15 Best Things to Do in Watertown (CT)

Written by Veronique Raes
Updated on
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In the rolling hills of the Western Highlands, Watertown is a north-western suburb of the city of Waterbury.

To my mind, Watertown’s strength comes from its plentiful open space, culminating in high rocky ledges. These give you the kind of views that belong in 19th-century landscape paintings.

In the two state forests within Watertown’s boundaries there are Blue-Blazed walking trails, ponds, public swimming areas, caves and waterfalls.

Also enveloped in this rollercoaster countryside is the public Crestbrook Golf Course. This has elevation changes to leave experienced pros scratching their heads.

Downtown Waterbury is a breeze from Watertown, and has a raft of restaurants, a sparkling Renaissance Revival theater, and the art-rich Mattatuck Museum.

1. Hawk Ridge Winery

Hawk Ridge WinerySource: Hawk Ridge Winery / facebook
Hawk Ridge Winery

The vines for this winery were only planted in the 2o10s, but these varietals are already yielding grapes for several acclaimed wines.

Hawk Ridge is on high ground blessed with romantic panoramas of the Litchfield Hills, and its name comes from the hawks that soar overhead.

When I paid a visit there was a large selection of reds, whites, rosés, ports/dessert wines, sparkling wines, and fun wine slushies.

The high-vaulted tasting room, with a Douglas fir post & beam ceiling and black walnut bar, was built in 2017 and is open seven days a week.

Tastings are $15 per person and include six wines of your choice, along with a souvenir wine glass to take home.

The restaurant at Hawk Ridge has a decadent Italian-inspired dining menu for small plates and shareables. Meanwhile, not a weekend goes by without live music at Hawk Ridge.

2. Black Rock State Park

Black Rock State ParkSource: Tomaz Kunst / shutterstock
Black Rock State Park

There’s unfettered natural beauty in the north of Watertown at this 444-acre park. Black Rock State Park is on the site of a graphite mine first worked in the mid-17th century.

At the heart of the park is Black Rock Pond, a place for swimming and fishing in summer, walled by high rocky ledges growing hemlock pine and oak.

The name Black Rock comes from the dark outline of one such cliff-top. From here you’ll get marvelous views over the Naugatuck Valley to Thomaston, as well as much of Watertown and the city of Waterbury, to the south-east.

You can venture into the park on the long Mattatuck Trail, which I’ll talk about in more detail below, and there’s a 78-site campground open in summer.

3. Waterbury

Palace TheaterSource: Shanshan0312 / shutterstock
Palace Theater

Brass City is on Waterbury’s doorstep, and has the kind of culture you’d want from one of the ten largest urban centers in New England.

I’d make a bee-line for the eclectic Mattatuck Museum, which highlights the Waterbury area’s 300+ years of European history. There’s also a formidable art collection here, with works by Alexander Calder, John Frederick Kensett, Erastus Salisbury Field, and Yves Tanguy.

In Brass City it’s a given that the city’s main museum should have a vast button collection. This runs to 15,000 pieces, and was amassed by the now defunct Button Museum.

Waterbury’s crowning glory is the Palace Theater, an extremely opulent live entertainment venue opened in 1922 and restored at a cost of $30m in 2004.

4. Fascia’s Chocolates

Fascia's ChocolatesSource: Fascia’s Chocolates / facebook
Fascia’s Chocolates

Crafting handmade candy for some 60 years, Fascia’s Chocolates is a big business chocolatier. Despite its commercial success, the company still produces treats in small batches at a factory and shop just east of Watertown’s Oakville section.

The factory offers a hands-on “Make-a-Bar” workshop during school breaks, or a full hour-long “Chocolate Experience”. 

During the latter you’ll track chocolate’s journey from bean to bar and bar to box, take part in tasting sessions, and watch demonstrations. You can even take a peek at the factory floor via a remote-controlled camera.

Afterwards you’ll be unleashed at the store. Here I simply couldn’t resist Fascia’s gelato, which comes in a wide range of delectable flavors.

5. Mattatuck State Forest

Mattatuck State ForestSource: Shanshan0312 / shutterstock
Mattatuck State Forest

If you’re ready for a hike in the rugged wilderness around Watertown, my tip is the Mattatuck State Forest. This is almost 4,700 acres, but spread across 20 parcels of land.

It was established in the first half of the 20th century, rehabilitating a landscape that had been damaged by the Naugatuck Valley’s brass industry.

