In the lower Naugatuck Valley, Shelton is an amiable riverside town that has been reborn since the 1980s.
From the 1860s until recently Shelton relied on heavy industry, the remnants of which survive in giant brick-built factories, some now luxury condos.
A patch of the waterfront has been cleared and turned into the Veterans Memorial Park. There’s always something fun going on in summer here, and a farmers’ market is in business on Saturday mornings.
If you find yourself in Shelton to admire the foliage in fall, I can’t get enough of the farms in the countryside with pick-your-own apples and pumpkins. There’s cider, wine, homemade ice cream, and delicious baked treats like apple cider donuts.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Shelton:
1. Jones Family Farms
Embedded in Shelton’s White Hills and established in 1848, Jones Family Farms covers 400 acres at three addresses.
A lot of this land is devoted to cultivating Christmas trees. The farm also grows blueberries and strawberries that you can come and pick in summer, as well as pumpkins in October.
During pumpkin season at Pumpkinseed Hill Farm kids can meet farm animals, take hay rides and solve a corn maze. Meanwhile grownups can soak up the fall foliage and buy apples and squash.
On top of all this there’s a winery at the historic barn of the Homestead Farm. This produces a range of whites, from Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling, Muscat, Vidal Blanc, Seyval Blanc and Cayuga grapes grown on this land. Added to that are reds mostly made from varieties grown in California.
Take a seat at the spacious patio for a glass or two on summer weekends, when there’s a whole schedule of live music.
2. Indian Well State Park
There’s much to enjoy about this strip of rugged woodland edging the west bank of Lake Housatonic. I should point out that non-Connecticut residents will have to pay a hefty fee to use the parking lock, especially on summer weekends.
But once you’re in you can make a short hike to a beautiful horsetail waterfall,15 feet high and dropping into a splash pool.
Come summer Indian Well State Park is my favorite place to cool off. There’s a beach on the lake patrolled by lifeguards in peak season.
Kids will be happiest here, as the water in the designated swimming area never gets above waist height. On the hottest days you can retreat to the shaded grove by the water’s edge for a picnic.
3. Beardsley’s Cider Mill & Orchard
Another local business that comes into its own during the fall is this cider mill. Beardsley’s makes alcohol-free cider that is treated with UV light instead of being pasteurized, to preserve its flavor.
You can get cider here all through autumn and late-winter, but there are many more feathers in this farm’s cap.
On weekends from mid-September to late October you can visit to pick your own apples. There are more than 15 varieties, including Gala, Honeycrisp and Macoun early in the season, and Granny Smith, Winesap and Braeburn towards the end.
There’s a farm shop open seven days a week selling the farm’s famous apple cider donuts (a must for me). This is combined with a choice of homemade pies, cookies, fruit breads, honey, jellies and jams.
4. Downtown Shelton
Considering that until a generation ago Shelton was an industrial town, the downtown is an agreeable place to spend an afternoon.
There are riverside parks, which I’ll talk about below, while some of the old factories have been preserved and repurposed as homes.
There are fine examples on Bridge Street and Howe Avenue. All through the central business district the streetscape has been improved, with sidewalks rebuilt and planted with trees.
In the last 20 years lots of independent eateries have cropped up. A few when I was here were the highly-regarded Italian restaurant Amici’s on Howe Avenue, Caloroso Eatery & Bar for pizza, and the long-running Billy D’s Full Belly Deli for breakfast.
5. Wells Hollow Creamery
At a family-run dairy farm now in its fifth generation there’s an ice cream shop open every day of the week in spring and summer.
Wells Hollow Creamery has a menu of dozens of homemade flavors. You can opt for conventional picks like vanilla, chocolate and strawberry, or more outlandish creations like cannoli ricotta and baklava.
You can choose between a cup and a cone, and there’s also a selection of sorbets and fat-free options.
I love the shaded outdoor patio where you can enjoy your treat. Smaller family members will have a fun time checking out the farm’s cows, chickens and goats.
Come by in fall and there’s a harvest celebration, with live music, a corn maze, and a giant pumpkin patch.
6. Paugussett Trail
This 14-mile Blue-Blazed trail through Shelton and some of Monroe links much of the natural space on my list. Hiking this trail you’ll pass through Indian Well State Park, Webb Mountain Park and the south shore of Lake Zoar.
The main route runs from the south-east to the north-west, roughly parallel to the Housatonic River. This hoves into view every now and then, especially when there’s less leaf cover in winter.
On the walk you’ll see the foundations of long forgotten mills, giant boulders, the falls at Indian Well and the entrance to an old silver mine.
One of the memorable sections is a tough climb at Princess Wenonah Drive. Here steps carry you up the precipitous slope between two suburban houses.
7. Shelton Riverview Park
The town’s oldest official park lies atop the bluffs beside the Derby-Shelton Dam. From here I got a beautiful vista of the man-made falls, and the wooded hills on the Derby side of the river.
Standing since the end of the 19th century and overlooking the dam is the “Boy with Fish” statue. It’s cast in zinc and stands on a granite fountain.
At Fort Hill you’ll find the site of Shelton’s last palisade fort belonging to the Native American Pootatuck people.
This spot is marked with an inscribed boulder. Another intriguing slice of history can be found at a descendant of Hartford’s famous Charter Oak, which became a symbol of American independence.
To go with its scenery, Riverview Park is a place to go for some exercise. Active recreation amenities include baseball fields, basketball courts and a hiking trail.
