On the east side of the Connecticut River Valley, the town of Vernon is just 15 minutes from Hartford via I-84. But when you’re walking down Vernon’s trail, it seems impossible for a big city to be this close.
Winding through the town, Vernon Rails to Trails Park is a narrow natural area on the track bed of a 19th century railway.
Valley Falls Park also has a 19th century heritage and was once home to a textile mill and is now a place to stroll, swim and relax in summer.
Another textile mill dating back more than two centuries is home to the New England Motorcycle Museum, which showcases some 200 bicycles from 25 different brands.
Let’s explore the best things to do in and around Vernon:
1. Tower on Fox Hill
The octagonal Romanesque Revival tower is 22 meters high and is located in Henry Park in Rockville, on the site of an earlier tower that briefly stayed in the late 1870s.
The replacement was a Depression-era engineering progress management project built as the Vernon Memorial of All Wars.
Featuring the Vernon Township Seal, the tower on Fox Hill is the town’s tallest man-made point, offering panoramic views west of the Connecticut River Valley.
On the Metacomet Ridge, 20 miles away on the other side of the valley, are Mount Talcott, Mount Holyoke and Mount Tom on the horizon.
Leading to the tower is a grand promenade 67 meters long, paved with random stone slabs.
2. Valley Falls Park
One of the most beautiful town parks in the state, Valley Falls Park is a mountainous, nature-rich haven for hiking, swimming and fishing.
There is a pond in the center, in the deep woods, and a beach area patrolled by lifeguards in summer.
Next to the beach is a grassy area with picnic tables under the cover of a gazebo.
The park also has a lot of history, from colonial times to when the last building burned down in 1877, it was home to a mill.
The foundations have been excavated and explanatory plaques affixed.
Disappearing into the woods is a series of trails of varying difficulty, traversing streams, wetlands, meadows and scenic lookouts.
3. New England Motorcycle Museum
Open only in August 2018, the New England Motorcycle Museum features over 100 motorcycles from over 25 different manufacturers.
It’s the brainchild of lifelong enthusiast Ken Kaplan, who found the perfect venue at the abandoned Hockanum Mill textile mill.
Built in the 1810s, this magnificent building has been lovingly restored and has plenty of natural light.
There’s an entire floor dedicated to Harley-Davidsons and another floor dedicated to off-road vehicles.
Among the many brands on display are India, Triumph, BMW, Rokon, Honda, Kawasaki, all of which combine memorabilia from famous motorcycle events and celebrities, as well as a staggering archive of motorcycle magazines.
When we compiled this list in the summer of 2019, a restaurant, bar and microbrewery was in the works.
4. Vernon Rails to Trails Park
In Vernon, the 9-mile tree tunnel rail line has been transformed into a greenway for hiking, biking, jogging, horseback riding and cross-country skiing.
The main 5.1-mile trail begins on the Vernon-Manchester Town Line and curves east toward Bolton on the tracks of the Old Hartford, Providence and Fishkill Railroad laid in the mid-19th century.
The trail is part of the 21-mile Hop River Linear Park Trail that stretches from Manchester to Willimantic, and there are trail maps in Vernon at the Church Street and Tunnel Road car parks.
The trail passes through Valley Falls Park, and on Warren Avenue, you can join the Rockville Spur, which runs 4.1 miles north on an old industrial line laid in 1862.
5. Amateur Recreation Vernon
Parents with restless teens or anyone in need of inspiration for a night out with friends should check out this entertainment center, which is part of a chain across the United States.
The flagship of the Vernon branch is the 25-lane bowling alley, with 5 reserved bowling lanes in a special VIP area.
There’s a 370-square-meter laser tag arena with ambient music, LED lighting, fog and other special effects, while the central arcade houses more than 80 state-of-the-art machines.
50% off laser tag and all arcade games from 15:00 until closing time on Tuesday.
6. New England Civil War Museum
One of the dizzying structures at the Perfect Center in Rockville is the former Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Hall, built in 1890 for Union Army veterans from the Civil War.
Thomas F. of GAR
Burpee Post #71 met here until 1934, when their heir, Alden Skinner Camp #45, Son of a Civil War Union Veteran, continued to meet monthly.
This makes it the oldest GAR building in continuous use.
The free museum, open every Sunday, has been around since the hall was built, but was not officially recognized until the 1990s.
There’s plenty to delve into, like real rifles, muskets, and swords, as well as a journal kept by a member of the 56th Massachusetts Regiment, wartime communications, a vast library, and a historic GAR uniform.
7. Connecticut Paratroopers
Not far from Rockville is Ellington Airport, one of two Connecticut airports certified as a skydiving area.
If that’s what you’ve been hoping to accomplish, you can try Connecticut Parachutists Inc.
