This town on the west bank of the Connecticut River may be sleepy and rural but has some blockbuster attractions a moment or two away.
Six Flags New England is over the state line in Agawam and is stacked with DC licensed rides, while the New England Air Museum highlights the massive contribution this region has made to aviation.
Something exciting about Suffield, especially for amateur historians, is that the town is on the course of two canals that were dug 200 years ago and are now walking trails.
The Farmington Canal passes through Suffield to the west, and the railroad that replaced it gave rise to an amusement park on the shore of Congamond Lakes.
You can also follow the towpath of the Enfield Falls Canal for a scenic jaunt along the Connecticut River via the Windsor Locks Canal State Park Trail.
1. Six Flags New England
The first of two major attractions on the radar in Suffield is the oldest amusement park in the Six Flags Chain, just over the state boundary in Agawam, MA.
The park started life as Gallup’s Grove as long ago as 1870 and is best known for the acclaimed steel rollercoaster, Superman The Ride.
With a drop of 67 meters and top speed of 77 mph, this ride is often ranked among the best in its category by Amusement Today’s Golden Ticket Awards even 20 years after it opened.
Thrill-seekers also make a bee-line for Wicked Cyclone, which is inspired by Coney Island’s Cyclone and was re-tracked with steel in 2015. Families are well catered for, with a bunch of lighter rides like Blizzard River, Balloon Race and the restored Illions Grand Carousel, dating back to 1909. There’s fun on the water too, at Hurricane Harbor, which has flumes for all-comers and the 500,000-gallon wave pool, Commotion Ocean.
2. New England Air Museum
Recently spruced up, the largest aviation museum in the region studies New England’s rich aviation heritage.
Sikorsky, the Stratford-based helicopter manufacturer, is well represented in the museum’s collection, as are some other important Connecticut brands like East Hartford’s Pratt & Whitney and Kaman from Bloomfield.
Along with an in-depth exhibition about Sikorsky you’ll find an S-39, the oldest remaining Sikorsky aircraft, as well as the last surviving Sikorsky VS-44A flying boat.
Another Connecticut resident who made an impression on the aviation world was the balloonist Silas Brooks, and his wicker balloon basket, flown over Hartford and New Haven in 1870, is the oldest aircraft in the United States.
3. Windsor Locks Canal State Park Trail
You can amble along the wooded west bank of the Connecticut River for 4.5 miles from Suffield down to Windsor Locks.
This trail is on the towpath of the old Enfield Falls Canal, which allowed river traffic to bypass Enfield Falls, a shallow stretch on the Connecticut River.
Before the canal was completed in 1829, the flat-bottomed scows navigating the river could only ascend the falls with the help of a “fallsman” using set poles.
The trail is set up with interpretive boards documenting the story of the waterway, pointing out wildlife and examples of 19th-century infrastructure.
You may be intrigued to learn that Charles Dickens himself passed along the canal on February 7, 1842.
4. Babb’s Beach
The north-western corner of Suffield is separated from Southwick, Massachusetts by Congamond Lakes, a string of water bodies made up of a north, middle and south pond.
On the Suffield side, Babb’s Beach is on the middle pond and opens to the public for swimming, sunbathing and water activities from the start of the school summer break.
Tracing the beach is a grassy field for games and a pavilion for picnics.
It will also be hard to miss the dance hall, a grand holdover from the days of the Babb’s Beach Amusement Park that was open in the first decades of the 20th century.
Congamond Lakes became a leisure destination with the birth of the New Haven and Northampton Railroad, on the route of the Farmington Canal, which we’ll talk about below.
A charge of $20 per car applies to non-residents at the beach’s parking lot.
5. West Suffield Mountain
Driving in rural Suffield you’ll notice a long mass on the western horizon: This is the 200-million-year-old Metacomet Ridge, a basalt fault 100 miles long from New Haven to the Massachusetts-Vermont Border.
As the rest of the landscape has been weathered down over time, the volcanic ridge has remained, and is famed for its precipitous west-facing crags.
West Suffield Mountain is four miles long, and has a high point of 220 meters.
You can hike it on the Metacomet Trail, which continues to the Massachusetts state line and grants you access to some of those scenic ledges.
The mountain is also the trailhead for another long-distance route, on the 114-mile Metacomet-Monadnock Trail, culminating with New Hampshire’s 965-meter Monadnock Mountain.
6. Farmington Canal Heritage Trail
More than 80 miles long, this flat and light multi-use trail extends from New Haven to Northampton, MA, give or take a couple of gaps.
It follows the route of the Farmington Canal, which was built in the 1820s and was swiftly replaced by a railroad a couple of decades later.
The trail cuts through a small piece of West Suffield just before it crosses the state line, into Southwick.
If you go south, you’ll be on the middle section, which has almost 25 miles of unbroken trail down to northern Plainville.
Hike north into Massachusetts and you can get as far as Westfield center, before a gap of 8.4 miles through Southampton.
7. Suffield Historic District
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North to south on Main Street between Muddy Brook and near Mapleton Avenue is a district transporting you back to Suffield’s 17th-century origins.
The architecture in Suffield Historic District dates from between the 18th and 20th centuries, and you’ll be able to track the sudden rise in the town’s wealth and prestige with the 19th-century arrival of tobacco farming and the private Suffield Academy (1833). Despite this, Main Street was never heavily developed, so survives today as a picture-perfect New England village.
There are two monuments here on the National Register, and what’s great is that both can be visited as historic house museums.
We’ll talk about the Hatheway House next, but the King House Museum (1764) is open Wednesday and Saturday afternoons.
Run by the Suffield Historical Society, this beautiful property and has an interior flush with authentic Georgian woodwork, most impressive in the left parlor.
