“Better to see something once than hear about it a thousand times”

  • Asian proverb

There are so many places of interest in our small state of Connecticut that we should never lack for something new to do, or even to  do  again, if one really enjoyed it the first time. Here are some of the excursions that I have really enjoyed- and some of them have the added attraction of being free-of-charge, once you get there.

The West Cornwall Covered bridge is a wooden covered truss bridge built over the Housatonic River in Cornwall, Connecticut. You can drive over the bridge or walk over and take in scenic views upstream and downstream. On the eastern side there is a paved walking trail that follows the river for several hundred yards up the river on the eastern bank. This bridge is found at the junction of routes 7 and 4.

looking upstream from the Cornwall covered bridge Pamm Cooper photo

looking upstream while midway across the Cornwall covered bridge

Kent Falls State Park, located on Route 7 in Kent, features a series of waterfalls that that cascade down 250 feet through the woods. The Falls Brook from the town of Warren is the stream that feeds this series of water falls, and it enters the Housatonic River a quarter mile away after completing its journey down. A hiking trail a quarter mile long is alongside the falls and, although it is steep, it is not a hard walk. There are scenic vantage points and steps built in places along the way.

Kent falls lower section Pamm Cooper photo

Kent Falls at its lowest section


Spikenard abounds in the open woods alongside Kent Falls

Also along route 7 in Kent is Bull’s Bridge, a covered bridge that opened in 1842 and which spans a gorge along the Housatonic River.  There is a hydroelectric dam outlet just upstream from the bridge that the water passes through with enormous power. There is a small trail along the river’s edge where the noise and power of the raging water can be viewed safely.

gorge below Bull'S Bridge

Gorge rapids just above Bull’s Bridge

The Thimble Islands are a group of small islands in Long Island Sound in the harbor of Stony Creek in Branford.  These islands are made up of pink granite bedrock, and they are actually the tops of hills that existed prior to the last ice age, rather than deposits of rubble that make up most islands that resulted from retreating glaciers. They are thus very stable islands and many are privately owned, and may have one to several summer homes on them.  There are tour boats that will take you on a 45 minute trip around the islands for under $20.00.

two of the thimble islands Pamm Cooper photo

Two of the Thimble Islands Branford, Ct.

A Thimble Island

Another of the Thimble Islands

Another good trip for people who don’t mind a boat ride and a little maritime history is the Light House Cruise out of New London. Taking approximately 2 hours, this trip is rich with history and scenic views along the Thames River and into Long Island Sound. Some of the lighthouses featured are the New London Harbor lighthouse, on the west entrance to New London Harbor, the Latimer reef lighthouse on Fisher’s Island Sound, and the Race Rock lighthouse, which is part of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act.

Race Rock lighthouse Pamm Cooper photo

Race Rock Lighthouse

In Collinsville, there is an old factory, the Collins Company, which was a world-renowned manufacturer of cutting tools, like axes, machetes, picks and knives. Sited on the Farmington River, this picturesque factory opened in 1826. There is a trail for walking and biking along the Farmington River not too far from this old factory that can be accessed in various places on route 4.

collins company factory

Old Collins Company in Collinsville

Downtown Hartford has many points of interest including Bushnell Park, conceived by the Reverend Horace Bushnell and designed by Hartford native Frederick Law Olmsted. There are many beautiful specimen trees including the state champion turkey oak, and a double-trunked gingko. While at the park, you may want to ride the famous carousel, which is one of only three left in existence that feature the horses carved by Russian immigrants Stein and Goldstein. Downtown Hartford is within walking distance of the park and has many buildings of interest, including the blue windowed 18-story,skyscraper  at the northeast corner of Pearl and Trumbull streets.

State champ[ion turkey oak Quercus cerris Cirumference 17 feet Bushnell Park

State champion tree-turkey oak in Bushnell park

Carousel horse- Bushnell Park in Hartford

Carousel in Bushnell Park in Hartford

gold building reflections downtown Hartford pamm Cooper photo

Building reflected from the Gold Building windows in downtown Hartford

Blue glass skyscraper behind the Mechanics Savings Bank in downtown Hartford -Copyright Pamm Cooper 2013

Skyscraper with blue tinted windows on Pearl Street in Hartford- Pamm Cooper photo

Another good day trip is a visit to Harkness Park in Waterford. Featuring flower gardens, panoramic views of Long Island Sound, and the Roman Renaissance Classical Revival mansion of the Harkness family, this place has something for everyone. There are four 111 year old full thread leaf maple tress creating a stately grove near the owners’ dog cemetery, plus numerous themed gardens with statuary and other features. There is a stretch of beach where you can sit or take a walk, but no swimming is allowed, or you can fish if you like.


