Long, smooth, and straight.
That would be enough to make most people happy, but of the two sections of the Air Line Trail, the North receives less attention. Not all of it is in such great condition and it is farther from major population centers.
The remoteness and resulting solitude adds to its appeal.
From Hampton to Putnam, the trail is eight miles. It is then interrupted, but another section can be picked up just north of Putnam and continued on to Massachusetts. The South section runs from East Hampton to Windham. It’s possible to backtrack from Hampton to Windham. Unlike narrow and twisty trails, this one is not hard to spot. It’s actually visible in satellite mode on Google Maps.
The trail is level. Even on the most humid of days, it does not require much exertion. The trick is finding it. You can park for free at Goodwin State Forest in Hampton, off Route 6, and take a small trail inside the park which is not smooth or even, to connect up with the Air Line Trail.
Don’t wear shoes that can not get dirty. The Natchaug Trail beside Pine Acres Lake is short, but rough, with roots and puddles. If it has just rained — or is pouring as you are heading back, as may be the case — the puddles will be basically unavoidable without walking off trail.
It also appears that this excursion can be avoided, which is unclear if only looking at a black and white map.
Regardless, once on the Air Line Trail, the possibility of twisting your ankle is basically over and you will have a long dirt path behind and ahead of you.
It is possible to be here on Memorial Day Weekend and not pass another person in an hour’s time.
Besides walking, permitted use of the trail includes horseback riding, cycling, and cross-country skiing.
Wondering about the name? It is not a repurposed airport, as it suggests. The DEEP explains: “The trail takes its name from the imaginary line drawn from New York to Boston, through the “air” so to speak, to illustrate the shortest possible route between these two major east coast cities.” This former railroad bed, much like other former railroad beds in Connecticut, has transitioned into recreational use. Some of it is smooth; other sections still have reminders of the railroad. Some find history to be an irritation. We are not among them.
Going back to where you started, you might decide to spend more time in Goodwin State Forest, where you parked. There are gardens, an education center, boat launch, and other trails that feature an overlook, viewing platform, and “Old Farm House Cellar Holes.” Letterboxing is another activity offered here. Entrance and parking are both free. Just be sure to check for ticks when you leave.
Before heading back toward Hartford, you may as well extend the visit longer by stopping at the Vanilla Bean Cafe in Pomfret. If you found yourself covered in mud after the walk, no worries — they have both indoor and outdoor seating. The advantage to the patio is being able to check out the antique cars passing by on the weekend. The cafe offers full meals in addition to coffee and pastries. Music and open mics happen here.