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Take a Dip at Bigelow Hollow State Park, CT

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Friends with inner tubes enjoying an evening swim in a state park recreational lake.

Although Connecticut might be called “The Constitution State” or “The Nutmeg State,” it could also be called “The Forest State.” About 60% of the land is woodlands, first in the country in the percentage of urban lands covered by trees. Bigelow Hollow State Park and the Nipmuck State Forest are significant areas in northeastern Connecticut to enjoy the beauty of America’s forests. Let’s look at all this area has to offer!

Where Is Bigelow Hollow State Park?

Located in northeastern Connecticut, Bigelow Hollow State Park is in Union on Route 171. It’s easily accessible from Interstate 84. Take exit 73 or 74 and follow Route 190 to Route 171.

It’s nearby the Nipmuck State Forest, the second oldest state forest in Connecticut, with the first parcel of land acquired in 1905. In 1949, Bigelow Hollow established a recreation area, and visitors today can enjoy over 9,000 acres between Nipmuck State Forest and Bigelow Hollow State Park.

How Much Does It Cost to Visit Bigelow Hollow State Park?

From April 1 through October 31, visitors with out-of-state tags must pay a parking fee when entering the park. In-state visitors do not have to pay a fee.

Visitors can pay online at reserveamerica.com or on-site upon arrival. It’s $10 for weekday parking and $15 for weekend parking for non-residents. You can purchase season passes for $112.

About Bigelow Hollow State Park

No one is quite sure how Bigelow came about since no one by that name is associated with the park’s history. However, “Mashapaug” means “Great Pond” in the Nipmuck Indian culture. There are boat launches at Mashapaug Lake, also called Mashapaug Pond, and Bigelow Pond, two prime places for fishing in the area.

Beautiful drone shots of Mashapaug Lake in the winter.

The park also has miles of hiking trails, picnic shelters, and tent campsites. The park’s mix of rock, water, and evergreen forests makes Bigelow Hollow State Park a beautiful place to enjoy nature.

Traveler’s Tip: Summer in the northeast can be sweltering, so cool off in our favorite ten lakes in Massachusetts.

Things to Do at Bigelow Hollow State Park

When planning a visit, you could spend a couple of hours exploring the area or enjoying nature all day. These outdoor activities will make your stay enjoyable regardless of how long you want to visit the park.

Hiking

The Mashapaug Pond View Trail is a little over a five-mile loop starting near the park entrance. Other trails begin in Bigelow Hollow State Park and continue through the Nipmuck State Forest.

The Ridge Trail is an out-and-back hike about three miles one way. You can connect to the Nipmuck Trail at the end of the loop or the Breakneck Pond View Trail.

Hiking trails in the park will take you into Massachusetts if you go far enough north.

If you want to circle Breakneck Pond completely, the loop is not quite four miles. The shortest trail is the Bigelow Pond Loop at about 1.6 miles near the park entrance.

Get the lay of the land and choose the hike that’s best for you by viewing the trail map here.

Fishing

With two boat launches, fishing is easy at Bigelow Hollow State Park. The Mashapaug Lake is located in the northwest corner of the park, while Bigelow Pond is at the park entrance.

Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, black crappie, walleye, rainbow trout, brook trout, bluegill, green sunfish, pumpkinseed sunfish, yellow perch, and chain pickerel are all common fish species caught here. Make sure to have the proper licenses and know the local state regulations.

Scuba Diving

The nearly 300-acre fresh-water Mashapaug Lake offers easy shore access for divers. The maximum depth is about 40 feet.

Exploring Mashapaug Lake in Bigelow Hollow State Park – underwater!

Make sure to bring all your equipment when diving, as no rentals are available in the park. You’ll need a mask, snorkel, wet suit, fins, tanks, gauges, log book, and other gear necessary for a successful dive.

Snowmobiling

There are two marked snowmobile routes in Bigelow Hollow State Park. Lower Breakneck Hill Road is about 1.3 miles and connects two different locations to the Park Road route. That route is about 1.6 miles. You can take the entire loop from the park entrance to Breakneck Pond and back.

Cross Country Skiing

In the winter, a great way to get outdoors and enjoy the beauty of the snow-laden forest in the state park is with a pair of skis. Take any of the hiking trails to explore.

Note that the trail tracks are neither machine-set nor groomed, so be prepared. If you’re not a Connecticut resident, you also don’t have to pay the parking fee during winter.

Best Places to Camp at Bigelow Hollow State Park

You have a couple of great options if you’re looking to camp at this state park. You can find Backpack campsites along several of the blue-blazed hiking trails throughout the state of Connecticut.

However, dispersed camping is not permitted. Backpack camping is limited to one night in these locations.

Brialee Family Campground

If rustic tent camping isn’t your idea of fun, Brialee Family Campground in Ashford is a family-friendly option open April-October. Partial hookup and full hookup sites are available.

There are always activities like axe-throwing competitions, boat races, and scavenger hunts!

A man rests on a hammock in thew woods with his feet up, surrounded by forest and lake.

Nipmuck State Forest

The Nipmuck Trail offers backpacking campsites. The trail stretches from Iron Mine Road to Eastford Road and also connects to the Natchaug Trail to the east.

There is also camping at Breakneck Pond. Three different areas include the south lean-to, the east lean-to, and the west campsite. All of these are for backpacking campers only.

Things to Do Near Bigelow Hollow State Park

If you’re looking for things to do around the state park, the Massachusetts border is less than ten minutes away. Visit the Old Sturbridge Village, the Keep Homestead Museum, or the Optical Heritage Museum and take in the local history.

Book a cruise on the Indian Princess, a historic paddlewheel boat docked out of Webster, MA. There are also numerous restaurants like Annie’s Country Kitchen, B.T.’s Smokehouse, and Cedar Street Grille in Sturbridge.

Adventure in Bigelow Hollow State Park

Bigelow Hollow State Park is an excellent location for year-round fun. Put on the layers and venture out during the winter to explore nature on snowmobile or skis. Pack the sunscreen and bug spray in the summer and take the boat for a day of fishing. Kids, parents, and grandparents will enjoy the outdoor recreation and the other activities in the area.

When will you visit this Connecticut State Park?

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