UPDATE May 2016: Please note that this post was written in 2014. For 2016, the park hours and parking rates remain the same. Get the latest information on Harkness Memorial State Park here.
This destination has been on my list for over a year. It is a Connecticut State Park located not far from New London in Waterford, Connecticut. Harkness Memorial State Park is a place that many readers have suggested we visit so I knew I needed to plan a date and go!
We decided to take a Friday morning family trip to Harkness and realized it wasn’t too far from one of our favorite lobster roll destinations, Abbott’s Lobster in the Rough located in Noank, CT, so we decided to add that to our morning itinerary.
It ended up being about an hour drive down to Abbott’s and then another 30 minute drive over to Harkness. I’m a visual person (surprise, surprise) so I always like seeing a map of the destination. If you have a similar style, I’ve copied in a (hopefully) handy map below.
Our first stop was a seafood lunch in Noank. Yum. We got there about 10 minutes before the restaurant opened at 11:30 (it used to open at noon) and were the first in line to order food. By noon, the place was packed!
After filling our tummies, we got back on the road and made our way to Harkness Memorial State Park, located a few towns over.
The entrance to the park was not grand, but as soon as we drove inside, I realized we were in a beautiful place.
If you’ve never been to this park before, here is a description of it from the DEEP website.
Enjoy the panoramic views of Long Island Sound from Eolia, the elegant summer mansion of the Harkness family set on over 230 seaside acres of sweeping lawns, with stately trees and spectacular gardens. Named Eolia, for the island home of the Greek god of winds, the mansion was built in 1906 and purchased by Edward and Mary Harkness in 1907. The 200+ acres were a working farm and the mansion served as the Harkness’ summer home.
From Memorial Day to Labor Day (and a few weekends before and after those dates), there is a fee to park at Harkness. As Connecticut residents visiting on a weekday, the fee was $6 (cash only). Weekday rates for non-residents are $10 and weekend rates are $9 (residents) and $15 (non-residents).
There was also a very small parking area located right outside the park entrance. It looked as though these spaces had no parking fee charge and people could walk into the park from this area. If you decide to go this route, make sure you plan for a fairly long walk!
Here is the main parking area located right next to the main grounds. The lot was pretty full when we arrived around 1:00 pm.
After we parked the car I turned around to see this scene in our back seat. Great! Everyone was asleep. Now my husband and I certainly wanted them to sleep, but we really didn’t want to hang out in the car for the next two hours. Maybe, we thought, we could move them from the car to a nice comfortable blanket under a tree. Perfect plan.
Or maybe not! Five minutes later all three kids were up and ready to explore!
As soon as we entered the park, there was a large white building that contained the bathrooms (I didn’t see a baby changing area inside, though).
The park was full of picnic tables so there were plenty of places where people could enjoy a snack or a meal. Grills were also located in the park.
I heard that the park welcomed kite flying and we were happy to see several people flying kites when we arrived. Bruiser and Sparkles recently got their own kites and have become a bit obsessed. They couldn’t wait to get them up and flying!
Look at all of that beautiful kite flying space!
Nestled behind the trees was the beautiful mansion, Eolia.
And on the other side of the park was the beach access boardwalk.
The beach was full of people and many of them had full beach set ups (umbrella, chairs, etc.) Swimming is not allowed at this park so I was somewhat surprised to see so many people who looked like they were dressed for a day of swimming!
Though swimming was not allowed here, it seemed that wading at the water’s edge was not a problem. We saw many people taking a shallow dip in the water.
After exploring the beach we headed across the park, towards the mansion to eplore the gardens surrounding the building.
The kids had fun checking out the flowers and trying to balance on the steps and other surfaces. They had saved their Abbott’s potato chips for later and eventually pulled those out for their afternoon snack.
Look at this view! I could get used to that.
Love this pictures of Sweetheart and her new hair cut. Can’t believe this munchkin is turning TWO in a few days!
Well, that wraps up our tour of Harkness Memorial State Park. I’m sooooo glad that many readers suggested this destination for a summer outing. The views were stunning and there was a lot more to do than I originally expected.
So did my pictures inspire you to add this destination to your summer bucket list?
Maybe bring a picnic, enjoy the water views, fly a kite, dip your toes in the water, or tour the beautiful gardens? There is a lot to explore at this state park and I hope you will plan a trip to go or share with us your experience!
Phone: (860) 443-5725
Open daily from 8:00 am – sunset.
- Parking fees from Memorial Day to Labor Day
- Weekdays: $6 for CT residents, $10 for non-residents
- Weekends: $9 for CT residents, $15 for non-residents
- During some weeks in April, May and September the parking fee is charged on the weekends only at the weekday rate
- Stroller Friendly: YES. There are pathways, but I would suggest bringing a jogging stroller on this outing so that you can explore all areas of the park. There are a few steps from the boardwalk down to the beach area so you may need help if trying to bring a little one in a stroller down to enjoy the sand and water.
- Coffee Mug Friendly: YES.
- Restroom: YES. The restrooms are located in a building near the park entrance.
- Baby Changing Station: NO. At least I didn’t see one.
- Parking: YES. There was a parking lot available and there is a fee to park there during certain times of the year.
- Food for Sale: NO.
- Outside Food Allowed: YES. Bring a picnic! There were tons of picnic tables available on the property plus they had many grills that could be used.
- Cash Required: YES. Cash is needed to pay the parking fee.
- Dress Code: NONE. Bring bathing suits and towels if you think your kids may enjoy playing in the water a bit.
- Evening/Weekend Hours: YES. The park is open daily.
Tips & Things to Bring:
- The park is located on over 200 acres. There are many, many things that families can enjoy here including:
- Exploring the grounds
- Flying a kite
- Eating a picnic lunch/dinner
- Visiting the beach (swimming is not allowed though)
- Taking a mansion tour (only available on the weekends)
- Enjoying the gardens
- Bring your dog! Dogs on a leash are allowed at the park. The only areas where they are restricted from going are on the beach and in the gardens.
- Bring a bathing suit. Swimming is not allowed at the beach but I saw a lot of families sitting on the beach and wading at the water’s edge. Bring bathing suits if you are looking to do the same thing.
- Note that it is a pretty long walk from the parking lot area to the beach area. Pack light if you are planning to go and have little kids in tow.
- Mansion tours are available on the weekends and on holidays from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
- Many libraries offer state park passes through their museum pass program. Make sure to check that option out before you go and possibly save some money.
- State park season passes are also available. The cost is $67 for residents and $112 for non-residents.