The town of Canton on the west side of Hartford County is known for Collinsville, a 19th century industrial village formed around the Collins Axe Factory.
The old mill building in Collinsville is preserved beside the fast-flowing Farmington River, which is channeled into a system of sluices built to drive the factory machinery.
The factory now houses a historical museum and local businesses, and the old village surrounding it is delightful on the tall wooded sides of Farmington Valley.
In summer, you can take a tubing tour along the rapids of the river, and a water sports company rents kayaks and organizes classes in Collinsville.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Canton, CT:
One of the prettiest pictures of Connecticut is of the Collins Company Axe Factory by the rocky Farmington River.
The village developed around the factory, which was founded by and named after Samuel Watkinson Collins in 1826.
It was here that machinist and inventor Elisha K. Root (1808-1865) developed the die casting process that revolutionized the manufacture of metal products.
Unlike most water mills in Connecticut, Collins’ Axe Factory survived the company’s closure in 1966. These solid brick buildings found new uses, such as museum and shop spaces, as we’ll find out later.
Nestled in River Bend, Collinsville also has a one-off bookstore, many antique shops and some great places to eat, drink and play in historic buildings in Greek Revival, Italian and Roman Revival styles.
2. Guangzhou History Museum
The museum is housed in a Collins & Company building built in 1865. For the first 60 years, agricultural plows were assembled here, and from the 1920s the building became a recreational facility for employees.
Now belonging to the Guangzhou Historical Society, this long building is an amazing warehouse for the Collins Company, holding 140 years worth of axes, knives, machetes, adzes, ceremonial swords and farm implements, all neatly displayed.
You can gauge the size of the Collins Company in its heyday with a diorama and check out some fascinating themed rooms such as a barber shop, 18th century blacksmith shop, grocery/pharmacy, and bridal shop.
An exciting piece is the hand-painted Button fire truck from 1854. The last time the device was used was in 1912 when Sam Collins’ house burned down.
3. Farmington River Walk
You can follow the course of the Farmington River along this loop, which connects to the famous Farmington Canal Heritage Walk in the east.
This walker and cyclist-friendly trail will take you through five different towns, including Canton, on the tracks of the old “Canal Line” railway.
The best part is in Canton, where there are cross-country walks, on paved trails under mature trees, near river rapids, waterfalls and historic mills.
North of Canton, the trail switches to the edge of a light road before transitioning to the stone-dust off-road section of Simsbury.
4. Collinsville Canoe and Kayak
Backed by the Farmington River, this store and rental center has a strong presence in Collinsville, on Bridge Street, a wooden building that was once home to a lumber company.
You can buy everything you need for canoeing, kayaking, and paddle boarding here, but the company also offers kids shows, moonlit paddles, quick demo days, introductions to paddleboarding and kayaking, and even paddle board yoga! Alternatively, you can book a paddle party for kids or adults that includes water staff.
Alternatively, you can simply rent a kayak (one or two seats), paddle board, canoe or bike for anywhere from an hour to a full week.
5. Roaring Creek Nature Center
This attraction in Canton allows you to get close to nature and learn how the Connecticut landscape has changed over five centuries.
There’s a lot to explore in carefully assembled dioramas of wildlife, replicas of Native American longhouses, and informative touchscreens.
The center also houses a small group of named animals, including turtles, rabbits, snakes, geckos, bearded dragons, blue-tongued skinks and Madagascar hissing cockroaches.
Outside there is an aviary for birds of prey, and the five-mile trail records about 150 different bird species.
The Nature Center store offers wildlife lists, flyers and maps.
6. Antiques in Farmington
You can see more of the Collinsville Axe Factory at the Antique Center, which moved to this extraordinary location on the Farmington River in 2006. So as you walk through this atmospheric old building, you’ll come across small stalls where you can browse the wares. Among about 50 vendors, specializing in everything from furniture to pottery, china, glass, jewelry, clocks, vintage signs, Everything from appliances, lighting, clothing, toys, paintings and various other collectibles.
The center never feels cluttered due to the large space of the old factory building, and the turnover is high, so there is always something new when you come.
7. Ski Sunset
Highly rated ski resort only 5 minutes from New Hartford between December and March.
Ski Sundown is a family-oriented place for newcomers to experience skiing for the first time.
Of the 16 paths, half were rated easiest (green circles), while 4 were rated harder (blue squares) and 4 were rated hardest (black diamonds). If there is enough snow, there are also two terrain parks and two trails, Exhibition and Gunbarrel.
Ski Sundown is 100% snow made and the ski area is groomed twice a day.
