If you are looking for a way to spend a day outdoors, why not consider the East Hampton and Portland area? Whether a challenging hike, a leisurely walk or bike ride, fishing or a day by the water, the area has a lot to quench your thirst for the outdoors. Feeling adventurous? Look no further.
Nestled on the banks of the Connecticut River, both communities share more in common than that. Maintaining their small-town charm, East Hampton and Portland offer several shopping options as well, from boutiques to antique stores, with a range of dining options to complete your day.
To begin your day, there are several recreational treats for all ages that will appeal to the outdoor enthusiast in you.
By 1873, a rail line had been established connecting New Haven with Windham. Called the Air Line, it was intended to give passengers the most direct route possible from New York to Boston. Today, the rails are gone but in its place in Eastern Connecticut is the Airline Trail. Winding its way through Hebron, Colchester, Lebanon and East Hampton, the southern portion of the has a stone dust surface making it suitable from bikes to wheelchair users. Walkers, hikers and horseback riders also use the trail. Now, more than 22 miles in length, the trail offers tremendous views of hills, valleys and natural scenery while providing solitude. The trail is currently being lengthened and by the end of June 2012 will drop visitors off at the heart of the East Hampton Village Center where local merchants await. Browse the local shops, enjoy a refreshment or light lunch or sit down to a pizza. It is easy to pick up the trail off of Route 149 in Colchester near Route 2. In East Hampton, Cranberry Bog on Smith Street also is a good starting-off point.
If heading to the beach is too far or too chaotic for you, East Hampton is home to Lake Pocotopaug. Entrance to the lake is through , the town’s only municipal park, where visitors can enjoy swimming and boating. The park offers a boat launch, play area with swings and slide, volleyball, tennis and basketball courts, picnic tables and grills. The Happiest Paddler is located close by with boat rentals for visitors to take advantage of. A new performing arts gazebo is being constructed and should be completed by the end of summer 2012. Once completed, the gazebo will offer entertainment for all to enjoy. After spending a day at the lake, across the street is Angelico’s Lake House Restaurant, where visitors can unwind with a good meal or a drink at its outdoor Tiki Bar while overlooking the lake. Residents can purchase a sticker for access to Sears Park, otherwise the cost to enter is $10 per vehicle, $5 for senior citizen's or veteran's vehicle and $50 for a watercraft/boat.
The area also offers two state parks where visitors can fish, hike, barbecue and more. The , home to one of Connecticut’s covered bridges, is a popular fishing area, in part because of its easy access off Route 16. There also is lots of open space to hold a gathering of friends and family. Picnic tables and grills are provided in the park and room to set up a badminton or volleyball area is plentiful. Walking trails that parallel the Salmon River offer a tranquil setting and a perfect way to escape after a long week.
Hurd State Park off of Route 151 also offers fishing as well as boat camping areas. Picnic areas and hiking trails that lead to the banks of the Connecticut River offer spectacular views, including that of Split Rock, which rises above the trees. Heavily wooded in parts, the park's trails and meadows, however, offer a perfect winter destination for cross-country skiers.
Entrance to both state parks is free.
For those seeking a little adventure or a whole lot of family fun, Portland might well be the place to go.
Brownstone Exploration and Discovery Park offers swimming, snorkeling, rock climbing, SCUBA diving, cliff jumping, wakeboarding, zip lines, hiking, biking, a challenge course, kayaking and more. If that doesn’t sound exhausting enough, new this year are increased ziplines (there are now 12) including triple racing lines, a new beach area with volleyball, two new additional overhead wakeboard cables, 70’ cargo net climb, expanded picnic areas, Guts & Glory obstacle course, new walking trails that lead to all activities within the park and a new cliff top picnic area with panoramic views of the park. Also, on Saturday nights you can relax to a movie under the tent.
With Portland’s famous brownstone visible at every turn, you’ll have no trouble beating the heat with this as your destination. Once the largest brownstone quarry in the world, the sports park is located just over the Arrigoni Bridge as you enter Portland.
The park also offers a rental shack and sport shack as well as food. The grilling station is open daily and includes hot dogs, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, grilled chicken, chicken tenders, fries, pizza, extreme clam chowder and chili and more.
Daily passes range from $18 to $36, but check the park’s web site for specials and discounts.
Portland also is home to the Portland Fair, usually held in October, and East Hampton hosts Old Home Days in July, a three-day event featuring one of the biggest parades in Middlesex County.
So, the next time you are looking for some place new to go for a day outdoors, whether on your own, with a friend or with the family, consider these two small quintessential New England towns in Northern Middlesex County. Charming and quaint for sure, and a lot of fun.