This agricultural town in north-central Connecticut is located on the eastern edge of the Connecticut River Valley.
In Ellington, you can hike the Soapstone Mountains in Shenipsit State Forest for a view that covers the entire southern New England area.
The town has its own airport, which is licensed for skydiving, and if that’s something you’ve always wanted to do, this is the place to try your first tandem jump.
While Ellington has a peaceful country vibe, there’s plenty to do near a family entertainment center, a growing number of museums, craft breweries, and a NASCAR-approved racetrack.
1. Shenipsit State Forest
The Shenipsit State Forest is a collection of 11 distinct parcels on the eastern side of the Connecticut River Valley, totaling more than 7,000 acres.
This puts a world of entertainment at your fingertips, with boulders deposited at the end of the last Ice Age scattered across remote, rugged woodlands.
Lace up your hiking boots and set off on the Shenipsit trail, climbing Soapstone Mountain as you go.
In nearby Stafford, Shenipsit is also home to the Connecticut Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Museum. This Depression-era initiative addresses the need for environmental protection and the employment needs of young job-seekers.
At Camp Conner, the museum is housed in the state’s last true CCC barracks and showcases original equipment, tools, photographs and other memorabilia from the camp and 21 other camps in the state.
2. Soapstone Mountain
A reference point for the Ellington portion of the Shenipsit State Forest is the 328-meter peak.
You can summit on the Blue-Blazed Shenipsit Trail, which we discuss below.
Although the road is closed in winter, you can also drive up to a quarter mile from the summit.
Whether you’re walking or driving, the panoramic views from the top are worth a visit, and the new observation tower, which opened in 2018, takes your journey to the next level. This is one of only two observation towers in eastern Connecticut that lifts you over the treeline to see the Connecticut Valley.
Turn your gaze to Massachusetts and you’ll see Berkshire in the northwest, while Monadnock, New Hampshire, rises about 80 miles to the north.
3. Shenipsit Trail
Starting northeast of Ellington in Stafford and into Soapstone Mountain, is a 50-mile Blue-Blazed trail that runs north to south through central Connecticut to the Meshomasic State Forest in East Hampton.
On the east bank of the Connecticut River, the trail is covered in rocky, forested terrain that can be traversed on snowshoes and cross-country skis during the snowy winter months.
Although this is an official hiking route, mountain bikers go crazy for the technical twists and turns.
If you’re up for a local hiking adventure, you can walk to the northern part of the trail, which starts at Bald Mountain in Stafford and ends at Grahaber Road in Toland.
4. Ellington Farmers Market
On Saturdays from mid-May through the end of October, the Ellington Farmers Market will be set up in Arbor Park in excellent condition, with more than 30 permanent vendors and a dozen other guest vendors.
Here you can buy seasonal fruits and vegetables, fish and seafood, cheese, meat, nuts, eggs, flowers, artisan sauces, baked goods and more specialty items ranging from brioches to tea, cosmetics and kettle corn.
Needless to say, this all comes directly from the producers who have built long-term relationships with shoppers in the market.
To keep things alive, there’s a new theme every week, as well as some great live music while shopping.
5. Nellie McKnight Museum
Nellie McKnight (1894-1981) spent most of her life in Ellington and was a valued member of the community, serving as the town curator for nearly four years.
When she died, she bequeathed her home to the Ellington Historical Society.
In Federal style, this rather grand eight-bedroom home dates back to 1812 and was built by the Sexton family.
The most significant changes to the property occurred when the McKnight family moved in in the 1920s, adding plumbing, central heating, wiring and hardwood floors.
But many striking period features remain, such as the original fireplace and superb wall stencils in the 1830s kitchen.
You can see it for yourself on Thursday afternoons from May to September.
6. Crystal Lake/Beach
Less than 10 minutes east of Ellington CBD is Crystal Lake, lined with wooded hillside homes and a beach on the south shore.
Open from noon to 19:00 during the entire season from mid-June to mid-August, there is no better place to be on a hot summer day.
The lake is open for preseason games that begin on Memorial Day and Labor Day, which concludes the playoffs, both with reduced hours.
The sandy beach sits on a curve that slopes gently into the transparent waters of the lake, bordered by a meadow of pine trees.
Seasonal passes are available for purchase at Ellington Residence for a daily fee for out-of-town guests ($10 per adult, $5 per child).
7. Connecticut Paratroopers
Ellington Airport, just north of town, is one of only two airports in the state certified as a skydiving area.
So if you’ve always wanted to do your first jump, it will never be easier than in Ellington.
For the uninitiated, tandem skydiving is very simple, as you will always be the passenger and use the same parachute system as your instructor: the training takes just over 30 minutes, after which you can fly from over 3200 meters.