8. Phelps-Hatheway House & Garden
A property that will surely pique your interest in the village center is this sprawling house made up of an interconnected central block, a north block and a southern ell (perpendicular wing) on the left.
All three are crowned with gambrel roofs, and you may be able to tell from the simpler ornamentation on the southern ell that it is older than the rest.
This section goes back to 1732, while the main block is from 1762 and the north block came in 1795 and was added by the prominent land developer Oliver Phelps.
One of many noteworthy things about the Hatheway House is that it has kept hold of its original 18th-century French wallpaper.
The interior is endowed with 18th-century furniture produced in Connecticut to paint a picture of high-class living in the early Federal style.
Outside, the grounds have formal flower beds, a garden for kitchen herbs and a cute summer house.
9. Hastings Hill Historic District
In central northern Suffield, this historic district enriched with 18th-century architecture, is on the junction of Spruce Street, Hill Street and Russell Avenue.
After Hill Street took shape in 1726 on a north-south ridge, it became part of a thoroughfare that linked Windsor with Springfield, Connecticut.
One reason this little community came about is denominational: The minister Joseph Hastings broke away from Congregationalism in the 1720s and founded one of the first Baptist churches in the state on a small rise above Russell Avenue.
That church was rebuilt in the Greek Revival style in 1842 and had since become a focal point for a village.
The oldest house here is 1061 Hill Street, believed to have been built in 1740 and restored in the 1930s by Delphina King.
She is noted for being the first woman admitted into the Yale School of Architecture.
10. Old New-Gate Prison & Copper Mine
In the countryside between Suffield and East Granby is an archaeological site preserving the remnants of a colonial-era copper mine and Connecticut’s first official prison.
This land was exploited for its copper from the beginning of the 18th century until 1745, and in the 1770s its tunnels were converted into a prison.
British prisoners of war and Loyalists, fighting against independence, were held here during the Revolutionary War.
In 1790 it New-Gate Prison became the first state prison in the United States and most of the surviving structures on the surface date from between that time and 1802. After a ten-year closure up to 2018 for repairs, this captivating site is run as a museum by the State of Connecticut.
You can come to explore the ruins and go underground with a guide to see where prisoners were kept in conditions that earned this place the name “Hell”.
11. Sunrise Park
On the western foot of Suffield Mountain, this gorgeous 134-acre park is around the scenic White’s Pond.
Suffield Park was bought by the townspeople in 1966 after fundraising and is a place for outdoor recreation in nature.
You can swim and relax at pond’s 20-acre beach/swimming area in summer, or go canoeing, kayaking or fishing.
On the shore Sunrise Park has a bocce court, disc golf course, a volleyball court and a fitness challenge course.
Lifeguards or on patrol for eight weeks between June and August, coinciding with the town’s day camp.
By the water you’ll find a lovely covered picnic area, and another in a pine grove with more picnic tables and grills.
The main pavilion can be rented out, and hosts some 100 celebrations each year.
12. Lost Acres Vineyard
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Not far away in North Granby there’s a vineyard on a verdant hillside edged with woodland.
Lost Acres produces varietal and blended reds and whites from Merlot, Marquette, Riesling, Chardonnay, Traminette, Vidal Blanc, Cayuga White and Seyval Blanc.
At the tasting room in a lovely old barn you can try five wines for $7 and take home a complimentary glass, and pair it with a cheese plate or antipasto plate, or bring you own picnic.
There’s always something interesting happening at Lost Acres, be it live music on Sundays, art shows, yoga, stand-up comedy and meditation.
Starting in April there’s also a spring indoor farmers’ market here, for organic vegetables, baked goods, cheese, maple syrup, eggs and farm-raised lamb, pork and beef.
13. Clark Farms at Bushy Hill Orchard
This farm in Granby has many strings in its bow, offering CSA farm shares, a delightful farm stand, a creamery and a farm-to-table cafe.
You can also visit for a “U-pick” season that begins in August with blueberries and peaches, and includes 18 different apple varieties in September and October.
The creamery is open weekends through October for soft serve ice cream, with its own window for Clark Farms’ delectable apple cider donuts.
The farm stand is laden with homemade goodies like sauces, jellies, pickles, soups and more, while the cafe integrates all of the farm’s produce into its menu.
If you can’t get enough of those donuts you have to try the apple cider donut French toast on the breakfast menu, or the apple cider donut bread pudding for dessert.
14. Powder Hollow Brewery
A little further afield, across the Connecticut River Enfield, Powder Hollow Brewery is still an easy cab journey from Suffield’s eastern side.
If you’ve spent any time in Suffield there’s a good chance that you’ve seen these beers either on tap in restaurants or stocked at local stores.
Powder Hollow Brewery was launched in 2014 and uses only high-quality hops, barley and wheat.
When we compiled this list in September 2019, there were nine beers on tap, only two of which were IPAs which is good news for people overwhelmed by hoppy beers.
Some picks include Black & Gold (a roasted brown ale), the 1929 Prohibition Porter, Early Morning Oatmeal Stout on Nitro and Lift Your Kilt, a Scottish ale.
The taproom is open seven days and brewery tours are available if you’d like to go behind the scenes.
15. Connecticut Fallen Firefighters Memorial
Although not a conventional tourist attraction, this memorial is a recommended detour when visiting the New England Air Museum.
This monument features black granite stones engraved with the names of the state’s Firefighters who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
The memorial was a decade in the planning and was dedicated in June 2001. At the center is a single large stone more than 3.5 meters across bearing the likeness of four firefighters tackling a blaze, in front of an eternal flame.
At the base are plaques engraved with more than 300 names, and surrounding the monument are benches for a moment of reflection.