15 Best Things to Do in Southbury (CT)

Written by Veronique Raes
Updated on
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Southbury in New Haven County is the only community in the entire United States with this name.

The town points this fact out in its motto, “Unica Unaque”, which I learned means “The One and Only”. With a population slightly below 20,000, the town has a dispersed, rural feel and lays claim to some staggering natural beauty.

This is undeniable along the dammed sections of the Housatonic River, where two of Connecticut’s five largest lakes can be found.

I spent my time in Southbury striding on winding lakeside trails, visiting waterfalls, and observing birds of prey in the wild. Acclaimed craft breweries and wineries help give the town a culinary cachet.

Let’s have a look at the best things to do in and around Southbury:

1. Kettletown State Park

Kettletown State ParkSource: LBSimms Photography / shutterstock
Kettletown State Park

The eastern shore of Lake Zoar on the Housatonic River is the magnificent setting for a 600-acre state park.

This land was once occupied by the Pootatuck Indians, who raised crops like tobacco, beans and apples here. Their village was lost beneath Lake Zoar when the river was dammed in 1919. 

The State of Connecticut bought this large swath of woodland in 1950, and the park is a treasured place to go hiking, camping, picnicking and freshwater fishing.

There’s also a beach at the park, but bathing has been put on hold recently with the recurrence of blue/green algae. Instead the best thing about this park for me is the scenery, and the jaw-dropping foliage in fall.

2. Southford Falls State Park

Southford Falls State ParkSource: LBSimms Photography / shutterstock
Southford Falls State Park

On the Southbury/Oxford line, Eight Mile Brook rushes through rocky scenery on its short route from Lake Quassapaug to the Housatonic River.

More than 120 acres along the course have been preserved as a state park at the site of an early 20th-century factory. This belonged to the Diamond Match Company, still America’s leading producer of matches when I wrote this article.

Within Southford Falls State Park I encountered a lot of stirring natural beauty, as the brook tumbles over a series of basalt ledges.

The brook is also crossed by a covered bridge. This is a little newer than it looks, dating to the 1970s, but still very picturesque.  

Elsewhere, Papermill Pond by the brook is stocked with trout for fishing.

3. Southbury Green

Concert in the ParkSource: NICKY1841 / shutterstock
Concert in the Park

The name Southbury Green applies to the long strip of grass peppered with trees on Main Street, and the sizable shopping center beside it.

Among the tenants at Southbury Green are Gap, Loft, Pier 1 Imports, Athleta, Starbucks, HomeGoods, and Massage Envy.

The center of attention on the green itself is the gazebo. This hosts a series of concerts in the summer.

These shows are part of a larger program, bringing some 20 live performances to various public venues around Southbury from late June to the start of September. I’m happy to report that all of these concerts are free and open to the public.

4. Shepaug Eagle Observation Area

Shepaug Eagle ViewingSource: FloridaStock / shutterstock
Shepaug Eagle Viewing

Lake Lillinonah, Connecticut’s second largest lake, was created in 1955 with the construction of the Connecticut Light and Power Company’s Shepaug Dam.

One of the welcome consequences of this project is that the dam has become an important nesting and feeding site for eagles and hawks.

One reason for this is that the movement of water below the dam stops ice from forming. It helps give these magnificent raptors easy access to fish.

The dam’s current owner, FirstLight Power Resources invites the public to use its recently updated observation area. This is installed with spotting scopes and binoculars.

The platform is open between December and March on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM. When I compiled this list it was necessary to make a reservation online, but this was a simple process.

5. Glebe House Museum & Garden

Glebe House Museum & GardenSource: LEE SNIDER PHOTO IMAGES / shutterstock
Glebe House Museum & Garden

In Woodbury there’s a glorious Georgian house constructed around 1740 and open to the public May to mid-October.

With five bays on its main facade, the house has a signature gambrel roof, which drops down to the top of the first floor at the rear, combining gambrel and saltbox characteristics. Above the main entrance there’s a corniced entablature and a transom window.

One of the most important fixtures inside is the original kitchen fireplace, thought to be among the largest in the state.

