Runner emerges from the forest in Connecticut
A runner emerges from the forest in Simsbury during the Connecticut Ultra Traverse 112 (CUT112) in 2019. The CUT112 is an annual 112-mile trail foot race from the state line at Southwick, Mass. to the Long Island Sound in Guilford. Credit: Doug Hardy / CTNewsJunkie
Jonathan L. Wharton

A recent study revealed something most of us already know: Connecticut has the best hiking trails in the nation. As an outdoors guy and occasional hiker, I wasn’t surprised as I partly returned here because New Jersey and New York’s trails aren’t nearly as accessible or close by. This news reminded me that many of us may knock our state, but Connecticut excels in the great outdoors.

Why This Place assessed their results on five factors, including the large proportion of hiking trails. Additional New England states like Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island also ranked in the top 10. “The Constitution State boasts an impressive number of hiking trails in proportion to its size,” according to the travel website’s findings.

Interestingly, Total Shape also ranked Connecticut in its top 10 for outdoor exercise. “Connecticut received one of the highest scores for boats and water facilities,” according to the website. We were in seventh place while Massachusetts was third and Rhode Island was fourth.

Growing up in West Hartford, there were plenty of outdoor activities but I took various parks and open spaces for granted. I often road- and mountain-biked around my hometown and the various trails in the towns along the Farmington River Valley. My Kingswood-Oxford School alma mater had cross-country running meets and practices at Hartford Reservoir trails in West Hartford near Farmington and Avon town lines. Taking in the Greater Hartford Area views from the reservoir trails was breathtaking.

Relocating to New Jersey for graduate school, I discovered getting to trails in or around traffic-congested Essex and Hudson Counties was nearly impossible. Friends mentioned trails near commuter train stations and I found hiking guides with station locations, like “60 Hikes within 60 Miles.” I could take a train to upper New Jersey and Harriman State Park in Rockland and Orange Counties, New York. But getting to trails by train required precise planning with limited train service.

Returning to Connecticut years ago, I found cities like New Haven offered sizable parks, trails, and boat launches for kayaking and canoeing. The city maintains a detailed website and the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail is notable for linking downtown to surrounding towns for walking, running, and biking. The final phase of the canal trial will be instrumental for connecting it to Long Wharf and Canal Dock Boathouse. New Haven’s East Rock Park and West Rock State Park are pretty accessible by foot and bike (although hiking to West Rock from adjacent SCSU can be a harrowing experience through untamed brush and brooks).

In light of Connecticut’s Trails Day earlier this month, a number of agencies, organizations and officials are touting the state’s hiking trails. The Connecticut Forest and Park Association maintains a website for “trail lovers.” Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) has their “Sky’s the Limit Hiking Challenge” website for 15 park or forest locations around the state. An abbreviated version is WNPR’s “10 of the Best Hiking and Waling Trails in CT,” which is also detailed and helpful. For those that are more hardcore, trail running 112 miles across a few parks may be more your speed through the annual Connecticut Ultra Traverse (CUT) event.

Late springtime going into summer is a great time to hike, even though I lean toward mountain biking trails more this time of year. I prefer hiking in the fall when the autumn leaves are stunning. Either way, Connecticut has the seasons, views, and parks for enjoying the great outdoors. It shouldn’t have to take travel and exercise websites to remind us what we can savor about our beautiful state.

Jonathan L. Wharton, Ph.D., is an associate professor of political science and urban affairs at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of or any of the author's other employers.