The town of Canton on the western side of Hartford County is famous for Collinsville, a 19th-century industrial village that formed around the Collins Axe Factory.
Collinsville’s old mill buildings have been preserved beside the fast-flowing Farmington River, which is channeled into a system of sluices built to drive the factory’s machinery.
The factory now holds a history museum and local businesses, and the old village around it is delightful against the tall wooded sides of the Farmington Valley.
Come summer you can take a tubing trip down the river’s rapids, and there’s a water sports company renting out kayaks and organizing lessons right in Collinsville.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Canton, Connecticut:
One of the prettiest images in all of Connecticut is the Collins Company Axe Factory complex by the rocky Farmington River.
The village grew around the factory, which was founded by Samuel Watkinson Collins in 1826, and took his name.
It was at this exact place that the machinist and inventor Elisha K. Root (1808-1865) developed the process of die casting, which revolutionized metal product manufacturing.
Unlike most of Connecticut’s water-driven mills, the Collins Company Axe Factory buildings survive the company, which shut down in 1966. These sturdy brick buildings have found new purposes, as museum and shop space, as we’ll find out later.
Collinsville, nestling in a riverbend, also has one-off bookstores, lots of antiques shops and some wonderful places to eat and drink in historic buildings in the Greek Revival, Italianate and Romanesque Revival styles.
2. Canton Historical Museums
This museum is in a Collins Company building raised in 1865. For its first 60 years, agricultural plows were assembled here, and from the 1920s the building became a recreational facility for employees.
Now belonging to the Canton Historical Society, this long construction is an amazing repository for the Collins Company, with 140 years worth of axes, knives, machetes, adzes, ceremonial swords and farm tools, all neatly presented.
You can gauge the scale of the Collins Company at its peak with a diorama, and check out some engaging themed rooms like a barber shop, 18th-century blacksmith shop, general store/apothecary and bridal parlor.
One exciting piece is the hand-drawn Button fire engine from 1854. The last time this apparatus was used was when Sam Collins’ house burned in 1912.
3. Farmington River Trail
You can track the course of the Farmington River along this loop, which links in the east with the famous Farmington Canal Heritage Trail.
The path, suitable for walkers and cyclists, takes you through five different towns, including Canton, on what was the trackbed of the old “Canal Line” railroad.
The best part is in Canton, where the walk is off-road, on a paved trail under mature trees and next to the river’s rapids, waterfalls and historic mills.
North of Canton, the trail switches to the margins of light roads, before later transitioning to a stone-dust, off-road portion in Simsbury.
4. Collinsville Canoe & Kayak
Backing onto the Farmington River, this shop and rental center has a big presence in Collinsville, in a wooden building Bridge Street that used to house a lumber company.
You can buy everything you could ever need for canoeing, kayaking and paddleboarding here, but the business also offers kids’ programs, moonlight paddles, swift demo days, introductions to paddleboarding and kayaking, and even paddleboard yoga! Alternatively you could book a children’s or grownup’s paddling party, which will include a staff member on the water.
Or you could simply rent a kayak (one or two-seater), paddleboard, canoe or bike for anything from an hour to a full week.
5. Roaring Brook Nature Center
This attraction in Canton lets you get out into nature but also learn how the Connecticut landscape has changed over five centuries.
There’s a lot to discover inside, at carefully assembled wildlife dioramas, a replica of a Native American longhouse and informative touch-screens.
The center also keeps a small menagerie of named animals, counting turtles, rabbits, snakes, a gecko, a bearded dragon, a blue-tongued skink and Madagascar hissing cockroaches.
There are aviaries for raptors outside, and five miles of trails on a property that has recorded some 150 different bird species.
Wildlife checklists, leaflets and maps are available at the Nature Center store.
6. Antiques on the Farmington
You can see more of the Collinsville Axe Factory at an antiques center that switched to this remarkable location by the Farmington River in 2006. So as you work your way through this atmospheric old building you’ll comes across small booths where you can browse the wares of some 50 vendors, specializing in everything from furniture to pottery, porcelain, glass, jewelry, clocks, vintage signs, appliances, lighting, clothing, toys, painting and all kinds of other collectibles.
Because of the amount of space on the old factory floor the center never feels cluttered, and also has a high turnover so there will always be something new when you come.
7. Ski Sundown
Between December and March there’s a highly-rated ski resort only five minutes away in new Hartford.
Ski Sundown is a family-oriented place for newcomers to get their first taste of the slopes.
Of the 16 trails, half are rated Easiest (green circle), while four are More Difficult (Blue Square) and four are Most Difficult (Black Diamond). There are also two terrain parks and two trails, Exhibition and Gunbarrel, are seeded with moguls if there’s sufficient snow.
Ski Sundown has 100% snowmaking, and the slopes are groomed twice daily.