Glebe House witnessed a momentous event in 1783. The first Episcopal election in the United States took place right here.

By the 1920s the house had fallen into disrepair and was restored under the supervision of Henry Watson Kent, the Secretary of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

He commissioned the famed English designer Gertrude Jekyll to lay out the gardens. I was moved to learn that this is the last surviving example of her work in the United States.

The house and gardens are open for guided tours Wednesday to Sunday from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM.

6. Larkin State Park Trail

Larkin State Park TrailSource: Morrowlong / Wikimedia | CC BY-SA 4.0
Larkin State Park Trail

At Kettletown Road in Southbury you’ll come to the eastern trailhead of this path, more than 10 miles long and crossing four different towns.

The Larkin State Park Trail is on the former roadbed of a western extension of the New York and New England Railroad, in operation between 1881 and 1939. 

When the line was abandoned the local man Dr. Charles L. Larkin bought ten miles and gifted it to the state as a bridleway.

Come year round to ride, walk or even ski along this path. I got caught up imagining the challenges faced by the railroad constructors, as the trail passes through swamp and rocky ravines, cut 140 years ago by steam drills.

7. Audubon Center Bent of the River

Audubon Center Bent of the RiverSource: Karl Thomas Moore / Wikimedia
Audubon Center Bent Of The River

This expansive, 700-acre preserve is in the hands of the National Audubon Society.

When bequeathing the land, the previous owner, Althea Clark, stated that it had to be kept in a state of “mild wilderness”. 

At Bent of the River there’s grassland, scrub, forests and wetlands, all coursed by the Pomperaug River.

I found a few historic buildings dotted around the preserve. These include a 19th-century barn, which is used by the society for displays about the landscape and its ecology.

As well as walking the trails you can take part in conservation-themed programs throughout the year, like bird walks and safari tours along the river.

8. George C. Waldo State Park

Lake LillinonahSource: Pedro Xing / Wikimedia
Lake Lillinonah

Right on the east bank of Lake Lillinonah, this 150-acre park in an undeveloped, hilly landscape is open all year and free to visit.

A trail is about three quarters of a mile long and wends its way through wetlands and woodland mixing coniferous and deciduous trees. 

I found it a fun challenge too, with a drop of some 160 feet along the way. You can visit the park for hiking, horseback riding and fishing. 

Mountain bikers love George C. Waldo State Park for its 4.5 miles of freshly plotted singletrack. This is on five interconnected trails, all flanked by log and rock features.

9. Southbury Farmers’ Market

Farmers MarketSource: Matej Kastelic / shutterstock
Farmers Market

Southbury has a small but popular and animated Farmers’ Market. This crops up under the flagpole in front of the Town Hall every Thursday afternoon mid-June to mid-November.

The benefit of shopping at a producer-only market is supporting the local economy and small businesses. 

You’ll also get hold of high-quality produce, eggs, baked goods, natural cosmetics, flowers, olive oil and jams, and jellies from the people who made or grew them.

When I passed by, I saw a choice of prepared food, including organic ice pops and wood-fired pizza.

10. Quassy Amusement Park & Water Park

quassy Amusement Park & Water ParkSource: Ritu Manoj Jethani / shutterstock
Quassy Amusement Park & Water Park

There’s a full-fledged amusement park less than 15 minutes from Southbury and dating back more than a century.

Quassy (on the shore of Lake Quassapaug) started out in 1908 as a trolley park on the line from Waterbury to Woodbury. In fact, it’s one of just a small few of these attractions left in the United States.

The park is much more than just a historical relic though. Take the Wooden Warrior, which continues to rival America’s best wooden roller coasters according to Amusement Today.

There are some 40 amusements at Quassy, a large chunk of which are aimed at smaller members of the family.

Splash Away Bay, the water park here, has slides for all-comers. My kids were thrilled with the outlandish Saturation Station, with a 300-gallon tilting bucket that dumps water onto the crowds below.

11. Settlers Park

BaseballSource: David Lee / shutterstock

A place in the middle of Southbury to get out and be active, Setters Park has all you need for a wide variety of activities.

