Monroe exudes small town charm, and has more than its fair share of well-equipped local parks as well as inspiring and remote natural spaces.
The quieter northern part of town fronts Lake Zoar, one of the largest inland water bodies in Connecticut, and skirted in Monroe by the Zoar and Paugussett trails.
Local family-run businesses in and around Monroe will welcome you with open arms, at orchards, creameries, cider mills, vineyards and craft breweries.
1. Webb Mountain Park
These 135 acres contain a tall rise on the west bank of the Housatonic River.
Head here to hike the steep trails in spring and autumn, and to savor the vistas from the highest point.
This chunk of wilderness is appreciated for the diversity of its woodland, comprising sugar maple, eastern hemlock, tulip tree, tree of heaven, eastern black oak, to name a small few.
There’s also geological interest for the Collinsville Formation rocks, made up of schist layered with gneiss and amphibolite, and popular with rock climbers.
A section of the Blue-Blazed Paugussett Trail snakes through Webb Mountain Park, towards the end of its route along the Housatonic River.
2. Webb Mountain Discovery Zone
Parents with school-age children will be delighted with this 170-acre nature center on the south side of Webb Mountain Park.
The Discovery Zone offers enrichment and links to school curricula in the subjects of history, science and nature, through after-school programs and courses for pre-school children.
If you’re just here to visit, admission is completely free, and on the three trails kids can take part in a scavenger hunt with 27 stations, solving clues relating to the local ecology and human history.
Little ones can also search for salamanders and frogs at the vernal pools, go bird-watching and take a family picnic at the shaded tables by the entrance.
3. Beardsley’s Cider Mill & Orchard
Starting in early September you can visit this farm on weekends in fall to pick your own apples.
The orchard grows more than two dozen varieties, all coming into season at a slightly different time.
For a rough guide, varieties like Gala, Macoun, Honeycrisp and Liberty are ready by mid-September; early-October is time for Empire, Mutsu and Red Delicious, while Granny Smith, Braeburn and Winesap can be picked later in the season.
Beardsley’s Orchard uses dwarf trees, no taller than 3.5 metres, for more convenient picking.
The farm stand meanwhile is open daily, selling those apples and cider, but also peaches, fruit breads, scones, local raw honey and delectable honey cider donuts.
4. William E. Wolfe Park
This 300-acre park on the west side of Monroe has a lot going for it.
There’s a municipal outdoor pool here, open from Memorial Day Weekend and charging a daily fee for non-members (this can be rather steep for non-residents). There’s also a man-made lake with a beach, which we’ll talk about below.
There are a couple of playgrounds for kids, as well as amenities for tennis, soccer, baseball and football, all in the east side of the park.
Or you could just come for a wander in the park’s woodland: The Wolfe Park Hiking trail sets off from the entrance on Cutler’s Farm Road and loops around the lake, while the Housatonic Railbed Trail traces the park’s western boundary (more on that trail below).
5. Great Hollow Lake
The 16-acre lake on the west side of William E. Wolfe Park is primed for all sorts of activities when the good weather arrives.
There’s an immaculately tended, 210-metre beach on the north side, and this is edged by the Wolfe Park Concession Pavilion if you need a bite.
The beach and the shallow lake waters are just the ticket for a lazy day, and there’s a play area for young ones just behind, next to the pavilion.
Non-motorized boating is allowed on the lake, which is also well-stocked with trout for fishing.
6. Veracious Brewing Company
This wouldn’t be Connecticut if there wasn’t a high-quality craft brewery in town, and Monroe’s is one of the best.
The taproom is a thing of beauty, lined with 29 repurposed church pews and putting on karaoke every Friday night.
There’s a food truck out front pretty much every Friday and Saturday for tex mex, hot dogs and the like.
And as for the brews, some of the picks are Grady’s Better Bitter, an English-style pale ale with a caramel and hop aroma, Golden Summer, a light Belgian-style single, and the zesty and spicy Hoppy Ending IPA.
Veracious Brewing Company’s local pride shines through in 1823 Inc, an English Pale Ale made with four types of grain and hops that were available in 1823, the year Monroe was incorporated.
7. Housatonic Rail Trail (Rails-to-Trails)
This five-mile hiking and cycling trail follows the course of a former railroad through forest, past wetlands and between high walls of rock as far as the Newtown town line in Botsford.
The trail is paved with finely crushed stone and of course has a light gradient, which makes it a joy to walk or ride.
This is the final leg of a 13.6-mile trail system that begins on Long Island Sound at Seaside Park in Bridgeport, all pieced together from existing paths on what used to be the Housatonic Railroad Line.
8. Lake Zoar
Monroe’s northern boundary grazes the southern and western shore of this reservoir on the Housatonic River, created by the construction of the hydroelectric Stevenson Dam in 1919. The dam, 50 metres long and 25 metres high, is on the National Register of Historic Places and carries Route 34 across the river.