Connecticut Parachutists Inc. uses all the latest skydiving equipment and offers a range of packages depending on how you want to document the experience (hand-held camera or professional videographer jumping with you).
8. New England Motorcycle Museum
Right in Vernon, this museum is the brainchild of hardcore amateur motorcyclist Ken Kaplan, who has put together one of the largest collections in the Northeast.
The 205-year-old textile mill has been abandoned for many years, and more than 100 motorcycles are parked at the majestic Hockanum Mill.
There are over 25 different brands of motorcycles, from Triumph to Indian to Honda, and an entire floor is full of Harley Davidsons.
The vehicles are accompanied by a wealth of memorabilia, including posters, signage, photographs and an extensive magazine archive.
The attraction was only open in 2018, and in 2020, a motorcycle-themed restaurant, microbrewery and bar will open on the ground floor.
9. Sonny’s Place
Combining a variety of family-friendly attractions and activities, Sonny’s Place is a convenient day in Somers close by.
For a short rundown, you have mini golf, laser tag, batting cages, go-karts, climbing walls, playgrounds, mini bowling, huge soft playgrounds, ziplines and gyroscopes.
A wonderful, recent addition is the 1925 Philadelphia Toboggan Company’s Carousel, which is being gradually restored at the New England Carousel Museum in Bristol.
When it’s time to take a break, the BBQ at Sonny’s Place makes delicious burgers from beef raised on local farms.
10. Powder Hollow Brewery
If you love craft beer, the selection of small-batch breweries in Connecticut is so vast that it can be hard to know where to start.
A great man sits outside of town in Enfield, proud of a beer brewed with first-rate hops, wheat and barley.
Born in 2014, Powder Hollow Brewery is open weekly and offers tours for true enthusiasts.
Of the nine beers in fall 2019, only two were IPAs, which is good news for those who think craft beer is more of a hop-heavy beer.
If you like dark ale, try the 1929 Prohibition Porter, Early Morning Oatmeal Stout on Nitro or Black & Gold, a roasted brown ale.
11. Connecticut Trolley Museum
Head west to the Connecticut River in East Windsor, where you can visit the oldest electric railroad museum in the country.
Dating back to 1940, the Connecticut Trolley Museum is located on the 1.5-mile historic railroad that houses the Rockville branch of the Hartford and Springfield Street Railroad.
Included in the entry, you’ll get unlimited rides throughout the day in some beautiful old cars from cities across North America.
Kids will love these 3-mile round trips and can dress up and entertain themselves at the toy train table in the visitor center.
You’ll also encounter a small group of amazing cars here as you learn about the advancement of electric carts and their impact on 20th century society.
12. Stafford Motor Speedway
If you’re into high-speed sports, there’s a NASCAR Whelen National Series track on the other side of the Shenipsit State Forest in Stafford.
This oval track dates back to 1870 when it was a racecourse and has been known as the “House of SK Modifieds” since the 70s. From May to September, there is an exciting event every Friday night, with competitions in popular categories, where the Whelen Modfied Tour stops 3 times a season.
If you’re new to SK Modified racing, be prepared for changing leads and plenty of side-by-side racing.
The highway seats 8,000 people and offers classic stadium fare with the option to bring your own food.
13. Robert Tedford Memorial Park (formerly Brookside Park)
This community park is located on Route 140 a few miles from downtown Ellington.
Clean and well maintained, Robert Tedford Memorial Park is known for its excellent sports facilities including tennis, baseball/softball, volleyball, soccer and soccer fields.
There is a great children’s playground and a gazebo that can be rented.
The park is also home to some annual events, such as the Ellington Volunteer Fire Department’s annual carnival in early September, preceded by a fire truck parade.
14. Rolling Meadows Country Club
Not surprisingly, this friendly public course on Mount Ellington is family-run.
The 18-hole par 72 is set on a plateau with stunning views of the Connecticut Valley.
The front and back nines have different characteristics here, starting with open country and wide greens, and then progressing to narrow tree-lined fairways that sometimes require precise positioning.
On the back nine, Berkshire’s majestic silhouette will come into view.
The 2019 green fee is $45 for 18 holes (with carts) on weekdays and $50 on weekends.
You can continue your round at The Tavern, which has a full bar as well as casual bar dining.
15. Irish Bend Orchard
From August to October, pick your own fruit at this fourth-generation farm in Summers, Wednesday through Sunday.
The season started with nectarines and peaches, followed by Asian pears, and then various apples.
All fruit at Irish Bend Orchard grows on short trees, making it easy for even children to pick.
You can even give little ones their own child-sized container.
To make things easier, markers are placed daily to indicate where the ripest fruit can be found.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Ellington, CT (CT)
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