By PETER MARTEKA,firstname.lastname@example.org
With Memorial Day – the unofficial start of summer - finally upon us after an Ice Age-like winter and a soggy, cloudy spring, Long Island Sound may be the hot destination this weekend. But with water temperatures still in the 50s, visitors may just want to see the sound and not jump in it.
So here are some of the best destinations to not only view the sound, but also get a good hike in at the same time.
Bluff Point State Park and Haley Farm State Park: Although they seem connected, these are actually two separate state parks in Groton. The 267-acres Haley Farm State Park connects to the 800-acre Bluff Point State Park over a bridge across railroad tracks. There are leisurely bike paths as well as several miles of trails and miles of scenic stone walls that snake through old pastures and Haley Farm ruins.
Spend the morning exploring Haley Farm and then go visit Bluff Point. The peninsula state park contains not only barrier beaches and incredible overlooks, but also deep forests. Visitors also pass by scenic salt marshes.
Exit 88 off I-95. Follow Route 117 south to Route 1 north. Turn right on Route 215 and take the first right on Brook Street and a right on Haley Farm Lane.
Farm River State Park: Is probably one of the most underappreciated shoreline state parks out there. A gravel path that takes visitors through the park is part of the Shoreline Greenway Trail - a 25-mile-long, work-in-progress trail from Lighthouse Point in New Haven to Hammonasset Beach State Park.
The trail forks and visitors can take the high road over some huge rock outcroppings with tremendous views of the marsh and Long Island Sound. In addition to the views, there also are great picnic spots and places to bird-watch on top of the rocks. The trail winds down to the bottom of impressive outcroppings that meet the marsh grass and water.
The other path passes along the edge of a pristine salt marsh, now a rarity along the shoreline. The marshes, pitch pines and scrub oaks give an outer Cape Cod feel to the East Haven park.
Take I-95 to Exit 54 and Route 1. Follow Route 1, (North Main Street). Turn left on Route 142 (Short Beach Road) for about 2 miles. Look for the walrus (no joke) mailbox on left just before the entrance to the state park.
Rocky Neck State Park: Offers some of the best shoreline hikes within a state park. Where else can visitors walk along someone's nose and see a tremendous view of Long Island Sound? Ok, so Tony's Nose is actually a rock formation – and it does look like a giant nose.
But the East Lyme park also offers more than a giant nose. There are hikes along Four Mile River, Bride Brook and across Shipyard Field. Be sure to check out a place known as Bakers Cave deep in the woods. There is nothing like the smell of the sea as you wind your way through the deep forest.
Rocky Neck State Park is off I-95's Exit 72.
A trap-rock knob in the southern hills is named after Peter Brockett, a soldier severely wounded in the American Revolution who lived out his life as a hermit at the base of the rock. It also has some great views of the estuary of the Quinnipiac River and the sound from the craggy 373-foot summit.
Several miles of trails snake through the heavily wooded park, the largest piece of open space remaining in North Haven. The easiest - and quickest - way to get to the summit is along the mile-long red-blazed trail. The entrance to Peter's Rock is on Route 17, or 133 Middletown Ave., in North Haven, just east of the junction with Quinnipiac Avenue. Visit www.petersrockassociation.org for a color map of the 11 different trails.