Bauer Park, Copse Rd., Madison, 203-318-8651. Once a working farm, now a 65-acre nature preserve. Hiking trails, community gardens, star-gazing platform.
Beaver Ponds Park, Between Sherman Pkwy. and Crescent St., New Haven, 203-946-8027. 63 acres of natural areas and ponds; Little League fields, baseball field, tennis and basketball courts.
Chatfield Hollow State Park, 381 Rte. 80, Killingworth, 860-663-2030. Set in a large, um, hollow, where natural caves once provided shelter for Native Americans. Parking fee in summer.
Cockaponset State Forest, 18 Ranger Rd., Haddam, 860-345-8521. Connecticut's second largest state forest; hiking, picnicking facilities, fishing and camping.
Devil's Hopyard State Park, 366 Hopyard Rd., East Haddam, 860-873-8566. The legend is that holes and dents in the rocks under the waterfall came from the devil hopping around. Wooded campsites near that waterfall, stream fishing.
East Rock Park, East Rock Rd. (I-91, Willow St. exit), New Haven, 203-946-6086. New Haven's largest city park with hiking, bird sanctuary, nature trails, picnic facilities, playground, ballfields. Foot and bike paths and roads lead to the summit, which gives great views of the city, the harbor and Long Island Sound. Adventurous types: check out the Giant Steps, a stone staircase of sorts built into the face of the cliff. Hikers ought to stay close to trails — if you wander off and get stranded somewhere on the rock's face, you'll be fined the cost of your rescue (this has happened).
East Shore Park, Woodward Ave., New Haven, 203-946-8790. You might not know this, but there's an 82-acre park along the harbor, full of grassy expanses and beautiful views that you've probably driven past a bunch of times on your way to Lighthouse Point. Go figure.
Edgewood Park, Edgewood Ave., (I-95, exit 44 N/45 S), New Haven, 203-946-8028. 140-acre park featuring wildlife displays, children's fishing pond, nature trails and special programs. Free children's nature programs offered. Bikers and skaters should check out the large and popular skate park, and Westville dog owners ought to know about the big ol' dog run. The first Holocaust memorial to be planted on public grounds in the U.S. is on site, too.
Fort Nathan Hale Park, 36 Woodward Ave., New Haven, 203-787-8790. Located along the New Haven Harbor, the park includes Fort Nathan Hale, Black Rock Fort, bocce courts, a picnic pavilion and play equipment.
Hammonasset Beach State Park, 1288 Boston Post Rd., Madison, 203-245-2785. When you think about how much of the Connecticut shoreline is privately owned and thereby completely inaccessible if you don't have (or have friends who have) about a zillion dollars, you appreciate the rare phenomenon of a well-maintained public beach a little more. Hammonasset's the largest such beach among a very small handful. Offerings include campsites, a boardwalk, boat launch, concessions, nature center and showers. Parking fee.
Harkness Memorial State Park, 275 Great Neck Rd., Waterford, 860-443-5725. Year-round gardens, picnic facilities and beaches. Parking fee varies.
Kettletown State Park, 1400 George's Hill Rd. (I-84, exit 15), Southbury, 203-264-5678 (May-Sept.) or 203-938-2285 (Oct.-April). Extends for two miles along Lake Zoar. 72 camp sites, with dumping station, flush toilets, hot showers, fishing, swimming. Parking fee on weekends.
Lighthouse Point Park, 2 Lighthouse Point Rd., New Haven, 203-946-8790. 82 acres on Long Island Sound. Yes, there is a lighthouse (although it's not open very often — call for hours), and a carousel, too. Swimming, historical displays, hiking trails, picnicking, and some stellar views of the harbor. Open Memorial Day through Labor Day. Parking fee.
Long Wharf Nature Preserve, Long Wharf Dr., New Haven. 17 miles along the shore include a Vietnam War Veterans Memorial. The last time this paper mentioned it's also a popular gay cruising spot, some people got mad at us, but … well, yeah.
Machimoodus State Park, Rte. 151, East Haddam, 860-873-5058. The land on which Echo Farm and the Sunrise Resort once sat is now a 300-plus acre park perfect for fishing, horseback riding, bird watching and picnicking. Picnic tables are scattered throughout, and there are three ponds and fields for wildflowers. No parking fee.
Ocean Beach Park, 98 Neptune Ave., New London, 860-447-3031. Saltwater swimming, pool, playground, water slide, mini-golf, boardwalk, etc. Can host weddings and other events. Open summers.
Osbornedale State Park, 555 Roosevelt Dr., Derby, 203-735-4311. 415 acres of beautifully wooded land, pond and picnic areas.
Rockland Preserve, Renee's Way, Madison, 203-245-5623. Rugged preserve with miles of trails, including part of the Mattabessett Trail.
Rocky Neck State Park, 244 W. Main St., (Rte. 156), Niantic, 860-739-5471. Remember what we said about Hammonasset and public beaches in this state? Ditto. Camping, hiking, fishing and picnic facilities. Open year-round.
Sleeping Giant State Park, 200 Mt. Carmel Ave. (Merritt Pkwy., exit 61), Hamden, 203-789-7498. It's so named because, from a distance, its slopes resemble the head and torso of perhaps a giant in repose. Maybe it just looks that way if you're totally bombed and on your way to party in the woods, which … look, this is a beautiful spot, OK? Please find your own woods to party in. Anyway, loads of hiking here — 33 miles of steep, slow, broad and narrow trails. Parking fee on weekends and holidays April to November.
Wadsworth Falls State Park, 721 Wadsworth St., Middlefield, 860-663-2030. Swimming and a beautiful waterfall with an overlook area.
West Haven Beaches, Beach St., Capt. Thomas Blvd. and Ocean Ave., West Haven, 203-937-3651. Long, city-owned beach. Up Beach Street, fishing is big, especially on the several piers and stone jetties, and there's an interesting nocturnal fishing scene in warm months.
West Rock Ridge State Park, Wintergreen Ave. (Merritt Pkwy., exit 59), New Haven, 203-789-7498. The other giant rock overlooking New Haven. This is the place where two 17th-century judges found a comfortable cave to hide from the Brits for a while. The rock's summit offers scenic views of downtown New Haven and Long Island Sound. Hiking, picnic facilities, fishing pond.
Wharton Brook State Park, Rte. 5, Wallingford, 203-789-7498. Trout fishing, swimming, picnic area, food concessions.