When I was growing up, Sunday drives were the highlight of our week. My dad got behind the wheel, the rest of us piled into the car and we set out to explore. We visited farmstands, beaches and ice cream shops in the summer, corn mazes and apple orchards in the fall, sledding hills in the winter and parks and garden centers in the spring.
At the time, we had no idea that we were taking what’s now called “staycations.” The concept is simple: rather than springing for a pricy getaway, you use your home as a base and check out nearby destinations and attractions.
But sometimes, figuring out just where to go can be a challenge. Researching places to visit takes time and if you don’t get on the road quickly, you run the risk of hanging around the house and wasting your weekend.
Luckily, there’s an easy way to map your travels. Towns, tourism boards and farms and wineries have created a series of tours designed to put you on the trails of the best destinations the state has to offer.
Love antiques? Connecticut has a trail for that. Ice cream? Take a Sundae Drive. Fine wines, history or beer? You can hit the trails for those, too. Whichever you choose, you’ll have free or low cost entertainment for a Saturday or Sunday afternoon’s drive.
Ed Dombroskas, director of the Eastern Regional Tourism District, says specialized “trails’’ are more and more popular in the tourism industry.
“People’s interests are what motivate them to travel and they love a list,” says Dombroskas. “Following the trails, visiting new places and trying new things is a fun way to explore.”
As a kickoff to the fall tourism season, the Eastern CT Regional Tourism District/Mystic Country is introducing two new regional trails, “Foodie Find” and “Pet-Friendly.” The Foodie Find Trail features eateries, food-themed events and unusual treats, while the Pet Friendly Trail includes Connecticut lodging and destinations that welcome four-legged vacationers.
The District is also releasing updated versions of its “Antiques Trail” and “Sundae Drives Ice Cream Trail” and developing a Connecticut Maritime History Trail. (All of the Eastern CT Regional Tourism District/Mystic Country trails brochures can be requested by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling Mystic Country at 860-536-8822.)
“People don’t have a lot of free time,” says Dombroskas. “We do the pre-planning for them and provide locations, hours, admission charges and contact information such as phone numbers and websites.”
When Carol Derucki relocated to Connecticut last year, she used the CT Wine Trail as a way to get to know the area — and sample the state’s various wines. The Enfield resident visited close to 30 wineries around the state — and ended up following the trail to an unexpected destination far beyond Connecticut.
“It was a perfect way to see the beautiful countryside and meet a lot of wonderful people,” says Derucki. “Along the way, I participated in the wine trail passport contest. After getting stamps at a number of wineries, I was entered into a drawing for a trip to Spain, and I won.”
More Connecticut Trails:
“Taste the Adventure: CT Wine Trail” features wineries and vineyards across the state. Brochure includes names, addresses, tasting room hours and websites. At www.CtWine.com, you can use the itinerary planner to plot out your route.
The movie “Mystic Pizza,” featuring a young Julia Roberts and filmed in and around Mystic, was released in 1988 and over the years has became a cult classic. Film buffs still travel to the little shoreline town to see the original Mystic Pizza Restaurant. To celebrate the movie’s 20th anniversary, Eastern CT Regional Tourism District/Mystic Country created the Mystic Pizza Movie Trail brochure with movie trivia and a map of area landmarks featured in the film. Information: CTVisit.com.
Connecticut Farmers’ Market Trail, (www.farmersmarkettrail.com), highlights a diverse group of 15 markets across the state, including Chester’s European-style, Sunday market, held in the town’s center and the Stonington Village Farmers’ Market, held seaside on Saturdays on the town’s docks.
The Central Regional Tourism District offers a 2013 “Central Connecticut’s Gardens & Farmers’ Markets” pocket guide that includes locations, schedules and featured goods at some of the state’s farmers markets. You can download the brochure at www.CenterofCT.com or request a free copy by calling 860-787-9640.
The Connecticut Beer Trail, (www.CTBeerTrail.net), spotlights breweries, brew pubs, brewfests and other beer lover destinations around the state.
Connecticut Art Trail, (www.ArtTrail.org) features 17 museums and historic sites — and a great deal for art lovers. The Connecticut Art Trail Pass, $25, offers one-day admission to all 17 museums and historic sites around the state, including the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, The Hill-Stead in Farmington, New Britain Museum of American Art and the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme. (Admissions would cost more than $75 if purchased individually.) The pass is good for a year.
The Connecticut Freedom Trail, (www.ctfreedomtrail.org), designates sites that reflect the state’s struggle toward freedom, celebrate the accomplishments of the state’s African American community and promote heritage tourism. Currently, there are more than 150 sites in 50 towns, including museums, historical monuments and locations along the Underground Railroad.
The Connecticut Garden & Landscape Trail, (www.ctgardentrail.com), a joint project of the Connecticut Nursery & Landscape Association and the Connecticut Greenhouse Growers Association, guides travelers to nurseries, garden centers, greenhouses and public gardens, most of which are free to visit.
Do your kids love dinosaurs? The Connecticut Dinosaur Trail, (ctdinotrail.com), includes Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill with its famous dinosaur tracks; Yale Peabody Museum in New Haven with its dinosaur skeletons and The Dinosaur Place in Oakdale, a dinosaur-themed educational park.
New England’s longest waterway, the Connecticut River, provides plenty of opportunities for canoe and kayak exploration. The Connecticut River Paddlers’ Trail, (www.connecticutriverpaddlerstrail.org), highlights access points and primitive campsites from the river’s headwaters to the Massachusetts border.
Connecticut has more than 10,000 historic barns and the CT Barns Trail highlights many. Developed by the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, the trail features seven self-guided driving and biking tours past working farms with farm stands, orchards and wineries. Guides to the scenic drives are available as a printed map and a free iPhone App. Information: www.cttrust.org.
The Connecticut Women’s Heritage Trail, (www.cwhf.org), put together by the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame, features close to a dozen sites highlighting accomplishments by some of the state’s most influential women. Stops include The Prudence Crandall Museum in Canterbury and the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford.
Indulge your sweet tooth by following Connecticut’s Chocolate Trail. The list, at www.CtVisit.com, features chocolatiers, chocolate artisans, sweet shops and cafes around the state.