You’ll find these spaces in Watertown, but also Waterbury, Plymouth, Litchfield, Thomaston and Harwinton.

Large tracts of the forest are linked by the Mattatuck Trail, a Blue-Blazed trail 36 miles in length.

In Watertown the route passes by Connecticut Route 8 and continues to Bidwell Hill Road where it enters Black Rock State Park.

Further south, in Watertown’s Oakville section you can pick up the Jericho Trail. This winds through a stunning piece of the state forest for 3.5 miles.

The southern trailhead and parking lot can be found on Echo Lake Road, and the northern terminus is the intersection with the Leatherman Cave Trail (part of the Mattatuck Trail), which I’ll talk about next.

6. Leatherman Cave Trail

Leatherman Cave TrailSource: H. Morrow Long / Wikimedia
Leatherman Cave Trail

Just over two miles out and back, this hiking trail is a real joy in spring and summer when wildflowers line the route.

I reckon you’ll need a decent pair of hiking shoes as there’s a rather heavy elevation change of almost 660 feet.

The Leatherman Cave trail is a section of the 36-mile, Blue-Blazed Mattatuck Trail. That uphill climb will be compensated by marvelous panoramas at Crane’s Lookout and a cave steeped in local history.

The Leatherman who lived roughly between 1839 and 1889 was a vagabond, believed to have been French-Canadian.

Dressed in handmade leather clothes, he would walk the same 365-mile circuit every year between Western Connecticut and Eastern New York. During this trek would stay in rock shelters like the one on this trail.

Watertown’s Leatherman Cave is one place where the Leatherman is known to have dwelled. In fact, you can still make out the remnants of the fire pit he used.

7. Nonnewaug Falls

Nonnewaug FallsSource: Ashley E. Gould / facebook
Nonnewaug Falls

Right on the Woodbury-Bethlehem town line there’s a light, one-mile trail through fields and woodland to a waterfall.

With a 11.5-foot horsetail beneath a 6.5-foot fan, Nonnewaug Falls isn’t large. Still, it’s all a photographer’s dream for the mature deciduous trees and mossy rocks framing the river.

The falls and East Nonnewaug River are named after the Native American chief, Nonnewaug, who is buried in the woods not far from the river.

To get the best out of this spot, I’d aim to make the trip after a period of sustained rainfall.

8. Brass Works Brewing Company

Brass Works Brewing CompanySource: Brass Works Brewing Company / facebook
Brass Works Brewing Company

Right on the opposite bank of the Naugatuck River from Watertown, Brass Works Brewing Company is a craft brewery drawing on more than 30 years of experience.

Brothers Michael and David Ieronimo started in their mom’s kitchen as teenagers in the late-80s and finally transferred their garage-based hobby to a full-fledged brewery in 2015. 

When I compiled this list there were 16 draught beers at the taproom. These included a clutch of IPAs, as well as several Lagers, two stouts, three porters, and three drinkable Ales. 

The taproom is open Thursday through Sunday, and the outdoor terrace is visited by all kinds of food trucks. On the menu when I was there was BBQ, New England-style seafood, burgers, and pizza.

9. Whitestone Cliffs Trail

Whitestone Cliffs TrailSource: en.wikipedia.org
Whitestone Cliffs Trail

This looping Blue-Blazed trail was plotted by the Connecticut Forest and Park Association. The Whitestone Cliffs Trail is named after the tall stone cliffs that seem to have a white tone when seen from Connecticut Route 8 and the Naugatuck River.

Almost all of the walk is within the Mattatuck State Forest. There are connecting spurs shooting off to the south on Route 262, east to the trail’s parking lot and west to the Naugatuck River, heading under Route 8. 

The most scenic portion of my hike here was a 750-foot peak with far off vistas.

10. Bantam Lake

Bantam LakeSource: Helioscribe / shutterstock
Bantam Lake

The largest natural lake in Connecticut is within an easy drive to the north-west in Litchfield.

Covering 947 acres, Bantam Lake comes into its own in the summer. In these months families flock to its two public beaches, at Sandy Beach and Morris Town Beach.

These are my local go-tos for swimming, lazing on the sand, picnics, camping, cooking out in the open air, and taking part in a variety of water sports.

This is the site of the Bantam Lake Ski Club, America’s oldest water ski club still in operation, founded back in 1958. 

The lake’s northern shores are protected by the conservation organization, the White Memorial Foundation, and provide a rich habitat for birdlife.

