I moved to Connecticut in December of 1996, and as soon as the weather began to warm the following year, I was obsessed with the need to find the closest place where I could walk along the beach. That place, it turned out, was Hammonasset Beach State Park, the 919-acre Long Island Sound outpost in Madison that is home to a two-mile-long white sandy beach--Connecticut's largest.
Whether you're longing to jog or stroll along the boardwalk, to lounge on the beach doing nothing more strenuous than tanning or to cool off in the refreshing waves, here is a quick guide to visiting Hammonasset Beach State Park.
Getting There: Hammonasset Beach State Park is located in Madison, Connecticut. From Route I-95, take exit 62 and follow signs for about one mile south to the beach. GPS Users: 1288 Boston Post Road, Madison, CT, is the physical address for Hammonasset.
Hours: Hammonasset Beach is open daily from 8 a.m. until sunset.
Admission: For Connecticut residents, admission is $9 per car during the week, $13 on weekends and holidays for 2012. The fee for out-of-state cars is $15 during the week, $22 on weekends. Admission after 4 p.m. is just $6 per car any day for residents and $7 for non-residents. There is no fee to visit the park during the off-season months.
Facilities: Restrooms and changing facilities are available. A food concession operates during the summer season.
Activities: In addition to swimming, other activities to enjoy at Hammonasset Beach State Park include picnicking, saltwater fishing, hiking, boating and bicycling. For something less taxing, there's always shell collecting and sand castle building. Hammonasset is a very family-friendly beach. When you're ready to get out of the sun, visit the Meigs Point Nature Center, which has a touch tank and other exhibits.
Camping: Hammonasset Beach State Park has 558 campsites available. The campsite fee for 2012 is $20 per night for Connecticut residents or $30 for non-residents, plus a reservation processing fee. Higher rates are charged for sites with electric and water hook-up. Rustic cabins may be rented for $70 per night. For reservations, call toll free, 877-668-CAMP.
Hotels: Compare hotel rates near Hammonasset Beach State Park with About.com's travel partner, Kayak.com.
Dogs: Dogs must be leashed at all times and are not allowed on the beach or boardwalk. Sorry, Fido.
A Bit of History: Hammonasset Beach State Park is named for the Hammonasset tribe of eastern woodland Indians, one of five tribes that inhabited the shoreline area of Connecticut. The Indian word "Hammonasset" means "where we dig holes in the ground," a reference to the tribe's agricultural way of life.
In 1919, the Connecticut Park and Forest Commission began to acquire the lands that would comprise Hammonasset State Park. By the end of the year, 565 acres had been purchased at a cost of $130,960. On July 18, 1920, the park opened to the public. About 75,000 people visited the park during its first year.
The park nearly doubled in size in 1923 with the acquisition of an additional 339 acres.
During World War II, Hammonasset served as an army reservation and aircraft firing range and was closed to the public. It reopened to beach lovers after the war and quickly began to break attendance records.
Today, Hammonasset Beach is particularly crowded on summer weekends, but you can always find a spot to spread your blanket and soak up the sun. On mild days in the off-season, it is a great place for a quiet, reflective walk by the sea.