Overhead aerial view from Castle Craig in Hubbard Park in Meriden, Connecticut.

9 Underrated Destinations In Connecticut To Avoid Summer Crowds

Muggy, hot and crowded, three factors of vacation that do not mix well. Why not try to find the hidden gems of Connecticut? There are scenic byways and hiking trails, as well as cultural venues you won't want to miss. Stop by an inclusive movie theater or explore waterfalls; no matter the time of year, there's always something enticing to discover in the historic and gorgeously preserved Constitution State. Whether you're a local trying to escape tourists or a tourist who likes to ferret out the secrets of your travel destinations, you'll love wandering through these underrated destinations in Connecticut.

Hill-Stead Museum

The picturesque Sunken Garden at Hill–Stead Museum is a Colonial Revival house and art museum set on a large estate in Farmington, Connecticut.The property was designated a National Historic Landmark.
Sunken Garden at Hill-Stead Museum is a Colonial Revival in Farmington, Connecticut.

Take a stroll through the luxurious gardens, including sunken gardens designed by Beatrix Farrand, and walking trails, or take a guided tour of the 1901 Pope Riddle house (available Wednesday through Sunday) to learn about historic architecture and visit the on-site farm to learn about the history of Connecticut agriculture. The Hill-Stead Museum and the 152-acre estate grounds are open to the public daily from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm, including dogs as long as they are wearing a leash and under control.

The museum also houses exhibits of Impressionist paintings, so there is beauty for everyone in the family to enjoy! The majority of the museum tour (the first floor) is accessible by wheelchairs. You can picnic on the grounds, but you'll have to pack your own, as only snack foods and water are sold on-site. Don't forget to visit the Museum Shop before you leave.

Talcott Mountain State Park

The beautiful tower sits on the Talcott Mountain State Park in Simsbury, Connecticut, United States. Image credit Andy_Leclerc via Shutterstock
The beautiful tower sits on the Talcott Mountain State Park in Simsbury, Connecticut. Image credit Andy_Leclerc via Shutterstock

While you're exploring Talcott Mountain State Park, visit The Heublein Tower historic home and museum, accessible by walking trail only. There is the summer home of Gilbert Heublein in 1914, and the 165-foot Tower that belonged to the Hartford Times during the Second World War and the early 1950s. The trail is 1.25 miles long and takes about 30 to 40 minutes to hike. The museum is open seasonally from 10 am to 5 pm, and there are picnic tables, grills, and bathrooms available on the grounds, but there are no trash receptacles as it is a carry-in, carry-out park.

Other avenues to explore here include the Metacomet Trail, maintained by the Connecticut Forest and Park Association with the aid of volunteers. Either trail involves viewing a preponderance of wildlife and wildflowers, such as deer, woodpeckers, trout lilies, and wood anemones. In addition, there are spectacular views from on high, such as Mount Monadnock on the horizon all the way in New Hampshire, the Berkshires to the Northwest, or Long Island Sound to the South.

Prospector Theater

Theatre built in 2014 in downtown Ridgefield
Prospector Theatre in downtown Ridgefield.

This non-profit theater is a sparkling gem in the firmament of Connecticut's inclusivity programming. The theater is dedicated to providing competitive employment to people with disabilities while offering the heart of historic Ridgefield a premium entertainment experience. The movie theater offers current showings, as any other theater, but also opportunities for learning film-trade skills such as storyboarding, filming, editing, sound and lighting design, post-production, and more.

They also host film festivals and sensory-friendly screenings (meaning the audience is welcome to enjoy however they are most comfortable in a low-pressure environment, whether that includes running around (think: young children), rocking, talking along, or during the film, etc.). While the original movie house has since been entirely rebuilt, the current building lends a sparkling space to such a connected community.

The Carousel Museum and The Museum of Fire History

The New England Carousel Museum in Bristol, Connecticut.
The New England Carousel Museum in Bristol, Connecticut. Image credit Ritu Manoj Jethani via Shutterstock

What could be more fun than exploring a museum full of vintage Carousels and learning about Fire History? The museum is open to the public Wednesdays through Sundays, unless scheduled privately in advance, and the admission rates are relatively low (about $15 USD for an adult). Children up to 14 years old or up to 100 lbs are also allowed to ride the indoor children's carousel!

Enjoy an expansive and artistic collection of carousel pieces, showing different styles of carving and painting based on time period. This collection is combined with the Museum of Fire History, an engaging guided learning experience all about fire-fighting, including fun but limited interactive elements.

