In Southeast Connecticut, Griswold is a town speckled with lakes beside rambling hills and low mountains.
Locally you can walk Connecticut’s Blue-Blazed trails, go boating on tranquil waters and lie back on state park beaches.
It’s a place to look into rural business like ethical livestock farms, creameries and even an alpaca breeder.
The most built-up area is Jewett City, established as a mill town in the 18th centuries and with an eye-catching library building funded by a local 19th-century industrialist.
In its state parks and forests Griswold can feel far-flung , but on the I-395 you can get to the city of Norwich in no time, and the immense casino resorts of Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods are 15 minutes by road.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Griswold, Connecticut:
1. Slater Library & Fanning Annex
The most arresting monument in Jewett City is this Romanesque Revival library building constructed in 1884, featuring stately round-arched windows with brownstone framing.
The funding came from the famous philanthropist John Fox Slater, who belonged to a family of textile industrialists and owned several mills in Jewett City.
The original library was designed by respected New England architect Stephen C. Earle and the site almost doubled in size in 1930 with the completion of the Fanning Annex, forming an L-shape at the back.
The library is still a valued amenity, but if you come on the first and third Saturdays in the afternoon you can also poke around the Griswold Historical Society Museum on the second floor.
This keeps a trove of material from the 18th and 19th centuries, from children’s toys to school artifacts, farming tools and kitchen implements.
2. Buttonwood Farm
This family-run farm in Griswold is known for two things: Homemade ice cream and sunflowers that are sold for a good cause.
The creamery has been going since 1998, offering more than 50 flavors, traditional and a bit more outlandish, made in small batches for a smooth texture and natural taste.
Even the waffle cones are made new each day, and the farm uses real whipped cream as well as tempting toppings like peanut butter, walnuts in syrup, caramel and marshmallow.
Each year the farm plants more than 14 acres of sunflowers, producing 300,000 blooms.
These create a romantic spectacle and are sold in bouquets of five, with 100% of proceeds going to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Connecticut.
3. Pachaug Pond
The largest public body of water east of the Connecticut River is in Griswold, spreading over 840 acres.
Pachaug Pond was created by damming water in the Thames River Drainage, and the main inflow is the Pachaug River.
Around the shore are sleepy residential communities, vacation rentals and pockets of public state land.
At the very south is the privately owned Pachaug Marina and Campground, with 122 sites and its own beaches.
The public boat launch meanwhile is around to the north and on a typical summer weekend the lake attracts people in motorboats, kayakers and paddleboarders.
As for anglers, there are largemouth bass, northern pike, yellow perch, white perch, chain pickerel, black crappie, chain pickerel, catfish and sunfish in these waters.
4. Pachaug State Forest
This 27,000-acre forest is the largest in the Connecticut state forest system and is strewn across six towns, including Griswold.
It mostly took shape during the Great Depression and was the site of a Civilian Conservation Corps barracks at Camp Lonergan.
There are two main portions, at the western Chapman Area and the Green Falls Area to the south-east.
The Chapman Area, partially in Griswold, has a whole system of trails for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and even motorcycling and snowmobiling.
On the Blue-Blazed Pachaug Trail you can embark on a 30-mile trek all the way from the northern end of Pachaug Pond to Green Fall Pond.
At points this trail shares the path with the 15-mile Nehantic Trail, which links Green Fall Pond with a spot on the Pachaug River, also in Griswold.
Off the Pachaug Trail, just across the line for Voluntown is the 135-meter Mount Misery Overlook, with astounding views of the forest.
Another unforgettable spot is the Rhododendron Sanctuary where masses of rhododendron bushes burst into flower in July.
5. Hopeville Pond State Park
You would never know today but at Hopeville Pond in Griswold there was once a bustling village around series of mills that were driven by the Pachaug River.
All of this was wiped out at various points at the turn of the 20th century, including a gristmill that stood here from 1711 to 1908. The river was impounded in 1917 as a source of hydroelectric power for the mills in Jewett City, creating a 145-acre reservoir.
One faint reminder of the village of Hopeville is the manager’s house for Hopeville Pond State Park, a pretty Colonial-style property from 1770. The pond is the park’s focal point for boating, swimming and fishing, with an attractive little sandy beach you can idle on.
Trails disappear into the park’s 400 acres of mixed woodland and there’s an ample campground with 80 sites.
6. Stone Bridge Farm
This farm in Griswold keeps a herd of alpacas for breeding stock and for their luxurious wool.
Stone Bridge Farm has regular Open Farm Weekends from spring to fall, and then opens every weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
On Open Farm Weekends there are food and arts and crafts stands, and younger members of the clan will get the chance to walk and interact with the alpacas.
The Farm Shoppe is also open during these events, selling all sort of gifts made with alpaca wall, as well as yarn in many shades.
7. Prudence Crandall Museum
At this genteel house in Canterbury from 1805 you’ll learn the story of Connecticut’s state heroine, Prudence Crandall (1803-1890). Between 1832 and 1834 she ran what is thought to be the country’s first integrated secondary school.
At first Prudence Crandall’s school was attended only by white girls, but when an African American girl was admitted all of the white students were withdrawn and the school became the subject of a legal case.
In response Crandall reopened the school just for black students, enrolling 24 at its peak before being shut down by mob violence in 1834 after the courts had ruled in the school’s favor.
You can check out exhibit galleries recounting Crandall’s life and the story of the school, while four period rooms bring this historic site to life.