8. Sports Center of Connecticut
For families who can never agree on what to do, there are activities for everyone at this versatile attraction.
The first thing I have to say about Sports Center of Connecticut is that it has full-size double-decker rinks for free skating and pick-up hockey. Kids can learn figure-skating skills, and sign up for a youth hockey league.
But added to that there are tons of other activities that you’d find at a family fun center. These include the crowd-pleasing 18-hole mini golf course, a bowling alley, driving range, batting cages, paintball, laser tag, a basketball court, video arcade, and a virtual reality game.
9. Veterans Memorial Park
Shelton has a schedule of public events at this riverside park which is home to the town’s solemn granite war memorials.
The Veterans Memorial Park is a wide band of grass and vegetation, with a pavilion and a tree-lined path next to the river (Shelton Riverwalk).
I learned that this now serene space was the scene of one of the largest cases of arson in the history of the United States. On March 1, 1975, the Sponge Rubber Products Plant was set on fire, causing an explosion that could be seen for miles around.
Today the Veterans Memorial Park hosts Shelton’s 4th of July fireworks, as well as the Downtown Sounds summer concert series. Also be sure to come for the Food Trucks on the River program, the town’s farmers’ market and outdoor theater performances.
10. Shelton Lakes Recreation Path
With 11 miles of trails in more than 450 acres, the Shelton Lakes Greenway Network snakes off into the town’s rural hinterland. These paths curve past a series of peaceful reservoirs wreathed in woodland.
The most trodden path in this network is the multi-use Shelton Lakes Recreation Path. It has a crushed stone surface accommodating bikes, wheelchairs and baby strollers.
This path, 4.1 miles long, was completed in 2012 and starts at Pine Lake close to the center of town. From there I made my way west up a gentle incline, following the top of the dam at Silent Waters and to a lovely overlook at Hope Lake Dam.
11. Whitney Farms Golf Club
Even golfers who have seen it all will be tested at this 18-hole Par 72 championship course ten minutes out of Shelton.
Whitney Farms is a semi-private club, open to the public and offering inspiring views from its tees and fairways.
Where the course gets difficult is on its small, contoured greens, so your iron play will need to be on point. There’s a driving range and practice green if you need to rediscover your touch.
A new addition when I was here was the The Player’s Club Virtual Golf Lounge, with state-of-the-art simulators. So you can now keep your swing in shape during the winter.
Finally, the Sand Trap Grill and Bar sends a cart out onto the course with refreshments on busy days.
12. Lake Zoar
Just before it flows past Shelton the Housatonic is dammed to form the reservoir Lake Zoar. This water body covers more than 900 acres, making it the fifth largest lake in the state.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the hydroelectric Stevenson Dam was built in the 1910s and carries Roosevelt Drive (Route 34) across the river.
Lake Zoar is open to the public, and I reckon it’s worth coming for the Blue-Blazed Zoar Trail alone. The circular route departs from the end of Great Quarter Road on the north shore and climbs to a rocky summit in Paugussett State Forest.
On the water the lake is popular for waterskiing and jet-skiing. Even though it isn’t stocked with fish, large numbers of trout swim down on the Pomperaug and Pootatuck Rivers. These are joined by abundant bass, perch, white catfish, and pike.
13. Webb Mountain Discovery Zone
Right on the town line with Monroe is more than 300 acres of wilderness on rugged terrain across two separate parcels.
About half is Webb Mountain Park, which pitches steeply to the Housatonic River. This is my go-to destination for hikes, climbing (schist walls), and camping.
Further in from the river is the Webb Mountain Discovery Zone, an outdoor learning facility geared towards kids and resting in 170 acres of woodland.
The Discovery Zone runs after-school programs dealing with science and nature. There are also special seasonal enrichment classes in spring, summer and autumn, all encouraging kids to experience the natural world.
If you come on an ordinary day you can hike the trails, check out the freshwater species at the vernal ponds, take a picnic, and go birdwatching at the Discovery Zone’s feeders and birdbath. Kids sure to have a blast on the free outdoor scavenger hunt.
14. Shelton History Center
To dip into Shelton’s past, the town’s historical society has gathered a handful of buildings at the corner of Ripton Road and Cloverdale Avenue.
The Brownson House (1822) and Trap Fall School (1872) have been relocated to this site, while the Wilson Barn (1860) is in situ.
This building houses the museum’s permanent exhibition, “Three Centuries of Shelton – From Farming to Industry and Beyond”.
When the Shelton History Center is open you can tour the complex, which also includes a carriage barn and its collection of horse-drawn vehicles. I also got a kick out of the authentic outhouse and corn crib.
The society is also very active in the town’s community, organizing events like the Harvest Fun Fest in fall. There are also town tours, a reading circle, open houses and a club for youngsters.
15. Shelton Farmers’ Market
I think it’s a sign of Shelton’s transformation that where there was once a hulking factory there’s now a cute farmers’ market. This is open Saturdays all through spring and summer next to Veterans Memorial Park.
Come by from 09:00 AM to 12:00 PM for fresh produce, locally roasted coffee, farm-raised meat, eggs, breads, cookies, muffins, flowers and arts and crafts, all direct from the producers.
Of course, along with the knowledge that you’ll be helping the local economy, you’ll be meeting the producer face-to-face. They’ll have tips on how to get the most from their stock.