Everything is relative, but even in places like Alaska, you can catch the sounds of construction in the dead of the night. Unless you’ve soundproofed a room, you’re never going to get silence in Hartford. There are some places that are quieter than others, where the sounds present are primarily natural.
The river and its corridor are not uniform in their character.
Most of the North Branch Park River is and feels wild, even when it can be viewed from parking lots in Asylum Hill. It has not gotten the Brazilian waxing of tree removal as along Trout Brook and the South Branch Park River, which helps. The path along the North Branch Park River is not continuous, nor is it predictably cleared. A recent visit shows it to be currently on the overgrown side, a concern when it comes to ticks and poison ivy. Other visits have found it to be wide enough to move without brushing up against anything that might give you hives for weeks. There is at least one person in the area who actively takes a machete to the trail, but maybe it’s time others stepped up to help with some of this minor maintenance.
There are a number of points of entry, most of which I will not reveal. It’s fun to feel like you’ve discovered something, even if it is not a discovery in the truest sense of the word. One segment, called The Annie Fisher Nature Trail and Outdoor Classroom is accessible by the intersection of Mark Twain Drive and Plainfield Street. Another easy entry point for walking along the North Branch Park River is behind a building on the elbow of Lorraine Street.
The South Branch Park River, since the near scalping of its banks, has lost a lot of visual buffer that made it feel more removed from I-84. Still, the segment south of Brookfield Street and Pulaski Drive is worth exploring. The paths are usually clear along the South Branch Park River, and though not nearly as wild feeling as what you would see in Blue Hills, West End, and Asylum Hill, it is surprising for its proximity to a strip mall. An easy point of entry is from Newfield Avenue; this is actually visible from Google Maps. Or, you can enter at the corner of Brinley Avenue and Dexter Street, also visible on Google Maps satellite view. It’s not too challenging to walk this up to Flatbush Avenue.
The quietest section is probably the part that goes under the city, but that requires work and finding a way to deal with claustrophobia.
Watkinson Community Garden
You will likely encounter a few people here, but gardeners tend to be working.
There is a reason this makes the list and other community gardens do not. This is not right next to the street. The main entrance for the garden is way, way in the back of the Unitarian Society of Hartford parking lot, which means that except for on Sundays and during special events, there is not even noise trickling over from the lot.
The garden is huge. Someday I will climb a tree to get an aerial pic, but if you want a better sense of scale, go to the satellite option on Google Maps. This is surrounded by woods and separated from the nearest road by the North Branch Park River. With some exploring, you can exit the garden to find yourself in view of the river. Once you know how close the garden is to the river, you can begin to understand why almost every garden plot is surrounded by tall fences.
Trails by Mary Hooker Elementary School
For what should be obvious reasons, I would not advise hanging around during school hours. The short path, when it’s cleared enough, lets you see part of Cemetery Brook. The path begins near Chandler Street.
Keney Park trails
If for some reason you have not been to Keney Park yet, know that it’s not like Bushnell Park. It’s big. It starts near routes 44 and 187, and ends in Windsor. That’s almost 700 acres.
Not all of it offers that peace and quiet. The parts that don’t are predictable in that way — playground, sports fields, and parking lots.
Then, you have levels of quiet.
A nature trail begins near the pond house near the Edgewood Street entrance by Keney Terrace. The walk tends to be quieter as you move into the more wooded area northeast of the pond. Vehicles are not permitted on these paths, helping maintain some quiet, though you can hear the occasional siren.
To be more in nature, head to the more northeastern part of the park, up by Windsor. The Leadership Trail is easy to find not far from the Windsor Avenue entrance. This one has an actual sign. It eventually empties onto Tower Avenue. There are other trails that are unpaved and go through the woods, winding into Windsor where you can see sand dunes and the remnants of an abandoned go-kart track.
I’d suggest having this map on your phone when you go so that you have at least a vague idea of where you are.
Cedar Hill Cemetery
You won’t be alone. There are always employees doing maintenance of some sort, and with there being newer sections, people visiting departed loved ones. Rarely, I have heard some jackass drive through with the radio up, but most people seem to get that this is where to turn the tunes down and show respect. There is a park adjacent to the cemetery and you can hear sounds from the basketball court and playground if you are there. Basically, if you can’t see the park, you won’t be hearing it.
Right on the website, it says that the Cedar Hill Cemetery Foundation “invites you to discover, experience and explore Hartford’s historic Cedar Hill Cemetery.” They don’t just mean after you’ve kicked the bucket. They come out and describe appropriate activities: “walking, running, biking, photographing, painting, meditating, birding and taking self-guided tours.”
The self-guided tours could be wandering around to look at monuments. I’ve done plenty of that and still have not covered every corner of the sprawling cemetery. But, you can also show up for the nature. There is a self-guided tree tour. On that map, you can see large empty areas on either side of Llyn Mawr — those tend to be quieter spots for walking, particularly because they aren’t split up by roadway. Watch out for deer droppings.
Remember that whole thing about quiet being relative? The paved path along the Riverfront is quiet if you’ve been walking around Downtown previous, but it is still near the highway. Those with an imagination can try to convince themselves that they are listening to the ocean; this works until some unseen driver hits the brakes hard.
Keep walking north. The paved section ends around the boathouse in Riverside Park. Here, you can pick up several well-marked dirt paths. There is more distance between these paths and I-91 as the woods grows thicker. You can walk all the way to Windsor and potentially see nobody else. Unless, that is, you happen to show up on a day when there is some obstacle race in the woods. It’s not a bad place for finding wildlife either.
BONUS: Redacted Location
probably definitely trespassing so I can’t name the location or encourage people to go there, but another very quiet and peaceful walk exists in Hartford somewhere south of I-84. It would be spectacular if it were converted into a legit linear park.