PLEASE NOTE: This post was written in 2016, and while it should still give you a good overview of the experience, it is also possible that it may contain some outdated information. Please check their website for the most current information, especially about things like schedules and pricing.
I have lived in Fairfield County for a good fifteen years, yet for some reason I have never made it to Sherwood Island in season. The sign along I95 has always caught my attention – I mean, it has such a magical name: Sherwood Island. Without knowing anything about the history of the park it sounds like something you might find in the Magic Kingdom and maybe run into a band of Merry Man. Of course, the name has absolutely nothing to do with the famous Howard Pyle book, but this park certainly has a vibrant history. The island itself is named after Daniel Sherwood who settled the area known as Fox Island in 1787. Now, some 229 years later it is the oldest state park in the Nutmeg State with its 238 acres of pristine coastal wetlands located along the Long Island Sound.
For me, part of being a teacher/mom means that I love to squeeze every little bit of adventure out of summer with my girl, Miss C. This summer, Miss C is 4 ½ years old and, much like her mother, has a wonderful sense of wanderlust. So, on a Wednesday morning when I asked her if she wanted to go explore a new beach, she said “yes! Only if we can collect shells” (more on that later.)
So, I packed up the car with the minimal beach essentials (sunscreen, beach chairs, sand toys, blankets) packed a picnic lunch and we hit the road.
Getting to Sherwood Island from I95 is pretty easy. You simply follow the giant State Park signs from the highway.
The gates to the park itself are about a 2 minute drive from the exit.
I had cash on me, but I feel like I should mention that they now accept credit cards at the entrance gate. During the week, the fees are $9.00 for a Connecticut Resident. When we pulled up, the gate attendant told us to be very careful because the turtles were nesting and there had been reports of them crossing the road. Miss C had about a thousand questions about this, so I thought it might make sense for us to start at the Nature Center.
Once you are in the park, the road leads around a large rotary. We followed the signs to East Beach/Nature Center which is where we spent our day.
By the way, we never saw any turtles . . . but, this delightful family of geese decided to walk across the road in front of us on the way into the parking lot.
I don’t know how filled this park gets on the weekend, but during the week there was plenty of parking. We snagged a spot right outside the Nature Center and headed in.
The Nature Center is relatively small and at first glance, you may think this is good for about 10 minutes . . . but, the volunteers truly brought the place to life. The Center itself is one large room filled with various stuffed animals, tanks, and tables.
Miss C walked right up to one of the terrariums that had a snake named Peaches. Right away, one of the volunteers walked up and asked if she’d like to see Peaches. Before she had a chance to answer, the tank was open and C was petting Peaches.
He took out a variety of animals – snakes, horseshoe crabs, clams, spider crabs. He even explained to my four year old what an invasive species was as he showed us an Asian Shore Crab.
He even told us where to pick up a recreational shellfishing permit, and where we could go grab some fresh clams (something that is now on my Summer Bucket List!) I have been to my fair share of Nature Centers, but I absolutely loved how attentive these educators were.
In the middle of the Center there was a craft table with a variety of self-guided projects to pick from.
Miss C chose a green fish cutout and happily spent the better part of 20 minutes making her fish beautiful.
While she was coloring, I asked the Naturalists if there were any activities that day. It turns out that they have a free program for the public at 1:00 every day. That day they were going to be seining for fish. I looked at the clock, and made a mental note that we had over an hour until the seining demonstration and they assured me that we would see them on the beach when it was time – I just had to look for the crab flag (more on this later too!)
Sherwood Island is also home to hundreds of birds. Miss C had a fun time watching the birds through binoculars so we decided to hit one of the Nature Center’s trails.
Since the park is located on a salt marsh, the pathway is simply a manicured flat grass trail that runs near the center.
We didn’t venture very far before we saw some nesting Ospreys, egrets, and a bazillion other birds that I cannot name.
After we wrapped up in the Nature Center, it was time to head down to the beach. We grabbed our beach bags from the car and took the quick walk to the beach. One of the things I am loving the most this summer is that Miss C. can actually help out in this process – naturally she grabs the sand toys.
