This affluent town in western New Haven County is a constellation of small settled areas cutting in from the Housatonic River and almost touching the Naugatuck River in the east.
Oxford’s appeal comes from its extensive parks, where you can walk the route of a long lost railroad, discover waterfalls at the site of former mills and unwind by the lakes along the Housatonic.
There are two craft breweries in touching distance, as well as family attractions big and small, from little mini-golf courses to Quassy Amusement & Waterpark a brief road trip away in Middlebury.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Oxford, Connecticut:
1. Southford Falls State Park
Partially inside Oxford town limits is a state park on the course of Eightmile Brook as it plummets from Lake Quassapaug to the Housatonic River.
On this short but eventful journey the brook rushes through rugged land composed of Collinsville Formation stone (mainly composed of biotite, quartz, plagioclase and muscovite). Eagle-eyed visitors will notice places where the brook’s level has been lowered, and this was done to speed up water flow to drive waterwheels for the many mills that used to be set on its banks.
There were sawmills, gristmills and shops for all kinds of skilled tradesmen, making anything from knives to buttons.
In the early 20th century the Diamond Match Company set up by the brook, but handed the land over to the state after a fire in 1927.
2. Jackson Cove Town Park
This park on Lake Zoar is open between March and November, and is available to residents with a permit and non-residents who purchase a day pass for a reasonable fee.
You can go on a waterfront hike on the Oxford loop of the Blue-Blazed Pomperaug Trail, or a 4.6-mile stretch of the Housatonic River Belt Greenway between Fiddlehead Road and Kettletown State Park next door.
There’s also a boat launch, beach, playground, volleyball courts and a pavilion close to the shore that can be rented by Oxford residents.
3. Kettletown State Park
Up against Jackson Cove on the shore of Lake Zoar is a popular state park with hiking trails and a 56-site campground.
The Blue-Blazed Miller Trail in the park’s northern portion is a loop lifting you high over the lake, with scenic viewpoints that can be accessed via short, blue-yellow side-trails.
Previously this land was home to the Pootatuck Indians, who had all but disappeared by 1758. The story goes that they allowed colonists to use the land for hunting and fishing in exchange for a single brass kettle.
When we wrote this list in 2019 swimming was prohibited because of blue-green algae blooms.
4. Larkin State Park Trail
Winding through the north of Oxford is a 10.3-mile trail on the trackbed of the former New York & New England Railroad.
The line was in service between 1881 and 1939, and this ten-mile stretch was soon purchased by one Dr. Charles L. Larkin to be turned into an equestrian trail, become one of the first rail trails and passing through four towns.
As it is, the Larkin State Park Trail is open to riders, hikers, cyclists and cross-country skiers in winter.
The path is smooth and meanders between a tunnel of trees and rocky masses that were dynamited some 140 years ago.
5. Black Hog Brewing Co.
Holding its own in a very crowded market, Black Hog Brewing Co. is run by a pair of brothers and a master brewer.
In the brewery’s range are seven year-round brews, as well as many more seasonal and specialty beers.
Among that seven are three fruity IPAs, a pilsner, a coffee milk stout, a brown ale brewed with granola and a red india pale ale made with real ginger.
Open Wednesday to Sunday, the taproom in Oxford has 12 taps, pouring pints and flights, and refilling growlers.
There are board and video games on hand, and the taproom is visited by food trucks on weekends.
6. Naugatuck State Forest
The huge Naugatuck State Forest has 4,153 acres dispersed over eight towns around the Naugatuck Valley.
A portion of the West Block creeps into the east side of Oxford, primed for hiking, mountain biking, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing on blazed trails.
In Oxford there’s a parking lot off Chestnut Tree Hill Road, where you can embark on a hike around the Seymour Reservoirs, a string of four remote ponds oriented north to south.
Hike east along the course of Spruce Brook and eventually you’ll arrive at the Naugatuck River and a wonderful lookout above the riverbank.
7. OEC Brewing
Craft beer aficionados are well catered for in Oxford, with another small operation awaiting a visit on Fridays and weekends.
The “EC” here stands for “Eccentric Concoctions” and the venue is a lovely red barn-style building with a steel roof structure and rustic wooden tables.
OEC’s beers have a European accent, and among the 13 “Usual Suspects” are a Belgian-style lambic, a saison, a bruin, a German weisse, a Nordic-inspired double pale ale and a handful of lagers.
You can check the website to see what’s on offer on a given weekend, as well as details of special events like beer launches and game nights.
There’s a small food menu at the tasting room, but you’re also free to order takeout or bring your own.
8. Quaker Farms Historic District
On the way to Lake Zoar you may pass through a charming village center on Quaker Farms Road (Connecticut Route 188). This is the Quaker Farms Historic District, which grew up around the most important building, the Christ Church Episcopal.
