Farmington River Fun

On a hot summer day, hundreds of colorful red, yellow, and blue inflatable tubes with their orange life jacket-wearing passengers gather as far as the eye can see at a slow bend in the Farmington River after passing through the gorge in Satan’s Kingdom.

Farmington River Fun

Recreation for everyone in the valley

By Eric D. Lehman

From the observation room at the top of Heublein Tower on Talcott Mountain, you stand almost 1,000 feet above the Farmington River. The magnificent castle was a summer retreat promised by Gilbert Heublein to his wife, Louise, and opened to the public in 1974. Today, it stands just off the New England National Scenic Trail and has one of the best views in southern New England. To the west is the strange, V-shaped Farmington River valley, while to the east the small towers of Hartford and Springfield look surprisingly close to each other. Just below is a popular take-out for canoeists at the massive Pinchot Sycamore, while to the north the green hump of Penwood State Park blocks your view of the finest whitewater in the state. And everywhere is an endless sea of green-leafed trees. You would never guess that over a million people live within this view.

The Farmington River splits the Metacomet Ridge west of its confluence with the Connecticut River, but then unusually jags directly south, before nearly doubling on itself to the north-northwest, continuing through villages and state forests, branching to form the Barkhamsted Reservoir and a narrow Berkshires rill that disappears in the forests somewhere north of Otis, Massachusetts. The watershed also includes the Salmon Brook, tumbling down from the wild headwaters in Hartland over Ender’s Falls, past parks and vineyards and breweries and farms. With a watershed of 609 square miles, the Farmington is the Connecticut’s longest tributary.

A man spots some rapids ahead as he floats in his tube down the Farmington River. The rapids in this section of the river are quite tame by whitewater standards, but enough to add excitement to a tuber’s ride down the river. Image Credit: Christopher Zajac

The river draws hundreds of thousands of visitors and provides hundreds of thousands of residents the opportunity to participate in dozens of varieties of outdoor recreation. On a warm summer day on any section of the river you might see canoeists paddle by, anglers flick their lines for trout, and rollerbladers navigate the frost-heaved macadam of the bike path. Even in winter, all along the river’s length, people are hiking the moose-haunted trails of Peoples’ State Forest, skiing the snowy slopes at Sundown, or skating on Colebrook River Lake.

One of the most popular summer activities on the river is tubing in the ominously named Satan’s Kingdom. New Hartford’s Farmington River Tubing provides inner tubes and life jackets and sets you on your way down the pine-canyon for three miles. The rocks and rapids keep everyone somewhat on their guard, but tubing can be accomplished with a modicum of risk and skill. “Tubing down the Farmington was serene,” says Leslie Browning, who lives just past the river’s headwaters in Becket, Massachusetts. “The deep woodlands are so different from the Connecticut shoreline where I grew up. It adds to the diversity of the state’s natural experiences.”

“Tubing is a blast. It’s great family fun,” agrees long-term resident of West Hartford, Karen McAllister. And it is only one of many activities that she and her family and friends enjoy. “The valley is a concentrated area where you can have it all,” she says. “It is the locus of pick-your-own vegetables, go up the river on a bike ride, go down the river on an inner tube, and then go out for a nice dinner.”

A man navigates a stretch of whitewater on the Farmington River. Image credit: Ann Gillard

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