Down By the River: Riverwalk Trails, Hartford, CT

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Walking along the Yellow Trail along the Connecticut River’s west bank, looking south toward Hartford’s downtown area.

Well, trail heads, your blogger-in-chief has been a little bit AWOL these last few weeks, mainly because of grad school responsibilities, work (what else is new) and an academic conference: the Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA) spring convention up in Hartford. But fear not, oh gentle readers, for your blogger-in-chief had her (mental) hiking boots on.

In between conferencing (and wondering just how many times a sane person can use “trope” and “palimpsest” in a sentence), there was time for some outdoors stuff, including checking out some of the Riverwalk walking trails down along the Connecticut River.

Hartford’s riverfront area came in for a major overhaul starting in the 1980s, through the Riverfront Recapture project. The neighborhood now includes bandshells, an amphitheater, a boathouse and four walking trails, among other amenities. On the day we visited, it was fairly quiet – only a few joggers and dog walkers out – but it’s safe to say that it’s probably pretty bustling on a summer evening or weekend.

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A few flood facts.

One caveat if you’re going down by the river: the Connecticut River reaches very high levels during times of flooding. So high that sections of the Riverwalk may be completely submerged, and then some. There is a brass plaque on the underside of the bridge showing some of the past flood levels, including the major floods in the 1930s and 1955. On the day that we were there, the trail is covered with clay and silt from the river. I did notice, as we were there, that the level of the river was up close to the edge of the path – or it would have been if there hadn’t been a railing along the path’s edge.

The four trails go along both banks of the river; two of them go over the river by way of the Founders and Charter Oak bridges. The trail we checked out – it’s ID’d as the Yellow Trail on the map – starts at the Mortenson Riverfront Plaza near the convention center and heads north to Riverside Park – where you’ll spot the community boathouse, and a ramp for launching your kayaks or your rowing shells or what have you, and a rather interesting-looking adventure course. It’s definitely a nice easy walk, relatively flat but with a few inclines hither and thither.

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Mr. Lincoln, meet Mrs. Stowe.

The trail is also the site of a series of art installations about the life of Abraham Lincoln. You’ll find several statues each depicting some aspect of Lincoln’s life, like his log cabin upbringing and his meeting with Harriet Beecher Stowe (“so you’re the little woman who started this great war”). There’s also a very nice glass mosaic depicting an abstract version of the American flag.

Now, folks, I’m sure there are going to be a few people grumbling about why I should be talking about an urban riverfront park on a hiking blog. Sure, it isn’t the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail. But the Riverwalk is a greenway, an urban hike, same as the High Line in New York, and this blog is for hikers, bikers and all manner of explorers.

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A marker for the East Coast Greenway near the Mortensen Riverfront Plaza.

And speaking of greenways, I should also note that the Riverwalk is also part of the Connecticut portion of the East Coast Greenway; the Greenway and the Riverwalk cross the river by way of the Founders Bridge, where the Greenway continues west through the city and Bushnell Park (also a nice place – check it out if you’re in town).

For further reading:

Walkways and Trails: Riverfront Recapture

Hartford (CT) Parks

East Coast Greenway – Connecticut

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