All the amenities you’d want from a resort are available, like a ski shop, full-service rental and an inviting lodge with an après-ski lounge, scenic decks and two food courts.
8. Farmington River Tubing
The ominous sounding Satan’s Kingdom Recreation Area can be a springboard for a 2.5-mile trip down the Farmington River.
The tubes are specially designed for this wild but safe section of the river, and you’ll ride down three different sets of rapids.
When you’re not bouncing through whitewater you can just lie back and take in the breathtaking views between the river’s high corridor of trees, and the boulders on the banks.
Life jackets are included in the price, as is a short shuttle bus ride back to the departure point.
Assistants are also posted at the second set of rapids in case you get into difficulty.
9. Tunxis Trail
This 79-mile Blue-Blazed trail crosses Canton on its way along the western ridge of the Connecticut River Valley.
On its journey, roughly parallel to the 200-million-year-old Metacomet Ridge, the trail leads past historic cemeteries from the colonial era, waterfalls, towering cliffs, a number of caves and the summits of two mountains.
For a convenient local walk you could cross the Farmington River and park up at the Nepaug State Forest, which is traversed from north to south by the Tunxis Trail, which exits at Satan’s Kingdom where it crosses the Farmington River into Canton.
10. The Shops at Farmington Valley
When summer comes around you’ll be glad that this mall in Canton is outside.
The Shops at Farmington Valley cultivates the atmosphere of a small town, with its awnings, little strips of grass, flowers hanging from its lampposts and even a few restaurant and cafe terraces.
As for the retailers there are a little under 50, including names like Barnes & Noble, Sephora, American Eagle Outfitters, Claire’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Kohl’s and J. Crew.
For food and drink you’ve got Starbucks (in Barnes & Noble), Panera, Chipotle, Ben & Jerry’s and Flatbread Company, to name a handful.
11. Matterhorn Mini Golf
A lovable small-town attraction, Matterhorn Mini Golf has 18 holes in a Swiss-inspired landscape where you’ll pick up facts about cheese, chocolate and even the Large Hadron Collider as you play.
The course is inhabited by a herd of model goats, each one painted by local artists and children, while the sound of yodelling floats on the air.
The 18th-hole is something special, as a par 3, set on a lush Alpine meadow, more than 20 meters long.
Also here is an ice cream parlor, serving “Swiss Swirl” soft serve in flavors like creamsicle, cotton candy and salted caramel, but if that’s too much there’s also vanilla.
12. Farmington Valley Arts Center
More former factory buildings have been given a new lease of life at this not-for-profit arts center, founded in 1974 in the red sandstone buildings of what used to be the Climax Fuse Factory.
The center provides studio space for an eclectic line-up of talented artists.
On the first Saturday of the month you can take a firsthand look at the creative process at open studios.
The center runs a packed program of classes and workshops, for any media you can think of, and at all experience levels.
On a typical day you could also pay a visit to see what’s on show at the Esther B. Drezner Visitors’ Gallery, exhibiting local and regional artists.
13. Flamig Farm
In nearby Simsbury, this working farm is easily spotted from West Mountain Road for its giant sign reading “EGGS” backwards.
Flamig Farm changes with the seasons, offering spooky hayrides at Halloween, farm-stays, a summer camp for kids and visits with Santa at Christmas.
But if you’re just dropping in, children will be pleased with the enormous Petting Zoo, open April to November and keeping goats, ponies, cats, dogs, miniature horses, llamas, alpacas and many more animals than we could fit in one paragraph.
Also open at this time is the farm store, for freshly laid organic eggs, but also gifts like handmade toys and clothing.
14. Brewery Legitimus
Trace the Farmington River back towards Pine Meadow and within a few minutes you’ll be at this craft brewery that focuses on Belgian and American-style ales.
Brewery Legitimus is all about attention to detail and balance, which applies to its contingent of hop-forward IPAs.
When we wrote this list in autumn 2019, there was also a Witbier, a stout and a brown ale, and the Simple Innocence Blonde Ale, which also forms the basis of a plum & cherry Fruit Beer.
There’s normally a guest cider on tap, and the bar pours 6oz and 16oz glasses as well as growler refills.
The taproom is open Wednesday to Sunday, and has regular trivia nights, occasional live music and a steady rotation of food trucks, especially on weekends.
15. Found Land Park
The name of this tract of land against the town line in Avon comes from the fact that it was “found” during tax mapping in the 1950s and then given to the Town of Avon by the Connecticut State Legislature.
Most of these 122 acres are deep deciduous woods of hickory and oak, and in the south-east nook you’ll discover stone walls, harking back to long forgotten 19th-century farms.
A yellow-blazed trail loops around the upper half of the park, delivering you back to the parking lot at St Michaels Court.