Finding the Fun

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The day trip is a summertime institution that dawns with hope and high spirits and ends, if all goes well, with satisfaction, a pleasant sense of fatigue and sticky hands from the after-dinner ice cream stop. The “all goes well” part is where we step in. With school bells about to toll their last, this guide advises you on where to go and what to do at destinations that require no more than two hours in the car. We also dispense sage advice on your closest, best vendors of ice cream, fried clams, pizza and other kid-friendly fare. It’s summer — get out there and enjoy!


Thrills and Spills

Roller Coasters, River Rafting and Other Ways to Make a Splash

Farmington River Tubing, New Hartford
ages: 10 and older, for good swimmers over 4-feet, 5-inches tall and 50 pounds
Most of the 2.5-mile ride is a lazy float but three sets of rapids will send you spinning (with lifeguards posted where the water is whitest). There’s just one outfitter, Farmington River Tubing, dispensing the big yellow tubes, along with rules and waivers (visit the website so you go prepared). After that, you and your kids are on the river for a couple of hours, so wear sunscreen and a hat.
Prices: $20 per person on weekends and holidays; $18 on weekdays (cash only). (Follow signs to the Satan’s Kingdom State Recreation Area, off Route 44; the tubing outfitter sits in the parking lot; 860-693-6465;

Greenwich Community Sailing, Greenwich
all ages
Get out and enjoy the Sound for the day on your choice of boat — from ocean kayaks to canoes to several kinds of catamarans. Prices start at $18 per hour for a kayak and up to $60 per hour for the super-spiffy Vanguard Nomad that holds five. Summertime brings a full schedule of instructional programs for adults and juniors. See website for class descriptions and schedules. (Old Greenwich Yacht Club;

Hammonasset Beach State Park, Madison
all ages
A two-mile-long sandy beach, wooden boardwalks, clear, cool water — and bathrooms! What more could you ask for in a Sound beach? This 1,100-acre shoreline park even maintains campsites for families who aren’t ready to leave after the sun sets over the Sound
(extra fee assessed).
Admission: $10 on weekends for cars registered in the state of Connecticut; $15 for out of state. (I-95 North to exit 62, then follow signs; 245-2785;

Hot-Air Ballooning, Southington

ages: at your discretion
Got an urge to splurge? At $325 per person, ballooning does deflate your bank account, but your spirits will soar, we promise. The official website for Connecticut Tourism recommends a dozen companies (go to but highfliers we know, such as Berkshire Balloons in Southington, offer sunrise flights over the Valley. Call to reserve one to two weeks in advance. Cost: $325 per person (cash only), for balloons holding four to six passengers; private balloons also available. The office is based in Southington, with launch sites varying, depending on flight-day weather. (250-8441;

Lake Compounce, Bristol
all ages
Parents actually love Compounce because it’s a pretty place — superclean and landscaped, with charming Victorian-era storefronts for shops and arcades. Kids head straight to Boulderdash, a wooden roller coaster that makes a mad and clattering dash through the woods that leaves some parents weak of leg and stomach. Cooler still are the rides and slides in the water park, which includes Clipper Cove, famous for its overhead 300-gallon bucket of water that dumps its load periodically. Parking: $6; Admission: $34.99 if you’re 52 inches or taller; $25.99 for shorter people; $17.99 for those 60 years and older; children under 3 years are free. Includes free soda. (Route 229; 860-583-3300;

Sheffield Island, Norwalk
all ages
For an easy, breezy way to spend an afternoon on the Sound, hop the ferry at the Seaport Dock adjacent to the Maritime Aquarium in South Norwalk. Arrive a half hour before sailtime, as seating is first come, first serve (except for groups of ten or more). The ride delivers you to the island — with nature trails for rambling and a charming lighthouse to climb. Inquire about Thursday dinner on the island, featuring lobsters, clams and mussels. Prices: $20, adults; $12, children ages 4 to 12; $5 for children 3 and under; dinner is $45 per person. (Corner of Washington and North Water Streets in South Norwalk; 838-9444;

Whitewater Rafting, West Cornwall
all ages
There’s rafting to be had all along the Housatonic River, but for ease and beauty, nobody beats Clarke Outdoor Sports in Cornwall, which rents canoes, rafts, kayaks and the hybrid sit-yak. Call in advance to reserve your preferred vessel (though you may luck into something on a same-day basis). Clarke hauls you and your stuff upriver in a van, then picks you up some ten miles downstream.
Prices: $27, adults on weekends, $24 weekdays; $20, 15 years and younger on weekends; $17 weekdays; instruction and guided tours available. (163 Route 7; 860-672-6365;
While you’re there: Route 7 runs through the village of Kent, some fifteen miles south of Clarke Outdoor Sports, which makes for a perfect stop for sustenance on your way home. There’s a good bakery and kiddie candy store, but drive a block further south to find Belgique Patisserie et Chocolatier in a big yellow house, featuring fabulous truffles, tarts, ice cream and more. (Corner of Route 7 and Route 341, 860-927-3681)

{ Outside of Connecticut }

Six Flags, Springfield, Massachusetts
all ages
Our closest, biggest theme park, Six Flags makes for a long (and exhausting) day but, to be honest, what self-respecting venue of this ilk doesn’t? It’s home to the Superman Ride of Steel and something called The Mind Eraser, which we didn’t dare get
on (if you do, call and tell us all about it). Admission: $41.99 if you’re 54 inches or taller; $31 for shorter people; children under two years are free. Season passes are available for $74.99. (Route 159, with its exit marked off I-91; 413-786-9300;

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