Like any parent, I have a few criteria for selecting our “beach set up” location. I like to be near a lifeguard (check!) (Note: Lifeguards on duty on Wednesday through Sunday.) and near a bathroom (check!). After placing our stuff down and getting set-up, Miss C declares that she had to go to the bathroom. So, I suppose this is as good a time as any to give you the details of the facilities.
The bath house features outdoor showers (for sand removal), private changing rooms, and toilets. There was also a first aid station located in the pavilion. I did not notice any changing tables, but the dressing rooms were a good size and had a bench that would make due if need be. From personal experience, it is probably better than the backseat of your car on a hot summer’s day.
Now back to the beach! The tide was fairly low when we were there which is my favorite time to explore the coast. Miss C could walk pretty far out and never had the water go higher than her waist. The low tide also created some sandbars that were fun to play on.
The shoreline itself is rocky and filled with shells. Since one of our favorite things to do is collect shells, we got going. I highly recommend bringing a pair of water shoes with you. As to be expected, some of these shells are rather sharp and could make for a rather painful shell hunting experience (this would probably be a good time to remind you that there is a first aid station in the bathhouse.)
Around 1:00, we saw the Nature Center staff coming down to the beach, and they were right – you couldn’t miss the giant flag with a crab on it.
We watched two Naturalists seine (those big nets that you drag through the water to catch fish and other animals), from the shoreline and eagerly awaited what they brought back.
Sadly, there were no fish. But, they did catch these awesome moon snails. The name alone sounds magical, but — little known fact — if you sing to them, they sometimes come out of their shell.
In all honesty, we had one of those idyllic days at the beach. Miss C. found some kids to build castles with, we ate sandy PBJ sandwiches, and I got some time to flip through the pages of a magazine. We may have even had a little bit too much fun, because I basically had to bribe C off of the beach with the promise of ice cream from the kinda nearby Saugatuck Sweets.
In my opinion, it’s worth the 10 minute drive from the park to Saugatuck Sweets. Who doesn’t love ice cream with a view! As the name suggests, Saugatuck Sweets is located on a pavilion along the Saugatuck River. You can watch kayakers and paddleboarders from the nearby Downunder. If you are feeling really adventurous, they even do rentals and lessons. But, perhaps that’s an adventure best saved for another day.
Ally Noel is a regular contributor to Out and About Mom. She is a mom, a wife and an educator living in Norwalk, CT. Her personal blog, LuCk, includes everything from play-based learning activities to unique party and playdate inspiration. You can also catch her monthly contributions on Fairfield County Moms Blog. Browse all her Out and About Mom posts here. Find out more about Ally here.
Westport, Ct 06880
The park is open from 8 am to sunset. Vehicle access to some parking lots may be restricted during winter months.
Note: Lifeguards on duty on Wednesday through Sunday.
In season, The Nature Center is open Wednesday – Sunday 10 am to 4 pm. The Center is located between East Beach and the salt marsh nature trail.
From Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day there are separate weekend/holiday and weekday parking fees. On weekends from the third weekend in April through the weekend before Memorial Day weekend and again the two weekends after Labor Day weekend, the weekday parking fee is effect.
For up-to-date parking information, click here
• Stroller Friendly: Yes. All of the facilities (Nature Center, bathrooms, showers, etc) are accessible. There is even a little boardwalk leading down to the beach. However, once you hit the sand you may experience some stroller difficulty.
• Coffee Mug Friendly: Yes
• Restroom: Yes
• Baby Changing Station: No, but there are changing rooms with benches that will work for that purpose.
• Parking: Yes
• Food for Sale: Yes
• Outside Food Allowed: Yes
• Cash Required: Yes
• Dress Code: Remember your water shoes for the rocky shore!
• Age Recommendations: All ages.
• Evening/Weekend Hours: Yes. The park is open 8am-sunset.
• Discounts: There is a Veteran and Senior discount. Click here to learn more.
• Birthday Party Venue: No
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