The resort offers all the amenities you’d want, such as a ski shop, full-service rentals, and cozy cabins with après ski lounges, scenic decks, and two food courts.
8. Farmington River Oil Pipeline
The ominous-sounding Satan’s Kingdom Recreation Area can be a springboard for a 2.5-mile trip along the Farmington River.
The tubes are designed for this wild but safe stretch of the river, and you’ll ride along three different sets of rapids.
When you’re not bouncing around in the rapids, you can lie back and enjoy the breathtaking views between the river’s tall tree-lined corridors and the boulders on its banks.
Life jackets are included in the price, as is the short shuttle ride back to the point of departure.
Helpers are also placed in the second set of rapids if you get stuck.
9. Tunxi Trail
This 79-mile Blue-Blazed trail runs through Canton along the West Ridge of the Connecticut River Valley.
On its journey, roughly parallel to the 200-million-year-old Metacomet Ridge, the trail passes through historic colonial-era burial grounds, waterfalls, towering cliffs, numerous caves, and two mountain peaks.
For a convenient local walk, you can cross the Farmington River and stop at the Nepaug National Forest, which is traversed from north to south by the Tunxis Trail, which exits Satan’s Kingdom and crosses the Farmington River into Canton.
10. Farmington Valley Store
When summer rolls around, you’ll be glad this mall in Guangzhou is just outside.
The Farmington Valley shops create a small-town vibe with its awnings, small grass strips, flowers hanging from lamp posts, and even some restaurant and café patios.
As for retailers, there are fewer than 50, including Barnes & Noble, Sephora, American Eagle Outfitters, Claire’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Kohl’s and J. Crew.
For food and beverages, you have Starbucks (Barnes & Noble), Panera, Chipotle, Ben & Jerry’s, Flatbread Company, and more.
11. Matterhorn Mini Golf
A lovely small-town attraction, the Matterhorn Mini Golf has 18 holes set in a Swiss-style landscape where you can learn facts about cheese, chocolate and even the Large Hadron Collider as you play.
A herd of model goats lives on the course, each drawn by local artists and children, while yodel’s voice wafts through the air.
The 18th hole is a special par 3 hole set over 20 meters of lush alpine meadows.
There’s also an ice cream shop here that serves “Swiss Swirl” soft-serve ice cream in flavours like Cream Stick, Marshmallow and Salted Caramel, but if that’s too much, vanilla.
12. Farmington Valley Arts Center
This non-profit arts center opened in 1974 in a red sandstone building that was once the Climax Fuse factory, and more former factory buildings have been given new life.
The center provides studio space for an eclectic mix of talented artists.
On the first Saturday of every month, you can witness the creative process of the Open Studio firsthand.
The center runs a range of courses and workshops for any medium you can think of and for all experience levels.
On a typical day, you can also visit the exhibit at the Esther B. Drezner Visitors Gallery, featuring local and regional artists.
13. Flamig’s Farm
In nearby Simsbury, the working farm is easy to see from West Mountain Road, as its giant sign reads “EGGS” upside down.
Vlamig’s Farm changes with the seasons, offering spooky hay wagons on Halloween, farm lodging, summer camp for kids, and a visit to Santa on Christmas.
But if you just drop by, kids will be delighted with the huge petting zoo, open from April to November with goats, ponies, cats, dogs, miniature horses, llamas, alpacas and more, We can’t fit in one paragraph.
Also open are the Farm Shop, which sells fresh organic eggs and gifts like handmade toys and clothes.
14. Brewery legality
Follow the Farmington River back to Pine Meadow and within minutes you’ll be at this craft brewery specializing in Belgian and American beers.
Brewery Legitimus pays attention to detail and balance, which applies to its forward jumping IPA ranks.
When we wrote this list in the fall of 2019, there were also Witbier, Stout and Brown Ales, and Simple Pure Blonde Ales, which are also the base of Plum and Cherry fruit beers.
Guest cider is usually served, and the bar pours 6- and 16-ounce glasses and grower refills.
The bar is open Wednesday through Sunday and hosts regular trivia nights, occasional live music and a steady rotation of food trucks, especially on weekends.
15. Discover Terrestrial Park
This piece of land on the Avon Township Line got its name because it was “discovered” in a tax mapping in the 1950s and then provided to Avon Township by the Connecticut Legislature.
Most of the 122 acres are deciduous hickory and oak trees, and at the southeast corner you’ll find stone walls reminiscent of long-forgotten 19th century farms.
A yellow trail loops around the upper part of the park and takes you back to the car park at St Michaels Court.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Canton, CT
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