If you are looking to wander without tight time limits or attachment to outcome, here are a few suggested paths.
The Wallace Stevens Walk: This is a one-way walk from 690 Asylum Avenue to 118 Westerly Terrace. The mere 2.4 miles is broken up by thirteen stones marked with different stanzas from Stevens’ poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” Perhaps not the most scenic route in Hartford, there is the crossing of a river and opportunity to gawk at some mansions in the West End. Crow season has begun — at least it has in Frog Hollow — so this feels like an appropriate place to start.
Pope Park River Loop: Start by the rec center in the section of Pope Park that everyone recognizes as Pope Park. You’ll see a few shoutouts to the park’s namesake in the vicinity of the rec center and parking lot. From there, meander southwest — getting off the sidewalk if possible, cutting through the wooded area where the trees have faces. Catch Hamilton Street and walk west until you see the field across from Brookfield Street. This area is part of Pope Park and provides a view of the Park River as it goes underground. There is what barely qualifies as a goat path through an area with thick vegetation. If you’re worried about ticks, you might want to settle for whatever views you can take in from the sidewalk. See what you need to see, then return to heading west on Hamilton Street until Pope Park Highway. Carefully take that north; there are no sidewalks for most of this street, despite the presence of Pope Park West, a space that contains trails and an amphitheater. Pause to consider what this would be like without I-84 dividing the park. Wander around, emerging on Pope Park Highway, taking it until it ends at Park Street. Go east to re-enter the main section of Pope Park. If you walk up the hill to the west of the paths, you might get a little more view than usual. This whole loop is approximately two miles, distance varying by how much off-road traveling you opt to do.
Elizabeth Park to Real Art Ways loop: The way to not do Elizabeth Park is visit only the Rose Garden, only in June. If you’re reading this, you’re probably coming from Hartford, so start on the east side of the park, going up the hill to glimpse a view of the downtown skyline. Also, start there because the hill is the most physically strenuous thing about this route. Get it out of the way early, The entire distance is around five miles, but unless you’re treating this as some kind of race, this is a lot of stop-and-go, stopping to sit on benches and look at plants. The other sort of trying thing about this route is crossing Prospect Avenue, which for some odd reason, does not have a mid-block crosswalk where pedestrians would naturally cross from the east to west side. Once you figure that out, there’s a path through the wooded area just south of the driveway.
Take a walk around the big pond if you can leave the main path. It’s worth it for a different angle. From there, you can walk along the western loop road, or cut that from the route entirely if that seems too long. Poke around the small pond, then the various flower gardens, making the obligatory walk around the Rose Garden. Go back toward Prospect Avenue and walk south. There are big houses to look at, including one that looks like a castle. At Farmington Avenue, walk east for a few blocks until you get to South Whitney. For those not accustomed to city-living, it’s always a good idea to see just how quickly the character of an area changes from block-to-block. At the intersection with West Boulevard, go east for one block, take Newton Street until Capitol Avenue, and then follow this to Arbor Street. If you’re being smart about this walk, you’ve timed it so that there is an event or a film to catch at Real Art Ways; this gives you a natural place to rest up (and maybe refuel with snacks) before going back to Elizabeth Park. For the return route, go south on Arbor Street, then take Cherry Street to Sisson Avenue. If you still have energy, take Warrenton Street west. There’s a little hill. Then, go down Tremont Street, cross over Farmington Avenue, and at the end of Tremont, take a right onto Cone Street for one block. Go north on Whitney Street and finish back at Elizabeth Park.
Bushnell Park to Riverfront loop: There’s a path that connects the Legislative Office Building area to Bushnell Park; if you’re on foot you can avoid the annoyance of crossing highway ramps. Take a walk past Corning Fountain, then go to the giant arch. This will bring you to the part of the park with the pond, carousel, and seasonally, the ice rink. Cross Trumbull Street to Gold Street, where you can look at the giant rocks and take a detour through the Ancient Burying Ground. Back out on Main Street, walk across the plaza across from the Wadsworth Atheneum. The renovated plaza and new landscaping is a giant improvement over the fortress it replaced. Cross Prospect Street and look for stairs or a ramp on the east side. Go ahead and walk there.
Going northeast will take you to the whole Constitution Plaza area, and you will see signs directing you toward the Connecticut River. Take the Founders Bridge to Great River Park in East Hartford, and follow that south.
The distance for this walk is hard to predict because there are so many variations that could happen within the cemetery depending on what terrain you want to walk on and how easily distracted you are by monuments. I suggest walking around the ponds and heading into the fields, away from the graves, then sticking to the older sections where people are unlikely to be mourning. Every time I visit, I see something different, whether it’s a section I had not visited before or a family of deer or some interesting vegetation. Leaving the way you came in, go north on Maple Avenue. You could return to Goodwin Park, or go load up on carbs at First & Last Bakery between South Street and Brown Street.
Sidenote: the holiday light display takes over Goodwin Park every year from Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day. You can still walk through — just expect to see a lot of electrical things.
Do you have a casual walking route in Hartford that you’d recommend? Leave details in the comments.