10 Stunning Hikes Near Hartford, CT for Every Experience Level
By Kay Rodriguez
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Updated June 24, 2021
Connecticut’s bustling capital city may not be well known for its outdoor activities, but given its central location in the state, it’s actually got fantastic access to nature. There are some wild and beautiful places for hiking near Hartford, and many of them are less than an hour’s drive away. If you’re looking for the best hikes near Hartford, our guide’s got you covered! We’ve compiled a list of the best hiking trails near the city so you can plan your next adventure.
Easy Hiking Near Hartford
Oak Grove Nature Center
Distance from Hartford: 10 miles/15 minutes
TrailLength: 1 mile
Elevation Gain: Minimal
For an easy, short, scenic hike that’s very close to Hartford’s city center, head to Oak Grove Nature Center. This 1-mile loop trail is perfect for families and children, and passes through the forest and around the edge of a picturesque lake. There’s also a beautiful covered bridge on the trail that’s great for photos! In addition to lovely landscapes, there are also great wildlife watching opportunities in the park, and you can often see local species like herons and ducks.
Kent Falls Loop
Distance from Hartford: 49 miles/1 hour, 15 minutes
TrailLength: 0.7 miles
Elevation Gain: 232 feet
Perfect for families, dogs, and hikers of all levels, the short, 0.7-mile Kent Falls Loop trail will take you to one of the most scenic waterfall hikes near Hartford. With a 250-foot waterfall that’s perfect for photography, this trail offers several viewpoints to view this spectacular cascade. Most reviewers say that this hike is extremely easy, making it perfect for anyone looking for fabulous views on a scenic but short trail. Go during the spring after snowmelt for the most powerful waterfall flows!
Mashapaug Pond Loop
Distance from Hartford: 36 miles/40 minutes
TrailLength: 5.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 639 feet
Located near the border of Massachusetts, the Mashapaug Pond Loop is one of the most beautiful hikes near Hartford for enjoying serene lake views and spotting fall foliage. Situated in the middle of Bigelow Hollow State Park, this trail feels like a complete escape from civilization. With thick, forested trails that border the shoreline of this very picturesque lake, this trail offers a little bit of challenge for beginner hikers, as it’s slightly hilly and has quite a bite of terrain variety.
Don’t rush through the trail! Along the way, there are several picnic areas that you can rest at or pull out some snacks and enjoy the scenery – we’d recommend the Mashapaug Cove picnic area for some of the most beautiful views.
Beaver Pond Loop at Sessions Woods
Distance from Hartford: 20 miles/30 minutes
TrailLength: 2.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 288 feet
For a hiking experience great for kids (and adults!) head to the 2.6-mile Beaver Pond loop trail at Sessions Woods. This forested path is a great spot for a quintessential walk in the New England woods, and is full of fun stops like a fire tower for climbing, some wooden boardwalks over a lake, and plenty of wildlife sighting areas. There are also poster boards all over the park explaining the different species of wildlife that inhabit the area. It’s easy enough for any hiker to tackle, and makes for a fun, easy day trip for a bit of fresh air.
Roaring Brook Nature Center
Distance from Hartford: 15 miles/30 minutes
TrailLength: 1.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 121 feet
Creeks, waterfalls, and forests line the trails at Roaring Brook Nature Center, a conservation area not far from downtown Hartford. While it’s one of the shorter hikes near Hartford on our list, this trail is full of tranquil surprises, like several tiny waterfalls all around and tons of wildlife spotting opportunities. Some hikers have even seen black bears on the trails here! For an easy, quick, and beautiful opportunity for hiking near Hartford, this nature center is a fabulous option.
Gillette Castle State Park
Distance from Hartford: 34 miles/45 minutes
TrailLength: 1.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 223 feet
Connecticut is home to many castle hikes, but one of the easiest and most accessible for beginners and families is the trail at Gillette Castle State Park. This 1.9 mile hike has very gradual, easy elevation gain to an incredibly scenic viewpoint and a historic castle. You really feel like you’re wandering through nature as you ascend to the top, where you can enter and explore the castle or take in the sweeping, breathtaking views of the Connecticut River. On the way down, you have plenty of options for returning to the trail head, as there’s a whole network of trails connected throughout the park.