8. Geer Tree Farm
A fixture in Griswold for as long as anyone can remember, Geer Tree Farm is a commercial operation that springs into life in the advent season.
At this time of year a wide array of vendors set up on the farm, for snacks, hot drinks and more, and kids will love the tractor trailer ride out onto the farm.
Growing in 100 acres are white spruces, blue spruces, Fraser firs, Douglas firs, concolor firs and white pines.
You’ll be given your own handsaw to cut your tree down, before the farm bales it so you can get it into your car more easily.
9. Lisbon Landing
This large shopping complex is practically part of Jewett City, sitting on the opposite side of the Quinebaug River off the Connecticut Turnpike.
At Lisbon Landing you’ve got essentials like Target, Home Depot, Kohl’s, Walmart, Gamestop and Michaels.
Around the massive parking lots are food and drink chains like Chili’s, Dunkin’, Starbucks, Panera and Ruby Tuesday, and for entertainment there’s AMC Classic Lisbon 12. This offers discounted ticket prices on Tuesdays, and if you live nearby you can take advantage of the Annual Popcorn Bucket for $9.99, with refills for just $4.49 each time you visit.
10. River Ridge Golf Course
Against the Quinebaug River to the south of Jewett City is a public 18-hole golf course posing a serious challenge even for seasoned golfers.
The course is laid out on a rollercoaster landscape with distant views of the New England countryside.
The first three holes, two par 4s and a par 5, are on land that was once an apple orchard.
To balance the difficulty level River Ridge has four sets of tees.
The course is kept in pristine condition with the help of a high-tech tee-to-green irrigation system, and as you’d expect there’s a pro shop and full-service restaurant with outdoor seating accompanied by idyllic views.
Rates in 2019 were $36 for 18 holes walking on weekdays, and $44 on weekends.
11. Slater Memorial Museum
This museum in Norwich, a short drive on the I-395, is on the grounds of the Norwich Free Academy.
This school had been endowed by John Fox Slater and the museum was named in his honor by his son William.
Once again, the designer of this haunting Richardson Romanesque building, completed in 1885, was Stephen C. Earle.
The Slater Memorial Museum is best known for its plaster casts of iconic Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Renaissance statues, including the Louvre’s Winged Victory of Samothrace.
Also in the permanent exhibitions are pieces by 20th-century Connecticut artists like Charlotte Fuller Eastman and Ozias Dodge and memorabilia from the voyage the Slater family took around the world on their private yacht in 1894-95. You’ll find important displays of Asian and African art, and objects recording three centuries of life in Norwich and its surroundings.
12. Mohegan Sun
It seems surreal that there should be not one but two Vegas-style megaresorts at just 15 minutes from a bucolic place like Griswold.
On the Mohegan Tribe’s reservation in Uncasville, the ever-expanding Mohegan Sun has 1,563 rooms, as well as the awe-inspiring Casino of the Sky, which lies beneath a Planetarium Dome.
Like all the best resorts Mohegan Sun has celebrity destination restaurants and a choice of clubs, but also a 17-meter indoor waterfall, a sculpture by master glass artist Dale Chihuly and the mind-bending Wombi Rock.
This structure at Casino of the Sky is three stories high and made with 12,000 pieces of onyx from Mexico, Pakistan and Iran, and fused into glass in Carrara, Italy.
And we can’t ignore the 10,000-capacity Mohegan Sun Arena, booking top tier recording artists, but also home court to the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun.
13. Foxwoods Resort Casino
Founded in the mid-80s after the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe attained won legal control of their reservation, the Foxwoods Resort Casino has a staggering 2,266 rooms at two hotel towers that dwarf the surrounding countryside.
As of 2019, the various casinos at Foxwoods have a combined 5,500 slot machines and 250 gaming tables.
There are more than a dozen dining options at the resort, while big-time music acts and comedians play the Fox and Grand Theaters.
In 2015 Tanger Outlets Foxwoods opened between the two hotel towers, with 85-stores for mainly high end brands at discount prices.
Something completely out of the ordinary is the Foxwoods HighFlyer Zipline, shooting almost a mile from atop the Fox Tower to the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center, reaching speeds of 60 mph.
A shuttle service is provided between the casino and museum, which opened in 1998 and is well worth your time.
14. Firefly Farms
There are couple of places close by in rural Southeast Connecticut that will appeal to anyone who cares about food provenance.
Firefly Farms in North Stonington keeps humanely raised heritage breeds like Muscovy ducks, Mulefoot hogs, Silver Dorking chickens, Beltsville mall white turkeys, but most of all Randall cattle.
On a visit you can get fascinating insights about how a healthy 21st-century farm should be run, and the staff at Firefly Farms will be happy to show off their animals.
Tours cost $5, which acts as a $5 coupon for any purchase on that day, and are generally given on weekday mornings, although it’s a good idea to confirm ahead of time.
15. Ekonk Hill Turkey Farm
A short trip to Sterling will bring you to a family-owned and operated farm for pasture-raised turkeys.
There are roughly 3,000 turkeys at Ekonk Hill, the largest operation of its kind in Connecticut.
September through October, the farm turns into a visitor attraction, with barnyard animals, a corn maze and hayrides.
The farm store is a big part of the appeal for its ice cream, milkshakes and sundaes with dozens of delectable flavors and toppings.
Needless to say Ekonk Hill’s main product is its farm-raised turkeys, along with turkey pies and turkey sandwiches made daily, and specialty foods from farms across Connecticut.