Motorized water activities are allowed, and families swarm the lake in summer for jet skiing and water-skiing, as well as kayaking and paddleboarding (Kettletown State Park on the east bank is the best point of entry). Fishing is also on the agenda, and the water has large numbers of smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, rainbow trout, white catfish and more.
You can strike out into the woodland western shore on foot via the Blue-Blazed Zoar Trail, 6.5 miles long and winding through the lower block of the Paugussett State Forest, just outside Monroe’s town line in Newtown.
9. Stepney Cemetery
More than 1,400 men women and children are interred at this burial ground, including many of Monroe’s earliest settlers.
Stepney Cemetery was established in 1794 when the early landowners Noah and James Burr, Jr. donated the land.
The earliest legible tombstone is for one Nathaniel W. Knapp (d.1787). You’ll come across markers for veterans from almost every war that the United States has been involved in, from the Revolutionary War to Vietnam.
The cemetery has an informative plaque, and during daylight hours you could pass a few minutes deciphering the grave markers dating back more than two centuries.
10. Jones Family Farm
The Jones Family has been working these lands in close by Shelton for more than 150 years.
Head for this 400-acre working farm, now into its sixth generation, to pick your own strawberries and blueberries in the summer.
The pumpkins are ready in the fall, when kids will have a great time on hayrides.
Then at Christmas you can pick out the perfect tree for your home.
Vines for Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling, Muscat, Vidal Blanc, Can Franc, Zinfandel, Merlot and many more, were planted some 20 years ago, and the winery tasting room is open Thursday to Sunday and pouring whites and reds to suit every palate.
There’s live music in store on Sunday afternoons as part of the Sunday Serenades program.
Finally, the Harvest Kitchen is a farm-to-table cooking studio putting on cooking courses, pairing classes for food and wine, and farm education programs.
11. Old Mine Park
As the name suggests, this park on the Pequonnock River south of Monroe is the site of a once nationally significant tungsten mine that was exploited from 1828 to 1946, with a hiatus in the interwar period.
Tungsten wasn’t the only valuable material sourced at what was then the Hubbard Mine: tourmaline, topaz and more than 60 other crystals and minerals were hauled up from underneath Old Mine Park in differing quantities.
Today you can make the most of an 11-mile circular trail for hiking and biking, as well as two pavilions, a multipurpose field, a picnic area and a charming walking bridge over the Pequonnock River.
12. EverWonder Children’s Museum
This small but expertly designed museum in nearby Newtown lets children discover the wonder and beauty of science via hands-on experimentation.
A lot of the exhibits at EverWonder were developed by some of the region’s leading interactive children’s museums, like the Rochester Museum & Science Center and the Sciencenter of Ithaca.
There’s much to stimulate young minds, like Tornado Tubes, a Theramin, a Three-Wheeled Racer Car Track, Swinging Pendulums, as well as a LEGO Table, Dinosaur Dig, Digital Media Lab & Studio, Tinker Stations, and much more than we could possibly list here.
The museum also keeps a small collection of animals, including albino African clawed frogs, bearded dragons and a ball python.
13. Rowanwood Farm
Now, llama hiking is an activity that you might not associate with Fairfield County.
As it happens, Rowanwood Farm is the USDA licensed and approved llama hiking company in Connecticut.
You’ll venture off on scenic trails, through Newtown’s forests and vineyards, with these fluffy animals for company.
Llamas go slow and steady so the pace is always comfortable, and there will be lots of opportunities for interaction.
A Level 1 hiking experience involves a llama handling class followed by a one-hour trek, while Level 2 entails an extended two-hour hike with regular stops for photos with your new fluffy friends.
14. Wells Hollow Creamery
If you’re on your cheat day then Wells Hollow Creamery should be on your radar.
This 5th generation dairy farm in Shelton makes 40 different ice cream flavors, served in cups or cones, as well as a menu of sundaes, puddings and shakes.
You can also take a moment to see the farm’s herd and chicken coops when you come.
The hardest part of any visit will be choosing a flavor: Some of the more decadent offerings include Dark Cashew Caramel, Campfire S’mores and Blackberry Cobbler.
15. The Warrens’ Occult Museum
The Warrens , Edward Warren Miney (1926-2006) and Lorraine Rita Warren (1927-2019) were the founding members of the New England Society for Psychic Research, the oldest ghost-hunting group in the region.
Self-taught “demonologists”, they were among the first investigators at the supposed Amityville Haunting, and wrote books that inspired scores of films and television shows.
Their Occult Museum in the back of their house at 30 Knollwood Street was chock full of creepy artifacts assembled over decades.
The star of the show was the doll Annabelle, which made an appearance in The Conjuring (2013). The museum was a Mecca for fans of the occult, but has recently been closed because of zoning laws.
As of summer 2019 the museum was seeking a new location.