For your first skydive.
You don’t need any skydiving experience to take part in the tandem jump from a 4,300-meter plane.
If the weather is nice, you can look out over the Long Island Sound, which stretches along the Connecticut River all the way to Hartford.
For souvenirs, you can pick from a range of video packs, and even jump in with a professional free-fall photographer.
8. Aussakita Acre Farm
A great idea for families with children 10 years and older, Aussakita Acres Farm is open by appointment from April to mid-November, offering farm tours and a variety of animal experiences.
The tour lasts approximately 90 minutes and includes a visit to the farm’s paddock to meet, feed and interact with goats, ponies, pigs and alpacas.
If you visit earlier in the season, there will be plenty of piglets, goat kids and llamas to make a fuss about! Younger kids are welcome to take part in a special 45-minute class, while the farm organizes goat yoga in front of 30 playful and attention-hungry goats.
9. Mar-Lea Mini Golf and Driving Range
You can have more family fun at this scenic miniature golf course just off the Boston Turnpike south of Vernon.
Mar-Lea is perfect for young and inexperienced golfers because of its relatively simple but oddly designed holes, with lighthouses, castles, windmills, churches, barns and treehouses.
The price point is great too, $6 for 18 holes.
More serious golfers can practice their irons on the wooded slopes.
10. Hockanum River Walk
The Hocanum River originates from Lake Shenipsit in Rockville and flows over 22 miles through Vernon, Ellington, Manchester and East Hartford before flowing into the Connecticut River.
The Hockanham River Basin Society makes the riverbanks as accessible as possible, and this network of loops and point-to-point paths will help you see the Vernon and Manchester townscapes in a whole new light.
Vernon has 2.5 miles of orange straight trails.
One of the most hilly and scenic trails in the system, the 1.4-mile Dart Hill North Trail in Vernon begins at a water treatment plant on Windsorville Road and extends south to Dart Hill Park.
Union Pond, southwest of Vernon, has trails and habitats for waterfowl and wildfowl such as cormorants, Canada geese, ducks, and gulls, as well as the occasional great egret and blue heron.
11. Dart Hill Park
On the Hockanum River Trails, Dart Hill Park is a compact and well-maintained community park with a variety of amenities.
There’s a large grassy area for kite flying and picnics, and the gazebo provides some respite on hot summer days.
It’s right next to the newly updated playground.
Another recent improvement is the park’s fitness trail, complete with hydraulic equipment, while in the center of the parking lot is a small wildflower meadow to encourage bees.
12. Rockville Farmers Market
From mid-May to mid-October, every Thursday in the shade of Rockville’s GAR Hall, Courthouse Plaza has a small farmers’ market deal.
Several farms in the Vernon area are represented and sell organic fruits and vegetables, eggs, free-range pork, condiments, cheeses, breads, pastries, honey, pickles, jams and jellies.
As you’d expect, all of these items are grown or produced by suppliers who are happy to answer questions about their wares.
The market is open from 10:00 to 13:00.
13. East Arts Center
Vernon has a vibrant community arts center that opened in 2012 and hosts temporary exhibitions, as well as a variety of classes in painting, drawing, watercolor, pastel, art journals, and calligraphy, for a brief list.
The calendar of events is also crowded with theatre performances, live music, dancing and lots of things for the kids to enjoy.
The exquisite Arts Center East Building, built in Colonial Revival style, was built in 1927 as an orphan’s school, later a general kindergarten, and then gradually declined.
14. Vernon Historical Society
For an interesting perspective on the town’s 200 years of history, the Vernon Historical Society has a museum open every Thursday and Sunday.
It’s a treasure trove of local historical places, most notably works by famous artists from the region, such as Charles Ethan Porter and Gustave A.
In the summer of 2019, coinciding with the third revision of the children’s book Vernon, Our Town (first published in 1967), an exhibition of rare objects presented archives of everyday life over the years Photos and handicrafts.
15. Buckland Hills Mall
There are retail units along I-84 southwest of Vernon, but if you keep driving for a few minutes toward Hartford, you’ll find yourself in an enclave of shopping centers and entertainment.
The largest of these is The Shoppes in Buckland Hills, with Barnes & Noble, Foot Locker, GameStop, H&M, JCPenney, and more.
The Plaza in the Buckland Hills next door is mostly dining, with a range of chain restaurants including Five Guys, Olive Garden and Taco Bell.
Then, just north, the open-air Promenade Shops at Evergreen Walk are a bit more upscale, home to Apple, L’Occitane, Clarks, Banana Republic, Old Navy and Sephora.
Between the malls there are many independent restaurants, from Wendy’s to Red Robin, as well as Cinemark’s Buckland Hills 18 and IMAX Studios.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Vernon, CT (CT)
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