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Weekender: The Litchfield Hills, Connecticut

The Great Outdoors

The leafy Litchfield Hills, which cover nearly one-quarter of the state, are home to 20 parks, forests, and recreation areas. Also in the region are Bear Mountain, Connecticut's highest peak at 2,316 feet, and miles of the challenging Appalachian Trail, which runs near the western border from Kent to Salisbury. If you're aiming to stretch your legs and breathe some country air, you can surely do it here.

Two helpful brochures, The Litchfield Hills: Touring by Car, Foot, Boat & Bike, and Unwind, a comprehensive guide to outdoor activities in the area, are available free from the Litchfield Hills Visitors Bureau (860/567-4506; www.litchfieldhills.com).

Hiking and Biking
For a good day's trek on the Appalachian Trail, start at the Lion's Head Trailhead, just north of Salisbury off Route 41 (for information, go to www.appalachiantrail.org). When you reach Bear Mountain, 5.6 miles north, unpack some sandwiches and soak up the views.

In Cornwall, the short Cathedral Pines Trail meanders through pine and hemlock forests. If you keep going, you'll reach Mohawk Mountain, which provides another stunning vista from its 1,683-foot summit. Norfolk's Dennis Hill State Park rewards a one-mile-uphill jaunt with a 360-degree panorama that's spectacular in early fall. (There's a paved road for those who can't take the climb on foot.)

In the town of Litchfield, White Memorial Conservation Center (80 Whitehall Rd., Rte. 202 W.; 860/567-0857) counts 35 miles of trails on its 4,000 acres, and often has guided walks and educational programs. Cycle Loft (The Yard, 174 West St.; 860/567-1713; $8 an hour) has bike rentals for back-roads explorers.

Steep Rock Reservation (River Rd., Washington, 860/868-9131), a peaceful 750-acre preserve with wonderful hiking trails along the Shepaug River, is a treasure.

Water Sports
East of Dennis Hill State Park are the wooded groves and paths of the Peoples and the American Legion state forests, both bordering the western branch of the Farmington River. In New Hartford, Main Stream Canoe Corp. (152 Main St., Rte. 44; 860/693-6791; rentals $48 per hour, guided trips from $35) offers canoe and kayak rentals and excursions, while Farmington River Tubing (92 Main St.; 860/693-6465; $12 per ride) leases specially made inner tubes for a 21/2-mile ride through three sets of rapids.

West Cornwall, known for its much-photographed covered bridge, is also headquarters for activities on the tree-lined Housatonic River, a waterway popular with canoers and fly fishermen. Housatonic River Outfitters (24 Kent Rd., Rte. 7; 860/672-1010; half-day guided trip for two $200) offers fly-fishing equipment, guides, and instruction. Canoers, kayakers, and rafters can rent gear at Clarke Outdoors (163 Rte. 7; 860/672-6365; rentals from $24 per person).

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