Moderate & Difficult Hikes Near Hartford
Sleeping Giant Head Trail (Blue and Violet Loop)
Distance from Hartford: 30 miles/35 minutes
TrailLength: 8 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,692 feet
Perhaps the coolest and most challenging trail on our list, the Sleeping Giant Head Trail is one to remember. You’ll scramble up scenic (but challenging!) rock formations over the course of nearly 1,700 feet of elevation gain to reach the summit of this mountain in the scenic Sleeping Giant State Park. Aside from having the coolest name ever, this park boasts absolutely breathtaking views of southwestern Connecticut, especially in the fall when the leaves change. What avid hikers like the most about this trail is that it’s a really good workout, with several scrambling areas and a very steep, leg burning uphill that makes the views at the top even more rewarding.
Penwood State Park Trail
Distance from Hartford: 10 miles/30 minutes
TrailLength: 10.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,017 feet
Of all of the hikes near Hartford on our list, the Penwood State Park Trail is the longest and one of the most scenic hikes on our list. With some decent elevation gain and distance covered, this is a fantastic trail to tackle if you want to spend a full day outdoors in the woods. The views from the top of the trail are outstanding, especially in the fall, as they extend for miles over the tops of the Connecticut forests. If you want even more of a challenge, head across the street to Talcott Mountain State Park and go for a hike there as well!
Distance from Hartford: 30 miles/40 minutes
TrailLength: 4.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 797 feet
With scenery that looks like something out of Game of Thrones, the Castle Craig Loop (Mirror Lake, Castle Craig, Merimere Reservoir Loop) is one of the most scenic places for hiking in Connecticut. Just look at the photos! With rocky scrambles and some significantly steep uphill areas, this trail offers a moderate challenge for hikers looking for a bit more variety in their terrain.
Along the way, you’ll pass by Mirror Lake, an absolutely stunning, still lake that has gorgeous fall foliage. The rustic-looking Castle Craig was gifted by Walter Hubbard, a manufacturing businessman who was the namesake of Hubbard Park. Once you arrive at the castle, you can take the stairs to the observation deck at the top, which offers breathtaking views of Hubbard Park and the surrounding nature areas.
Distance from Hartford: 66 miles/1 hour, 45 minutes
TrailLength: 6.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,702 feet
Located in the Berkshire Mountains, Bear Mountain is a moderate summit trail that takes you to a scenic peak. As part of the Appalachian Trail, this path is one of the more frequented, longer hikes near Hartford, and for good reason – the rocks on the top of the mountain offer lovely views of the surrounding mountains, especially in the fall when these tree-covered peaks begin to change colors.
Bear Mountain is situated in the area surrounding Salisbury, CT, which is one of the more topographically challenging areas for hiking in Connecticut. Here, you can find hikes of moderate and even strenuous difficulty that even the most experienced hikers will enjoy. If you’re looking to do a hiking weekend getaway, this is a fantastic area to visit!
Additional Resources for Hiking near Hartford
What to Pack
Breathable hiking clothes – For warmer hikes, you’ll want to wear a sweat-wicking shirt and breathable pants, like these Patagonia hiking shorts for men and women. For cold-weather hikes, we recommend dressing in layers, including merino wool baselayers for men and women, a down puffer jacket for men and women, and a Northface waterproof outer shell for men and women (a must for hiking in Seattle). And don’t forget a pair of the best women’s and men’s hiking socks!
Trekking poles – You won’t need these for every single hike, but we suggest throwing them in your car just in case. We recommend the Black Diamond Trail Ergo cork trekking poles, which are lightweight, easy to transport, and durable.
Water bottle – Having water available at all times is a huge must. To limit disposable plastic, we recommend bringing your own refillable water bottle. We’re obsessed with Hydro Flask water bottles because they keep water cold for hours.
Sunscreen and bug spray – Sweatproof sunscreen and DEET bug spray can help you avoid sunburn and bug bites, two of hiking’s most annoying after-effects. Our favorite kind of sunscreen is Sun Bum, as it is free of harsh chemicals and safe for marine life, including coral reefs.
A brimmed hat or cap – The sun can be brutal in open hikes, so always pack a brimmed hat or capfor day hikes in the sunshine.
Emergency blanket and first aid kit – We’d strongly recommend bringing a first aid kit and a lightweight emergency blanket on every hike. Why? Because the unfathomable can happen, and it’s always best to play it safe.
Durable day pack – A durable day pack is the perfect spot to stash all your hiking gear. While any backpack will do, we recommend the Osprey Tempest 20 or the Talon 22 day packs because they’re comfortable and breathable for long hikes. For more information, check out our best day packs for any terrain guide.
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