With more than 60 square miles, Newtown is the state's fifth largest town. And nestled within this vast area is the village of Sandy Hook, a small hamlet sitting on the Pootatuck River.
Sandy Hook's colorful past includes a fire hose factory, an opera house and a biker destination. Now, this village boasts unique shops, a few restaurants and a network of trails with beautiful views.
Walking and Hiking
Al's Trail spans more than 10 miles and runs right through Sandy Hook. This trail was created by Newtown residents brought together by a vision.
Al Goodrich and others were inspired to create "a greenway in Newtown so that migratory birds and animals could make their way through the state on safe corridors that were uninhabited by humans," said Pat Barkman, who worked with Al and the Open Space Task Force. "In creating this space, Al saw room for a trail," said Barkman.
The part that originates in the village rewards hikers with beautiful views of the Pootatuck River.
Remnants of village history can still be seen on the hiking path that originates at the end of Dayton Street. As you pull into the small parking area, a bridge that was mainly used by the factory workers who lived in the area is still open to pedestrians. At the base of the trail in Rocky Glen Park, the foundation for the old opera house, which burned down in 1897, is still visible.
This hike was easy for the most part. The latter section has some steep climbs, but my 6-year-old son tackled it and was fine, although we made sure to have a hand on him on some of the narrower steep stretches.
Along the way we saw a variety of plants, including Jack-in-the-Pulpit, trillium and wild ramps, as well as several types of ferns and moss. Everyone agreed the view was spectacular, which made the 30-minute trek worth it. Plan on one to one-and-a-half hours, depending on how much exploring you do, to make it to the view and back.
One reason we chose this part of Al's Trail is because it's also home to a geocache. We discovered geocaching and letterboxing last year and are smitten. A geocache is a container that is hidden off of a trail that you locate by using GPS coordinates. Letterboxing is similar but involves following clues and landmarks instead of coordinates.
When you find the weather-proof container, you get to mark the occasion by writing or stamping in a journal, taking a trinket and leaving something of your own, such as a small toy, a penny or other item. We left a Silly Band, along with a journal entry to which we signed our names.
With four kids in tow, we rarely take a hike that doesn't involve one of these. There's something about a quest for "treasure" that inspires kids to press on, even if they are tired.
Newtown resident Dana Roth agrees. A friend introduced her family to geocaching last year.
"The kids LOVED it," Roth said. "Now they have an iPhone app that would make it easy, so maybe we'll try it again."
After a leisurely walk on the trail, you'll be looking for some food. Sandy Hook has several options, from the basic sandwich to more upscale dining.
Although there is a Subway sandwich shop, most locals head over to for their mid-day fare. This deli has a handful of tables and a variety of hot and cold sandwiches, as well as fresh specials and homemade soups. The menu may include Chilled Thai Squash Soup with Yogurt and Cilantro, the Buffalo Shrimp Basket or the Cowboy Burger with melted pepper jack cheese, crisp fried onion rings and bacon.
is an option for a light lunch. This coffee house sits right on the rushing Pootatuck river and has outdoor seating. The small menu offers salads, soups and fresh sandwiches served on local bread. Even if you don't grab lunch here, stop in for a coffee and a pastry or cup of gelato.
Other eateries include the , and . Some of these spots are not open on Sunday, so check before you visit.
On your way out of town, stop by Shortt's Farm, which is located less than a mile from Sandy Hook Center on Riverside Road. This farm has been family run since 1995 and is certified organic.
"When I first started in 2000, we did not have many customers actively seeking out organic produce," said Sue Shortt, who runs the farm with her husband Jim. "They didn't care as long as it was fresh, but now that people are getting more educated on the organic movement, we definitely see people coming to us because we are certified organic."
The garden center offers perennials, annuals and gardening supplies, but locals are drawn to this spot for its abundance of organic produce. The farm grows 13 varieties of tomatoes, many of them heirloom, peppers, eggplant and many other herbs and vegetables.