Annual cutting garden at Harkness Park

There are many more places of interest in Connecticut that make for interesting day trips, and since we have such a small state, several destinations that are near each other can be undertaken in a single day. Old Wethersfield and Old Main Street in South Windsor both have wonderful old colonial era buildings, for instance, and are a hop, skip and jump away from each other. Most of the places and trips mentioned above require little hiking, and have either dramatic or peaceful sights and sounds unique to their place in the outdoors- like rushing water, views of the sound, boat horns and perhaps the fragrance of flowers.

Newberry rd S.W.

Farm on Newberry Road off historic Main Street in South Windsor

Pamm Cooper

I recently went to Bushnell Park for the first time in my life and was glad I tagged along. My favorite plants since childhood are trees, especially the kinds you can climb up into and take a seat on a limb broad enough to provide a comfortable seat so you can view the world around you from a different prospective. It was while quietly sitting im trees that I first encountered many birds at close range, such as cedar waxwings, that don’t seem to mind being close to you if you are still and seem to be a part of the tree.

Bushnell Park, the oldest publicly funded park in the United States, was named for the Reverend Horace Bushnell, who conceived the idea of an open space in Hartford that would be available for people to enjoy free of charge. His good friend was the landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who was involved in the designs for both Central Park in New York City and Forest Park in Massachusetts at the time but recommended Horace consult his Swiss- born counterpart, Jacob Weidenmann, who was also a botanist. Weidenmann became the first superintendent of parks in Hartford, and not only designed Bushnell Park, but also Cedar Hill Cemetery on Fairfield Avenue. Both of these parks are dotted with many notable trees, including those considered state champions.

Bushnell Park has many rare and native trees and originally contained more than 150 varieties of trees. Some have been lost, but many are specimen trees worthy of a walk and a look. You can stop by the League of Women Voters desk at the Legislative Office Building entrance on Capital Avenue and get a free “ Tree Walk “ brochure before heading out. This brochure is highly recommended as, although some trees have labels, many do not. You could also bring a good illustrated tree field guide that includes trees that are from a more southern climate.

Sweet gum looking up the trunk toward the canopy. Photo copyright 2013 Pamm Cooper

Sweet gum looking up the trunk toward the canopy. Photo copyright 2013 Pamm Cooper

The view looking upward along the trunk and into the canopy of mature trees is often just as exhilarating as viewing a tree from a little distance away and getting the the whole thing at once. The bark of old trees is often very different from that of younger trees. Patterns in the ridges and fissures add to the overall appeal of tress, at least for me. One tree in particular, the Sweetgum, has particularly interseting bark ridge patterns. The effect of this patterning in large limbs and trunks, the star- shaped leaves and the pyramidal form of growth makes this a favorite native specimen tree for Connecticut landscapes. An added bonus is the deep burgundy/ yellow/ or orange leaf color in the fall.

American Beech at Bushnell Park, Hartford, Ct photo by Pamm Cooper

American Beech at Bushnell Park, Hartford, Ct photo by Pamm Cooper

The Turkey Oak , Quercus cerris, is native to Europe and is a fast- growing tree that may reach a height of 130 feet when mature. Trunks can grow to a diameter of three to four feet. The park’s state champion specimen has a trunk with a circumference of 17 feet. This tree can tolerate strong winds, but not in a maritime exposure There are four Turkey Oaks in the park, which supply resident squirrels with large numbers  wooly capped acorns which mature in October. Leaves are long and narrow, and are a deep green. The bark of mature trees is attractive, ridged and furrowed with an orange color within the fissures.

Champion Turkey Oak trunk, 17 feet in circumference. Photo copyright Pamm Cooper 2013

Champion Turkey Oak trunk, 17 feet in circumference. Photo copyright Pamm Cooper 2013

Champion Turkey Oak looking up. Photo Pamm Cooper

Champion Turkey Oak looking up. Photo Pamm Cooper

There are many more trees of interest in Bushnell Park, including an incredible Cucumbertree Magnolia and a double- trunked gingko. all within a comfortable walking distance of each other. It can be a pleasant way to spend an afternoon at any season of the year. So go and sit in the shade of one of these on a hot summer day and return in the fall to enjoy the foliage. And if you need a little extra reason to smile, for one dollar, you can go for a ride on the historic Stein and Goldstein carousel. It is hard to be in a bad mood in Bushnell Park, with its magnificent trees, historic monuments, carousel, and surrounding skyscrapers to boot.

Base of an old Magnolia.. Copyright 2013 Pamm Cooper

Base of an old Magnolia.. Copyright 2013 Pamm Cooper

Pamm Cooper