blanc.
A lovely sunset patio is available, as well as a covered pavilion with heaters outside and a fireplace to warm the evenings.
You can choose from either a premium or classic tasting (five wines each), and both come with a souvenir wine.
8. Middle Haddam Historic District
It is worth taking a drive to the quiet, rural area of East Hampton’s Connecticut River waterfront.
This bustling river port was used by ocean-going ships to trade along the east coast of North America, the West Indies and North America between 1730 and 1880.
Mine Brook runs through the village and was once the site of a sawmill that supplied timber to a shipyard along the riverfront.
The Middle Haddam Historic District is a great snapshot of Connecticut’s Federal Period.
Most of the 58 contributing structures were built before 1835 and afterwards, when the port and shipyard were at their most active.
This district’s buildings date from the late 19th century and are well-crafted, which is a sign of the skilled craftsmen who lived in the area at that time.
The Hurd Mansion, 106 Moodus Road, was built in stone for Jesse Hurd (1765-1831). The smaller wooden-frame dwelling on the other side of the road was built for his son-in law at 97 Moodus Road. It is a prime example Federal architecture.
9. Pumpkintown USA
Pumpkintown USA, for younger families, is all about having fun in the lead-up to Halloween.
The attraction features a replica of a post office, fire station, jail, barbershop and saloon, along with more than 70 happy pumpkinheads.
You can visit the shop on weekends for facepainting and a “Sling-a-Ding” game. The mile-long ride on the Hay wagon through the woods, populated by more pumpkinheads, is a highlight of any visit.
The Harvest Shop also stocks seasonal treats like maple syrup, autumn plants, fresh produce, pumpkin butter spreads, and pumpkin spice-scented candles.
10. Day Pond State Park
The Day Pond is a beautiful body of water on 180 acres of public land.
The Day family pioneering the use of waterwheels in sawmills, named the pond after them.
The pond’s stone foundations are a nod to the past, and it is also stocked with trout making it a popular destination for anglers.
A small beach area is available for swimming during the summer months. There is also a picnic pavilion with additional tables on the east and western shores.
You can walk along the river to the Blue-Blazed Salmon River. This will take you to the Comstock Covered Bridge, located on the south loop.
11. Brownstone Exploration & Discovery Park
Brownstone was the predominant building material in the Connecticut River’s banks, Portland. It is used as a foundation for many cities, including New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Chicago, and New York.
From the 17th century, the main quarry site was still in use. A flood and then a hurricane halted commercial quarrying in 1930s.
The flooded quarry was transformed into a summer activity centre with climbing walls and paddleboards and kayaks available for hire.
You can also enjoy a inflatable obstacle course, wakeboarding and a rope swing, as well as 11 zip-lines.
12. Belltown Hill Orchards
The countryside around the town’s north end and neighboring communities is bursting with fruit farms. Many of these farms are open to the public during the summer and fall for pick-yourself.
Belltown Hill Orchards offers sweet and tart cherries and blueberries, as well as nectarines and peaches. There are also 24 varieties of apples and pears.
The farm website has a handy ripening guide and a guide for the different varieties of apples. It also includes information about storage, flavor, and texture.
This produce can be purchased seasonally at the farmer’s market. You will also find jams and jellies as well as salsas, soups and soups, seasonal decorations, and delicious baked goods such as pies, brownies, and apple cider donuts.
13. Gotta’s Farm and Cider Mill
Gotta’s Farm and Cider Mill in Portland is now in its fourth generation. It was founded in 1898. Two locations are available at the farm: Rte 17 where you can pick your own strawberries, peaches and pears, and Rte 66 at the QP Farm Market. This market sells fresh farm produce and vegetables as well as tempting pies, breads, and cookies. They also have Christmas trees and decorations.
Gotta’s Farm also offers a garden center for perennials and hanging baskets, as well as evergreens, herb plants, vegetable plants, and evergreens.
14. Happyest Paddler
This boating agency is your best option for water activities on Lake Pocotopaug, located just north of Sears Park.
The Happiest Paddler is available seven days a week in June, July, and August. It is weather dependent during the transitional months.
You can rent paddleboards or kayaks for an hour, half a week or a whole week.
The rental fee includes paddles and flotation equipment so that you can enjoy a trip around the state’s largest lakes.
15. Nike Missile Site HA26 Launch Site
The Meshomasic State forest, at the border of East Hampton, South Glastonbury, and Portland, has something extraordinary. Nature is slowly taking it in.
This radar is the launch site for Nike Ajax antiaircraft missile.
The Cold War dawned and this system was in use from 1956 to 1963. The IFC radar station can be found on the Portland side at Del Reeves Road. It has the remains of foundations, floor tiles and a flagpole, as well as manholes for underground utilities.
There are faint remnants at South Glastonbury’s launch site, including stairs leading to foundations for barracks and launch sites. These can be easily identified in the clearings.