Essential RV Connecticut:
The Ultimate Guide
to the Constitution State
by Jake Poinier
Although it’s the third-smallest state in the U.S., Connecticut still offers ample adventures for the explorer when it comes to history and nature. In addition to scenic drives, hiking trails, and quaint towns, several metropolitan areas offer hustle and bustle without the sensory overload of New England’s larger cities. Fall is a particularly beautiful time of year in Connecticut—and best of all, the state is known for sporting the longest foliage season in New England.
The state capital of Hartford hosts numerous interesting and historical sights. Literature buffs will want to tour the homes of Mark Twain (where he wrote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer) and Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin). The nearby Wadsworth Atheneum—the country's oldest free public museum—features one of America’s finest art collections in its Gothic-style building. Within an easy drive of the city, there’s plenty to explore in the surrounding area. In Windsor Locks, the New England Air Museum displays dozens of aircraft within its three hangers, including helicopters, amphibious aircraft, jets, WWII aircraft, and two historic examples of balloon baskets. If you’ve got the kids in tow, Lake Compounce theme park in Bristol is a must: It’s the oldest operating amusement park in the United States, and home to a 1927 wooden roller coaster and a 1911 carousel.
Looking for a foliage show? Nepaug State Forest is perfect for hiking, biking and birding, with excellent views of Yellow Mountain and the Nepaug Valley. At Wadsworth Falls State Park in Middletown, the two natural waterfalls make a picturesque backdrop to set up a picnic and take in the turning of the colors. Middlefield and Meriden have several traprock ridges with beautiful overlooks, including Lyman Orchards, where you can pick your own apples and pumpkins in season.
Where to Stay
Given that this is an urban area, you may need to trek a bit to set up for the night. Wilderness Lake Campground and Resort is located about 30 minutes northeast of the city, set on more than 100 acres of countryside. Southeast of the city, Nelson’s Family Campground and Markham Meadows Campground are full-service parks that offer the benefit of proximity to Salmon River State Forest. Forty-five minutes southeast of Middletown, family-friendly RV camping options include the Salem Farms Campground and Witch Meadow Lake Family Campground.
This area is packed with tourist attractions, most famously in the town of Mystic. Mystic Seaport recreates a historical seaport village, complete with homes and shops of sailmakers and shipbuilders. One of the most prominent maritime museums in the country, it includes an impressive collection of historical ships, from the world's last remaining wooden whaling ship to steam vessels. Mystic Aquarium features an amazing array of ocean-dwelling fish and mammals—plus interactive exhibits that get the family up close to rays, penguins, sea lions, and more. The 10-minute drive to Groton provides the chance to explore the U.S. Navy's official submarine museum on the Thames River. Among the many highlights—in addition to artifacts, photographs, and exhibits—visitors can step aboard USS Nautilus, the world's first nuclear powered submarine.
Along the coast, peak foliage is mid-October to early November. A drive along the west bank of the Mystic River creates an idyllic scene, contrasting the bright colors of the trees with the tan grass of marsh meadows and dark river water. Another highly recommended view is from the Chester-Hadlyme Ferry, cruising down the Connecticut River and gazing up at Gillette Castle.
Where to Stay
Seaport RV Resort and Campground in Old Mystic is the closest site to all the action in Mystic. Mystic KOA Holiday, just east up I-95, sits on a 250-year-old site of one of Connecticut's first farms. A bit farther to the northwest, Wolf’s Den Family Campground features a scenic Connecticut River Valley setting and loads of amenities and activities.
For history buffs, Yale University and the surrounding areas of New Haven offer plenty of fodder. Guided campus tours give you a glimpse into the school’s history and Gothic architecture, while the impressive list of museums include the Yale University Art Gallery and the Peabody Museum of Natural History. New Haven is also renowned as a food destination, so any visit here should include a stopover at Louis Lunch (birthplace of the hamburger, no ketchup allowed!) or one of the famed pizza joints in the Wooster Street area—Pepe’s, Sally’s, and Modern Apizza—all of which have been slinging pies since the early 1900s. As far as foliage, the best bet is to head northwest of the city to the town of New Fairfield, Squantz Pond State Park, and Pootatuck State Forest. Weaving through the many miles of trails, hikers are treated to overviews of Squantz Pond and Candlewood Lake.
Where to Stay
Located in North Branford, Totoket Valley RV Park is the closest option, 15 minutes northeast of New Haven. Heading east along the shoreline from the city, Hammonasset Beach State Park delivers a combination of full-hookup camping and beachside recreation, with views over Long Island Sound. Just inland from there, Riverdale Farm Campsite sits on a 100-acre colonial-era farm adjacent to the Hammonasset River.
The Appalachian Trail cuts through the northwestern corner of Connecticut, providing a decidedly different look and climate from much of the state. Pick any peak here, and you’re going to have scenic vistas—and outstanding foliage earlier in the season due to the coolest temperatures in the state. Litchfield and New Preston are among the top choices, particularly with hikes through White Memorial Preserve and Mount Tom State Park, or around scenic Lake Waramaug. Tucked in the northeast corner, Salisbury features the state’s highest peak, 2,316-foot Bear Mountain, with views reaching the mountains of Massachusetts, Vermont, and even New Hampshire. Norfolk’s Dennis Hill State Park features a gazebo overlook at 1,500-plus feet, while Haystack Mountain State Park’s granite tower at the peak offers a 360-degree panorama of the surrounding landscape. If you’re doing your leaf peeping by car, the 46-mile New Milford, Kent, and Mount Tom State Park drive loop will be just the ticket.
Where to Stay
In the Litchfield area, popular options include Hemlock Hill Camp Resort, Cozy Hills Campground, and White Memorial Family Campground on the shore of Bantam Lake. Closest to Salisbury, Lone Oaks Campsites sprawls over 250 acres with nearly 500 campsites, including woods or field locations.
The northeastern section of Connecticut—also known as the Quiet Corner—contrasts small rural towns, farmland, rivers, and lakes with the more urbanized areas of the state. So if you’re looking for peace and quiet, you’ve come to the right place. Fans of antiques, crafts, and pottery will want to budget time to explore the many quirky shops in Pomfret, Putnam, Woodstock, and the other quaint towns in the area. A stroll or bike ride along the 1.1-mile River Mills Heritage Trail in Putnam provides interpretive signage about the Industrial Revolution and a chance to view Cargil Falls Mill, the oldest cotton mill site in the country—dating back to 1807. The Gothic Revival-style Roseland Cottage in Woodstock, built by silk tycoon Henry C. Bowen in 1846, offers tours and insights into a fascinating history that includes presidential visits, raucous 4th of July parties, and the oldest bowling alley in America.
The changing of the colors here is cause for celebration, including a fall foliage train ride aboard the Providence & Worcester train and the Great Pumpkin Festival in Putnam in late October. The ten miles of trails at the Connecticut Audubon Society’s Pomfret Conservation Center/Bafflin Sanctuary are a great place to take in the foliage show—and birders might be able to spy some of the 210 species that take flight amidst the 700 acres.
Where to Stay
For a small, quiet section of the state, there are numerous worthy options to choose from. Chamberlain Lake Campground and Beaver Pines Campground, both in Woodstock, offer rural retreats in the woods with electric and water hookups. Brialee Family Campground in Ashford, Charlie Brown Campground and Peppertree Camping in Eastford, and Nickerson Park Family Campground in Chaplin are among nearby RV camping destinations that also receive positive reviews.