Kent Falls State Park

Covered bridge over Falls Brook at Kent Falls State Park
Covered bridge over Falls Brook at Kent Falls State Park.

Visiting this state park is a one-of-a-kind trip. There are gorgeous waterfalls and a reproduction of a historic covered bridge, among other natural beauties and wonders to enjoy. The waterfalls themselves extend and cascade across 250 feet to rejoin the Housatonic River. The River is replete with historic relevance, from Native American fishing and camping grounds to colonial-era mills.

While the Kent Falls Trail is a steep and winding quarter-mile hike, it's well worth it for the picturesque landscape. You can even participate in trout fishing at the park. Kent Falls is designated a Viewpoint Exhibit Host Site, meaning you can delight in outdoor exhibits reproducing art from the 19th-century along the trails as part of the Connecticut Art Trail.

Elephant Trunk Flea Market

Started in 1976, this tradition is a hit! Held on Sundays from April through December, this market has grown from under fifteen vendors per week to over 500 vendors, not including the food trucks from all around the East Coast. Parked on the lawn of a 19th Century Victorian estate and facing onto Route 7 in Connecticut, this flea market has been a success and a hot, hopping, well-known "secret" throughout New England for over 40 years.

The market is non-exclusive, so whether you'd love to participate as a merchant or a buyer, you're welcome! It also means you never know what you'll find here, so there's no reason not to return every week.

Castle Craig

Castle Craig at Hubbard Park Meriden Connecticut
Castle Craig in Hubbard Park in Meriden, Connecticut.

Inspired by an undecided mixture of influences, such as the Norman French Tower, the 12th Century Turkish Tower, or an ancient Scottish fortification, Castle Craig is a round stone observation tower at the East Peak in Meriden, Connecticut, which is part of Hubbard Park. The park is 1,800 acres donated by Walter Hubbard, was then deeded by the State of Connecticut to the City of Meriden for its current condition of nature preservation. The tower itself was dedicated to the people of Meriden by Mr. Hubbard on October 29, 1900.

From this promontory, on a clear day, it's possible to view the Sleeping Giant Mountain Range in the South, see a bit of New Haven, enjoy the waters of Long Island Sound, and perhaps even catch a glimpse of the profile of Long Island, not to mention views of some of the foothills of the Berkshires to the North. The park hiking trails to the Tower are open from May to October, unless the weather makes the trek too dangerous. The castle was neglected for a long time in the mid to late 1900s, so it was rehabilitated, and in 1986 a re-dedication ceremony was held for Castle Craig.

Vintage Radio and Communications Museum of Connecticut

Vintage radio receiver, antique wooden box radio, retro technology. Horizontal indoors shot. Old radio.
Vintage radio receiver, antique wooden box radio, retro technology.

Try your hand at sending a Morse Code message at this hands-on educational museum about vintage technology. You can take a guided tour to learn about the history of communications and technology or peruse at your own pace and play with the interactive exhibits, including a working jukebox and cranking a wind-up phonograph. There are also classes available for all ages and resources to learn more about anything you have questions about from the electronic age.

You never have to worry about availability while planning your trip, because this museum is open all year long on Thursdays through Sundays. They have discounts, but the general adult admission price is only ten dollars. So don't put off your visit any longer!

Eastern Point Beach

Eastern Point Beach a small family-oriented beach at the mouth of the Thames Riverin Connecticut, the site offer showers, picnic tables, concession stand and playground.
Eastern Point Beach is a small family-oriented beach at the mouth of the Thames River in Connecticut.

Though this is a rather expensive addition to your trip, it is also gloriously underrated (and probably less crowded) for the same reason. Eastern Point Beach has a playground, snack bar, ADA-Compliant restrooms, and showers, as well as sports courts and decidedly fantastic landscape views looking out toward Long Island Sound. Swimming is permitted for all ages, since there is a lifeguard on duty during the season.

While it is open from mid-June through Labor Day, the parking fees are a bit exorbitant without a Season Pass, starting at twenty dollars for a weekday, though that will at least cover parking for the entire day (gate hours are from 8 am to 8 pm), unless you arrive later in the day, at which point the parking fee is half price. If you live within the city limits of Groton, you can access the beach for free with an ID from 5 pm to 8 pm.


Despite a fondness for the beach (or due to lack of one), you'll love hitting the trails and these fascinating and unique museums to beat the heat, and the crowds! These underrated destinations will bring fun for the whole family, or for just you alone. Take your time to explore these hidden wonders of Connecticut. You won't regret taking the back roads, this time, and who knows what other delightful and thrilling adventures you'll meet with along the way.


More in Places