A mild winter’s day seemed just the time to take a day trip to East Haddam, Connecticut to visit Gillette Castle State Park, overlooking the Connecticut River. We had been to this area in the past for a winter boat ride along the river (February and March) in hopes of seeing bald eagles that winter in the area. The river stays open through winter and thus provides ideal hunting for eagles through the winter months. Our first trip favored us with multiple eagle sightings, but on this more recent visit we were not as successful. We caught a glimpse of what looked like an eagle soaring into the clouds overhead, but we’re not bird experts, and the glimpse we got was brief.
Prior to touring the ground of Gillette Castle State Park, we stopped at the Connecticut River shoreline next to the Chester- Hadlyme Ferry, operated since 1769, (in various forms–hand poled, and then other methods of conveys ferries across the river). The ferry carries passengers back and forth across the river (seasonally–it was not running when we visited in winter). New England has so many amazing historical features, and this ferry is one of them.
Adjacent to the ferry landing is a small beach area with picnic tables and views of the river. Our perspective was from East Hadlyme, just below the cliff where Gillette Castle overlooks the river.
From the small park next to the ferry a set of stairs leads up the rocks to the castle. It’s a steep climb with many steps. We chose instead to drive around to the park’s main entrance.
Once at the park we found multiple trails that are wide, relatively level, that offer Easy Walking and some lovely views. We followed one broad level trail that overlooked the river. We soon realized that this was at one time a rail bed for a narrow gauge railroad that ran for three miles throughout the estate.
This also explained the tunnel we walked through on the grounds.
After exploring the grounds of the state park (the castle was not open for visitors when we were there) we headed across the river to Chester, where we walked along the dock where the River Quest boat rides launch. It has been a mild winter and the river was flowing freely, but slabs of ice along the shoreline were a reminder that winter is still here.
We found another place just south of the boat dock where we were able to stand right next to the river. At this same spot we got some great views of Gillette Castle. This vantage point put into perspective of the height of the cliffs where the castle is situated.
We love exploring new places. While we had visited the park briefly in the past, we were able to take more time and enjoy the extensive grounds of the state park at our leisure. Yes, it’s worth the trip. Happy trails.
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a writer who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed, and Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. Her memoir, the backstory of Easy Walks, is My Liturgy of Easy Walks: Reclaiming hope in a world turned upside down.