Please note: This post was written in 2013, and while it should still give you a good idea of the overall experience, it may also contain some outdated information. For the most up-to-date information, please visit their website.
It was a gorgeous day in Connecticut this past Saturday, so we decided to take a mini road trip to a state park in East Haddam, Connecticut.
Gillette Castle was purchased by the State of Connecticut in 1943 and was previously the residence of William Hooker Gillette, an actor, director and playwright. The park is FREE to visit, but there is a fee to get a tour of the castle. The park re-opened in 2003 after 3 years and $11 million dollars in renovations. The 122 acre grounds include a large visitor’s center, concessions, the castle, trails, a goldfish pond and beautiful views of the Connecticut River.
I originally intended to get a pass from the library and tour the castle as part of our trip. But, after some research, I realized this wasn’t happening for two reasons: 1. The castle and most of the buildings on the property don’t open for the season until Memorial Day and 2. I read CT Museum Quest’s post on a tour of the castle and realized I probably shouldn’t take my three young kids inside (Great post with lots of details about the tour. Definitely a place I want to check out when the kids are older.)
I also learned that the park is located on the eastern side of the Connecticut River and given that we were coming from the western side, we would either need to take a bridge or a ferry to get there. I really wanted to take the ferry, but we had no idea of what to expect, and were a bit apprehensive about traveling that way with three little kids.
Still not sure of the exact route we were going to take, we went ahead and packed up the kids and made our way towards East Haddam.
I was planning to eat lunch at the park and had packed a picnic lunch for the kids, but didn’t have anything for myself or my husband. I suggested we pick up some
subs grinders at Nardelli’s in Middletown. We are big fans of Nardelli’s and usually stop by the location off of 84 on our way to New York City. However, on a recent Kidcity outing, we discovered there was also a location in Middletown. Score!
We started on our journey from West Hartford to East Haddam, heading down Route 9. I called ahead for sandwiches and they were ready and waiting when we arrived 20 minutes later. We continued down 9 and a bit later had to make the call on ferry or bridge. Ferry or bridge. Ferry or bridge. Finally we decided we had to at least try the ferry trip, so we took Exit 6 off of Route 9 and worked our way to the Chester-Hadlyme Ferry.
Here is a quick map of our route down.
There are signs everywhere, so it is pretty easy once you get off the highway. We finally arrived.
Once we arrived, we were second in line waiting for the ferry to return.
My husband got our money together ($3 cash per car) and I stepped out to capture a few pictures.
The kids started yelling “Boat! Boat!” and I turned to see the ferry-boat returning. Now the boat isn’t very large and the distance from one side of the river to another isn’t very long. So the whole process is much more enjoyable than I originally envisioned.
There were 5 or 6 cars that were loaded on the ferry. You just drive right on, turn the engine off and set your parking brake. Most people got out of their cars for the ride over so that they could enjoy the pretty views. We kept the kids strapped in their car seats and just got out ourselves and looked around.
Of course, that didn’t last long because we started to hear a whole lot of “I want out!” But before long we were across the river and exiting on the other side. The kids LOVED the ferry-boat ride and kept asking over and over to go on the boat. This is definitely a “must do” on pretty days. Please note, though that on the weekends the ferry doesn’t start running until 10:30 am and it only runs April through November.
Once inside, we again followed the winding roads past the goldfish pond, walking trails, and picnic areas. We passed the castle and the visitor’s center and then found the parking lot. The lot looked huge on this pre-season Saturday morning, but I’m guessing it could fill up quickly once the castle is open for tours.
In terms of what we got out of the car to bring with us, it wasn’t too much. You can see the castle from the parking lot and it isn’t a very long walk. We were just planning to find a pretty place to eat lunch and then walk around the area near the castle. If you are going inside the castle or looking to tackle a few trails, you might want to plan a little differently. But, we put baby girl Sweetheart in a jogging stroller, brought the diaper bag and cooler bag that had our lunch, and then let the twins walk on their own.
Our first stop was the Visitor’s Center. The main part of the building is closed until Memorial Day, but the restrooms were open.
Right next store is another building where they sell food and drinks in-season. Now, one of the sites I saw said that this building is open on the weekends during the off-season. But, we were there on Saturday during the off-season and it was definitely closed. Just FYI.
But, there are vending machines where you can purchase soda and water if needed.
67 River Road, East Haddam, Connecticut
Phone: (860) 526-2336
DEEP Website: http://www.ct.gov/deep/cwp/view.asp?a=2716&q=325204
Click here for directions from the website.
Get directions here:
- The park grounds are open 8:00 a.m. to sunset year-round
- The castle, visitor’s center, and concessions are open Memorial Day to Columbus Day and self-guided tours are available from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm.
- The park grounds are FREE.
- A fee does apply for castle tours. In 2013, the fees are:
- Age 13 and over: $6
- Ages 6-12: $2
- Ages 5 and under: FREE
- Many state libraries have a museum pass program that includes access to Gillette Castle
- The state also offers a seasonal pass program that includes access to the Gillette Castle. Find details here.
Tips & Things to Bring:
- You are outside and in a wooded area, so make sure to bring hats, sun glasses, sun tan lotion and bug spray
- Strollers can easily be used on the general property grounds. A baby carrier would be suggested for non-walking children if you are planning to tour the castle or hike some of the trails.
- Some walking is involved. Wear comfortable shoes.
- Restrooms with a changing station are available in the Visitor’s Center (and open even during the off-season).
- If you need to cross the Connecticut River during your travels, the options are either a bridge or a ferry.
- To take the ferry, make sure you take Exit 6 off of Route 9 and follow the signs to the Chester-Hadlyme Ferry. Bring $3 cash for your trip and give yourself a little bit of extra time for the river crossing (though the process is very efficient)
- Bring food and drinks. There are vending machines available and there are concessions available during the season, but make sure you have supplies just in case.
- Bring your camera. You will want to take a lot of pictures.
- Dogs on a leash are allowed on the grounds.
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