In almost 70 acres there are fields for soccer, baseball, softball and lacrosse, as well as the kind of playground kids can run wild in.

For gentler recreation the park has a walking trail tracing those sports facilities. Added to that is Southbury’s community gardens, a gazebo, restrooms and a picnic area for more passive pursuits. I visited on a sunny summer’s day and spent an hour by the gazebo with a book. 

Anglers with licenses can cast their lines from the banks of the Pomperaug River, which borders the park.

12. Black Hog Brewing Co.

Black Hog Brewing Co.Source: Black Hog Brewing Co. / Facebook
Black Hog Brewing Co.

You won’t have to travel far for an expertly crafted beer in Southbury, as Black Hog Brewing Co. is a matter of minutes away in Oxford.

The brewery sticks to a hardcore of year-round beers. Among these are hoppy and zesty IPAs  (BHB and Hazy Ale). There’s also Vienna Lager, Granola Brown Ale, and Hog Lager Pilsner.

These are joined by a whole host of seasonal and specialty brews, so there’s always something new to try.

Black Hog opens its doors from Thursday through Sunday, and has an events calendar chock-full of painting sessions, art exhibitions, trivia nights and live comedy.

There’s almost always a food truck parked up outside, normally on weekends. When I came, the grilled cheese was on point.

13. Walker Road Vineyards

Vineyards and WineriesSource: Kjuuurs / shutterstock
Vineyards And Wineries

Based out of a beautiful 150-year-old barn, Walker Road Vineyards specializes in wines from a blend of grapes.

The tasting room is open on weekends between May and December, and unveiled a new deck in 2019. Weather permitting, you can also take a bottle of Walker Road wine up the hill for a picnic surrounded by vines.

In the European tradition, Walker Road’s wines tend to be made from a blend of red or white grapes grown on this land. These are from vinifera like Cabernet Franc, Saint-Croix, Sangiovese, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Seyval Blanc and Traminette.

The dry red Marquette is the only single varietal wine in Walker Roads’ range. You can pick up Walker Road’s wines at liquor stores around Southbury, Woodbury and Middlebury.

I’d check the calendar for upcoming events and activities, including yoga and pilates in this picture-perfect setting.

14. Pomperaug Golf Club

GolfSource: Mikael Damkier / shutterstock

In a verdant backdrop, Pomperaug Golf Club is a daily fee course open to the public. A nine-hole par 35, the track is designed to test your accuracy with its ample sand traps and water hazards.

It was designed by Ted Manning and opened in 1971, with a slope rating of 115 and a maximum length of 2,750 yards from the longest tees.

As I mentioned, water is a constant test at this course, and contributes to a couple of tricky par 3s. There are also some challenging doglegs to keep you thinking. My recommendation  is to play later in the season, and conditions can be patchy in spring.

15. Southbury Public Library

BooksSource: jakkaje879 / shutterstock

The town’s local library is a point of pride and very much at the core of the community. The new facility opened in 2006 at a cost of $6m.

This was the first new public building constructed in the town for three decades. Over 32,000 square feet and two floors, Southbury Library holds 90,000 books. 

There are also meeting rooms, an extensive media library, audiobooks, computers for public use, a coffee bar, a cozy fireplace, and outdoor patio.

Children, teens and adults are served by a whole raft of programs. These include classes, storytimes, talks by guest speakers, movie screenings (Wednesdays for grownups), talks and book clubs.

And if you’re in need just an hour or two of peace to get some work done there’s free Wi-Fi.

15 Best Things to Do in Southbury (CT):

  • Kettletown State Park
  • Southford Falls State Park
  • Southbury Green
  • Shepaug Eagle Observation Area
  • Glebe House Museum & Garden
  • Larkin State Park Trail
  • Audubon Center Bent of the River
  • George C. Waldo State Park
  • Southbury Farmers' Market
  • Quassy Amusement Park & Water Park
  • Settlers Park
  • Black Hog Brewing Co.
  • Walker Road Vineyards
  • Pomperaug Golf Club
  • Southbury Public Library