11. Bantam Cinema

Bantam CinemaSource: Bantam Cinema / facebook
Bantam Cinema

Carry on past the lake and there’s a valuable piece of entertainment heritage at a red barn. This is the Bantam Cinema, claimed to be the oldest operating movie theater in the state. 

It opened as the Rivoli Theatre in 1927 although the projectors were bought from Winfield Scott Rogers, Chairman of the Bantam Ball Bearing Company. He had screened free movies to his employees since 1918. 

The Bantam Cinema now has thoroughly modern sound and projection systems, and screens critically acclaimed and international movies not normally shown at multiplexes.

Something that really won me over was the organic popcorn, which comes with real butter.

12. Bellamy-Ferriday House and Garden

Bellamy-Ferriday House And GardenSource: Bellamy-Ferriday House and Garden / facebook
Bellamy-Ferriday House And Garden

Dating from 1760, this delightful property in neighboring Bethlehem tells the story of two interesting historical figures.

One was the Congregationalist minister Joseph Bellamy (1719-1790), who was central to the First Great Awakening. That was a series of revivals in Britain and its colonies in the mid-18th century.

Much later, the house was the residence for actor and philanthropist Carolyn Ferriday (1902-1990). She helped bring Nazi experimentation on Polish women at the Ravensbrück concentration camp to light.

Her family purchased the property in 1912 and redesigned the exterior, planting a formal parterre. Ferriday herself was responsible for the glorious rose and lilac collections.

Carolyn bequeathed the entirety of the property including its furnishings to Connecticut Landmarks. When I was in town, the house and garden were open for 90-minute tours, Thursday through Sunday.

13. Flanders Nature Center

Flanders Nature CenterSource: Flanders Nature Center / facebook
Flanders Nature Center

The Flanders Land Trust looks after more than 2,100 acres of open space across seven preserves in Woodbury, Bethel, Southbury and Middlebury.

The headquarters are a little way west in Bethlehem at the Van Fleck Farm & Nature Sanctuary. This puts on exhibitions, a wealth of educational programs, and workshops for adults and children.

There you’ll encounter a beautiful set of buildings scattered over a large area at the junction of Church Hill Road and Flanders Road.

At the 19th-century North Barn there are all kinds of farm animals, as well as exhibits on rural traditions in New England.

The Buz Russell Museum of Antique Tools and Farm Life has a fantastic collection of farming implements and toys collected by one Bethlehem resident. Meanwhile the Studio, dating to 1928, stages lectures, meetings, art classes and nature programs.

The Sugar House, on a track off Church Hill Road, is the site of Flanders’ annual maple sugaring program. Inside you can check out exhibs about the habitats and wildlife in Flanders nature preserves.

14. Crestbrook Park Golf Course

Crestbrook Park Golf CourseSource: Crestbrook Golf Course / facebook
Crestbrook Park Golf Course

What used to be a private nine-hole course was bought by the town of Watertown in 1975 and was then expanded to 18 holes by the 1980s.

Crestbrook Park Golf Course is often mentioned among the best municipal courses in the state. It’s praised for quicksilver greens and sloping fairways that can catch even seasoned pros off guard.

Everything is kept in tip-top condition and there’s a five-acre practice facility, a full-service pro shop and a first-class 19th hole at the Sunset Grille.

When I went to press, green fees for non-residents were less than $50, on weekdays and weekends.

15. Old Burying Ground

Opposite the new Starbucks at the corner of Main Street and French Street is a cemetery some 300 years old.

The walls are low, and I had little trouble getting in, although gravestone-rubbing is strictly prohibited.

The oldest grave is for one Hannah Richards Scovill, from 1741, and the newest internment is Martha Beardsly from 1938. 

You take a while to check out the centuries-old stones and their delicate carvings. I found it a little unnerving to consider that there are many more burials under this ground that are not recorded by stones.

By the mid-19th century the soil at the Old Burying Ground became impenetrable, so the Evergreen Cemetery had to be opened on North Street.

15 Best Things to Do in Watertown (CT):

  • Hawk Ridge Winery
  • Black Rock State Park
  • Waterbury
  • Fascia's Chocolates
  • Mattatuck State Forest
  • Leatherman Cave Trail
  • Nonnewaug Falls
  • Brass Works Brewing Company
  • Whitestone Cliffs Trail
  • Bantam Lake
  • Bantam Cinema
  • Bellamy-Ferriday House and Garden
  • Flanders Nature Center
  • Crestbrook Park Golf Course
  • Old Burying Ground