Madison, CT, is loaded with beaches and natural areas, but nowhere brings everything together like Hammonasset Beach State Park. The park is perhaps the town's most popular location, as you can spend your day participating in a variety of activities at one of the state's most scenic venues.
With a population of about 18,000 people, Madison will never be confused with a bustling metropolis. That's a good thing, however, as it means that residents have unparalleled access to the country's most beautiful parks and beaches without having to deal with big-city problems.
Once you buy a home in Madison, or elsewhere on the Connecticut Shoreline, Hammonasset Beach State Park will inevitably become part of your summer routine, and that's a good thing because this place is incredible!
The Park's History
Before the arrival of European colonists, present-day Hammonasset Beach State Park was farmland. The word "Hammonasset" is loosely translated to mean "a place where we dig holes", referring to the crops of beans, corn, and squash grown by Indian tribes.
Colonists first arrived in Madison in 1639 and settled in 1641. At that time, and up until 1826, when it was renamed and incorporated, Madison was called East Guilford.
Hammonasset Beach State Park changed hands many times over the years, ending up as the property of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company in 1898. The company used the area as a testing site for a new boat-mounted gun they were developing, shooting at targets on the shore.
Finally, in 1919, the state purchased 499 acres of this land, and on July 18, 1920, opened it up to the public. The first year was the park's slowest, attracting only 75,000 people. By 1924, however, 450,000 people were visiting each year. Today, the park is 936 acres, and officials believe the park draws over one million visitors annually.
Activities at the Park
Why is Hammonasset Beach State Park so famous? Well, beyond its natural beauty, the park has countless activities to keep you busy all day long.
For starters, there's the beach, which is enormous with many different access points. On any given day in the summer, you'll see thousands of people sunbathing, and the park is an excellent place for swimming, too. If you're bringing the kids, the water near the shore is shallow enough for wading, and there is a lifeguard on duty in the peak season. There's a boardwalk behind the beach, as well, making it easier to get to your desired spot.
You can get a vehicle close enough to the water to put a car-top boat in the water, but keep in mind that the park doesn't have a full boat launch. Therefore, you'll have to carry the boat across the sand for the last little bit, so most visitors stick to canoes and kayaks.
If you do manage to get your boat into Long Island Sound, it's easy enough to do some saltwater fishing, but you'll have to head beyond the swimming areas. You can also fish from shore on the Meigs Point Jetty or the West Beach Jetty between 8 AM and sunset. The entire beach is open for shore fishing at night after the park closes, as well.
Those who pack a lunch can eat on the beach or at one of the park's picnic areas. There are tables all over the park, with some having tree or artificial cover, and others sitting in the open.
Are you looking for some hiking or biking? There are some paths and trails running throughout Hammonasset Beach State Park, with the south end being particularly popular for these activities. Many of the trails are sandy, so they're better for hiking, as opposed to cycling, but there are paved paths, too.
You'll find bathroom facilities all over Hammonasset Beach State Park, in addition to some concessions and showers. If you're coming with a group, you can rent one of the four large picnic shelters in the park. Each of these shelters has 12 picnic tables and two pedestal grills available, providing space for up to 65 people.
From mid-May through Columbus Day Weekend, you can do some camping at Hammonasset Beach State Park. A massive chunk of the park is dedicated to parking, as its interior has 558 sites, in addition to a concession, dumping station, and bathrooms.
Despite the size of the campground, reservations are highly recommended on weekends. Connecticut residents will pay $20 for a basic site and $35 for a campsite with hook-ups, while non-residents will pay more. You can also reserve rustic cabins in the park. They cost $70 per night, but you must book for the entire week.
Hammonasset Natural Area Preserve
As you move the southern end of the park, you'll reach the Hammonasset Natural Area Preserve, which is a Marine Protected Area. The idea is that the NOAA keeps track of marine life in the area, providing inventory numbers to aid conservation.
You can hike through the Hammonasset Natural Area Preserve, exploring the trails and, potentially, seeing some birds and other wildlife that call the park home. There are lookout stations available in prime viewing areas, making it a bit easier.
While wandering the preserve, you'll have access to the Meigs Point Nature Center, a facility with free admission that provides insight into the park's wildlife. The Center is open every day except Monday throughout the summer and offers programs and activities to visitors.
What Else You Should Know
Hammonasset Beach State Park is by far the most frequented state park in Connecticut, accounting for one-quarter of all state park visits. As a Connecticut resident, you won't have to pay for parking, which is a bonus associated with buying a home in Madison.
Hammonasset is also the state's largest shoreline park and has over two miles of shoreline, creating a beautiful meeting place in the summer.
Remember, however, that even though the park has multiple extensive parking lots, it's an extremely busy facility. As a result, you'll want to get there early to ensure you can find a space.
Hammonasset Beach State Park is one of Connecticut's most popular summer destinations, and once you get a glimpse of it, you're sure to see why.