Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford, CT offers views of Long Island Sound, nature trails, picnic tables, beautiful gardens and a tour of the historic mansion (for an additional fee).
The State offers a number of seasonal passes to Connecticut’s many and varied state parks for reasonable prices.
With the cost of gas up one day and down the next – usually up once the summer vacation season rolls around – a day at a state park can be an affordable day trip.
Some parks, such as Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford, offer ocean views and many offer picnic and cookout sites.
Most have hiking trails that vary from relatively flat and easy, to steep and challenging, often leading to a summit with an inspiring view.
Some parks are great for bird-watching, and others allow fishing.
Some parks, such as Gillette Castle State Park in East Haddam, also offer tours of historic and unusual estates.
Before bringing your four-legged family member along, check that a particular park allows dogs. If it does, your dog must be on a leash and you should bring drinking water and the necessary equipment for cleaning up after your dog.
Here is some information about discounted passes.
For the frequent park visitor, Connecticut offers a season pass (a windshield sticker) that allows unlimited vehicle access to any state park or recreation area that has a parking fee, for no extra charge.
Season passes are valid for one vehicle per pass (non-transferable to any other vehicle) for an entire calendar year.
Season passes are not valid for admission to Dinosaur or Fort Trumbull State Park Exhibit Centers or tours of Gillette Castle (but you can visit the grounds), camping or special events with charges; if an area is closed to the public for any reason; for commercial use or on a commercial vehicle; if not adhered to the windshield (motorcycle operators may handhold the pass) of a registered vehicle.
A separate Heritage Passport will allow for unlimited access to Dinosaur, Fort Trumbull and Gillette Castle State Parks until the end of the calendar year. The cost is $67 and is good for a family (2 adults and up to 4 children). You can buy your Heritage Passport at any one of the three parks.
A season pass for access to all other parks is $67 for Connecticut residents and $112 for Out-of State residents and can be paid for online at the DEEP Store (The Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection) http://www.ctdeepstore.com, as well as by mail or in person.
By mail, send a check for the fee, plus $2.50 for shipping and handling, made out to Treasurer, State of Connecticut to: DEEP Store, 79 Elm St., Hartford, CT 06106-5127
Your pass will be sent via first class mail with delivery confirmation to the address provided in your request.
Free lifetime passes
Called the Charter Oak Pass, this one provides access to all Connecticut state parks and forests and is available free to Connecticut residents age 65 or older.
It is accepted at all day-use areas where a parking fee applies and allows free access for the entering vehicle and passengers. And the pass holder does not have to be the vehicle driver.
It also allows free admission for the Charter Oak pass holder when visiting Gillette Castle, Dinosaur or Fort Trumbull State Parks, or fishing at the Quinebaug Valley Hatchery. Accompanying visitors, however, will be required to pay the appropriate fee.
Please note that each pass is issued to a specific person and can only be used when presented by that individual. Also, they are not valid for camping or special events that have separate admission charges, and may not be used for commercial purposes.
For a list of offices where you can buy your Charter Oak Pass in person (please bring proof of age and Connecticut residency), click this link and scroll half-way down the page.
Another free, lifetime pass is available for disabled veterans.
The Disabled Veteran Pass provides access to Connecticut state parks and forests and is available free to Connecticut residents who have a service-connected disability.
It allows free access for the entering vehicle and all passengers. Again, the pass holder does not have to be the driver.
This pass is not valid for camping or special events that have separate admission charges and may not be used for commercial purposes.
However, this pass can be used for free admission to Gillette Castle, Dinosaur or Fort Trumbull State Parks, or fishing at the Quinebaug Valley Hatchery. Accompanying visitors will be required to pay the appropriate fee.
You will need to show (or mail a copy of) your current Connecticut drivers license or other legal proof of residency, as well as a copy of your VA card or VA Benefits Letter indicating a service-connected disability. Mail to: DEEP Disabled Veteran Pass, State Parks Division, 79 Elm St., Hartford, CT 06106-5127. Questions? Call 860-424-3200 state office hours.
And did you know that many state forests are included in letterboxing activities? Letterboxing is something like a treasure hunt in which boxes containing a log book and rubber stamp are hidden in the parks. Maps are created and the boxes hidden by participants, and clues to finding the boxes are posted on the Web.
You can learn more about letterboxing in this area at this site http://letterboxing.org/faq/faq.html
And this link will take you to a map of Connecticut counties and links to the letterbox maps for those areas.
And here is a link to Connecticut state forests with letterboxing trails and their clues.
For descriptions of the state parks and the facilities they offer, click on this link http://www.ct.gov/dep/cwp/view.asp?a=2716&q=325086&depNav_GID=1650
For more information about passes, click on this link http://www.ct.gov/dep/cwp/view.asp?a=2716&q=325090&depNav_GID=1650
Also note that from time-to-time, the governor has declared certain dates to be admission-free at state parks and forests. Watch for those announcements here.
Posted May 29, 2012
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