The congregation is older, but the current Federal-style structure has been standing since 1814 and is noted for the Doric pilasters flanking the entrance, profuse pointed arch windows, three-stage steeple and Ionic capitals supporting the ceiling inside.
The oldest of the 11 other buildings in the district dates from 1720, and perhaps the most impressive is the Greek Revival house (1836) opposite the church, with a grand portico and pediment.
9. Twitchell-Rowland Homestead
In 2012 this Colonial house from 1755 opened as the Oxford Historical Society’s first museum.
The Twitchell-Rowland Homestead is at 60 Towner Road, in the north of the town, and as of 2019 will soon be joined by a relocated one-room schoolhouse from 1850. As for the Twitchell-Rowland Homestead, this made its own, shorter journey in 2006, moving three tenths of a mile along the road after being rescued from demolition.
Four generations of Twitchells lived here, eventually to be replaced by the Rowlands: in the first half of the 20th century Edward Rowland was prominent in town life, serving as a selectman and charter member and master of the Oxford Grange.
Inside you can appreciate the 18th-century chestnut beams, paneling and floorboards, as well as regular displays from the society’s collections.
Opening times are irregular, so it’s best to consult the Oxford Historical Society’s website.
10. Olde Sawmill Snackbar and Miniature Golf
This much-loved seasonal attraction is open spring to fall and lies at the foot of wooded hillside on the Little River stream.
There 18 holes of mini golf in this picturesque spot, dotted with water features, flowerbeds and well-tended shrubs and trees.
There’s a replica sawmill with a turning waterwheel, and plenty of benches for mid-round breaks.
The grill has a menu loaded with comfort food like burgers, fish and chips, foot long hot dogs and wraps.
11. Rockhouse Hill Sanctuary
The town of Oxford owns and maintains these 600 acres, aided by volunteer residents who in the last decade or so have helped to plot more than 15 miles of trails.
Rockhouse Hill Sanctuary is on the Housatonic River, and the topography swings between light and vertiginous.
There are boulders here and there, deposited during the last Ice Age, and a gneiss schist and pegmatite bedrock exposed in cliffs and rocky outcrops.
The sanctuary is also partly on the watershed of the Four Mile Brook, at the site of wetlands, and grows a wide array of hardwood trees, among them ash, maple, oak, hickory, beech, poplar and birch.
12. Quassy Amusement & Waterpark
This venerable attraction is more than a century old, having started out as a trolley park at Lake Quassapaug on the line from Waterbury to Woodbury in 1908. Slowly the lake turned into a summer destination and after World War II an amusement park was born.
New thrill rides arrive with each new season, and maybe the biggest draw is the Wooden Warrior, rated in the Golden Ticket Awards as one of the best wooden rollercoasters anywhere.
The waterpark, Splash Away Bay, has been completely remodeled recently, and is a fine way for families to cool off on a hot day.
Bigger kids will adore the body slides and raft rides, and there’s a big splashpad area for smaller children, as well as the wacky Saturation Station, where a 300-gallon bucket spills a torrent onto the crowds below.
13. The Golf Club at Oxford Greens
Ensconced in woods to the west of the Naugatuck State Forest is a public course regularly touted as one of the best in the state.
Designed by Mark Mungeam, the Golf Club at Oxford Greens opened in 2005, and has undulating fairways and fast-moving greens.
Some of the best holes are the one-shotters, like “Vista” the 2nd hole at 218 yards.
The green here is 50 feet (15 meters) below the tee, while “Skinny” at the 9th gets its name from an unusually long and narrow green, requiring pinpoint accuracy from your tee shot.
Green fees in 2019 ranged from $30 on a weekday evening to $79 on a weekend before 12:00.
14. Shepaug Eagle Viewing
Upriver on the Housatonic River from Lake Zoar is the second-largest lake in Connecticut, at Lake Lillinonah.
This 2.9-square-mile body of water is held back by the Shepaug Dam, constructed in 1955. Since it was constructed the dam has become an important wintering site for birds of prey like bald eagles, as the constant water flow stops the ice from melting and allows them to fish.
The dam’s owner and operater FirstLight Power Resources maintains an observation area, equipped with binoculars and spotting scopes.
This is open on Wednesdays and weekends from December to March.
15. Downtown Seymour
At three or four miles, the Downtown Seymour Historic District is close enough that you have to include it in your plans.
This grid of streets is trapped on a bend in the Naugatuck River between Connecticut Route 8 and the old Naugatuck Railroad Line.
As an urban center, Seymour grew up in the middle of the 19th century on the back of the brass and textile industries.
In the 21st century you have to come to peruse the many antiques and gift shops on Main Street, 1st Street, Columbus Street and Bank Street.
At the top end of Main Street is the Strand Theatre, which has been here at least 80 years and still plays classic and cult movies in double features.